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New era starts for Steelers

The Pittsburgh Steelers are a team looking for an identity as they play the San Francisco 49ers (2-0) this afternoon. The days of the “Steel Curtain” and “Blitzburgh” are but distant memories.

Last year, the Pittsburgh Steelers defense came up lacking in many areas, and thus far, this year’s defense has been just as bad, if not worse. In most statistical categories, the highest they are ranked is 28th out of 32 teams.

The defense started out strong versus Seattle last week, getting four sacks, two quarterback hurries and forcing one fumble in the first half. Even with those good plays, the defense couldn’t get off the field in the first half, surrendering 202 yards of total offense on 37 snaps. At halftime, Seattle made adjustments in their pass blocking schemes which thwarted the Steelers’ pass rush.

The Seahawks regularly had backup right tackle George Fant report in as an extra tight end. They also started keeping a running back to help pass block. Seattle forced the Steelers defense to go wide and up the field instead of cracking the pocket like they had in the first half. When the Steelers went wide, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson kept breaking up the middle for yardage or stepping up in the pocket to easily spot a receiver.

Seattle finished with 425 yards in total offense, averaging 5.9 yards per play.

This isn’t the first game in which this has happened. This has been a regular occurrence in the past couple of years. The opposition’s offense adjusts at halftime while the Steelers defense stays the same.

DESPERATE MOVE

The trade for Miami safety Minkah Fitzpatrick was made due to safety Sean Davis’ shoulder injury. Fitzpatrick was highly regarded by the Steelers prior to the 2018 draft, when he was taken 11th overall by the Dolphins.

While the Steelers won’t have a first-round pick in 2020 due to the trade, it can also be argued that they are actually getting the use of their first round pick a year earlier. Plus, due to his 2018 rookie contract, the Steelers will have him under contractual control for three years, plus an option year.

Fitzpatrick should be an upgrade over Davis and should be better than strong safety Terrell Edmunds, who the Steelers selected with the 28th overall pick in the 2018 draft. Much was expected of Edmunds this year. Thus far, he has fallen short of expectations.

With the addition of Fitzpatrick, the Steelers now have 10 former first-round draft picks on their defensive roster. With that unbelievable number of former first round picks, it is understandable why defensive coordinator Kevin Butler and his assistants are coming under scrutiny.

The last time the Steelers traded away their first-round pick was in 1967. Green Bay used that ninth overall pick to select center Bob Hyland. Six times between 1958 and 1967, Pittsburgh didn’t have a first-round pick due to trading it away.

ROSTER MOVES

Diontae Johnson is expected to take Dontae Moncrief’s spot in the starting lineup at wide receiver opposite JuJu Smith-Schuster. James Washington is ticketed for significant action.

It would not be surprising if rookie tight end Zach Gentry is activated for the 49ers game due to the Steelers quarterback situation. Tight end Vance McDonald has actually been “the emergency quarterback” in case there would have been game-ending injuries to the first two quarterbacks. Gentry, who was recruited by Michigan as a quarterback, before being switched to tight end his freshman year, could possibly step in if an emergency should arise.

Tuesday, the Steelers signed former Denver Broncos quarterback Paxton Lynch to the practice squad. Lynch was Denver’s first round pick in 2016, but was released in 2018.

He was with Seattle during training camp this year, but was released when rosters were cut down to 53. Lynch will take Devlin Hodges’ spot on the practice squad. Hodges was promoted from the practice squad to the 53-man roster after Roethlisberger’s injury and will serve as Mason Rudolph’s backup.

WEST COAST WOES

The Steelers have regularly struggled on trips out west. They are 19-39 all-time, including 5-5 in San Francisco when playing in the Pacific time zone.

They will be back in California on Oct. 13, when they play the Los Angeles Rams in a Sunday night game. Thankfully, they have a bye the following week.

FIRST TIME STARTERS

Only four times in 24 tries (4-19-1), has a Steelers quarterback won in his starting debut. The winning quarterbacks were Ted Marchibroda in 1952, Mike Kruczek (1976), Steve Bono (1987) and Roethlisberger in 2004.

Will Rudolph make it five?

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