Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh Steelers adjusting to life without Antonio Brown

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LATROBE, Pa. — So I got here two days too soon. I arrived in camp last Wednesday, just before the Antonio Brown explosion out in Oakland. I doubt they’d have piled on their alumni receiver, because it’s not the Steeler Way, but it’d have been fun to try to get the vets here to say something. Imagine what they were thinking over the weekend: Man, we’re so glad we don’t have the Antonio drama anymore.

I’ve come to this training camp most years since 1984. It’s amazing how little has changed. Chuck Noll was in the middle of his 23-year run then, and reporters could actually visit players in their dorm room at St. Vincent College. (I knocked on Mike Webster’s door that year and spent a pleasant 30 minutes with him.) Then Bill Cowher, starting in 1992; once, because of a soggy main field, unwilling to cancel practice that day, Cowher had a practice on the little-used upper field bordering a corn field. I thought it would be cool to see Jerome Bettis and Levon Kirkland walk out to practice Field of Dreams-style, through the cornstalks. And now, Mike Tomlin runs the show, and he did the other day what he’s always done—hooted and hollered at the one-on-one drills, offensive line versus defensive line. Tomlin’s been a prototype Steelers coach, because he loves traditional football and traditional football practices. And traditional winning.

The Steelers have been here every summer since 1966. This practice was the first one in a while that I did not see the brown-robed monks out at practice, mingling with the Rooneys. Joe Greene never had training camp anywhere else. Nor has JuJu Smith-Schuster.

Last year felt like mayhem from the start, with the Le’Veon Bell holdout marring the start and the Brown no-show in Week 17 marring the finish. Something had to give. That something was letting Bell walk, and the trade of Brown to Oakland. I think the Steelers are better off without both. James Conner (5.4 yards per touch in 2018) was a suitable but not perfect sub for Bell, and Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster, the amiable and totally non-controversial wideout, give Ben Roethlisberger the kind of team-first weapons Tomlin loves. I found it interesting that Roethlisberger has been talking up Ryan Switzer, the well-traveled (for 24) wideout/returner as a potential big weapon on an Edelman scale. At the afternoon practice, there was Switzer as a sidecar to Roethlisberger running a wheel route out of the backfield, as well as in both slot and wide formations. So we’ll see about the former Cowboy and Raider. The Steelers need young James Washington or veteran Donte Moncrief to produce too. Also: Vance McDonald, who has a Gronk-type stiff arm and isn’t afraid to use it (50 catches, 12.2 yards per catch last year), should see expanded importance at tight end.

I’m bullish on the Steelers and the cheerful/optimistic Roethlisberger—who, camp observes say, has been genuinely happy this summer—having a prolific season again. Did you know he led the NFL with 5,129 passing yards last year—774 more than Tom Brady, 1,137 more than Drew Brees? It’s understandable that he will miss the great Brown, but I also am told he is supremely motivated to prove he can be just as great without Brown than he was with him.

Pittsburgh’s got an interesting season ahead, in many ways. The schedule, for one. Six 2018 playoff teams in the first nine games, including the opening Sunday night in Foxboro. But only one 2018 playoff team in the last seven weeks. Much of that late-season fortunate scheduling depends on the Browns, because Pittsburgh plays Cleveland on Nov. 14 and Dec. 1.

Read more from Football Morning in America here

Antonio Brown’s a great fit with Raiders due to Jon Gruden’s street cred

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SEATTLE — Quite a weekend. You probably needed much of Sunday to digest the Antonio Brown trade. I know I did. So much to unpack, really.

I think of Pittsburgh’s trade of Brown to the Raiders for third-round and fifth-round picks the way I think of a college class. You get the syllabus on day one, with 15 compartmentalized lectures, all of them with tributaries that make the class so involved and complex.

With Brown, there are so many angles.

Here is a look at just a few of them, including why Brown is a great fit in Oakland. (Read about more angles of the trade here).

• Talent always wins. John Elway got trashed as a selfish guy coming out of Stanford in 1983, saying he wouldn’t play for Baltimore. Eli Manning got trashed the same way in 2004 saying he wouldn’t play for the Chargers. Deion Sanders invented a persona (Prime Time), found a way to moonlight with baseball as the best cornerback in football, then cashed in multiple times using one team against another in free agency.

Add Antonio Brown to that list now. Brown seemingly eviscerated his market in the last 10 weeks, since going AWOL from the Steelers in the final game of the season, then making a series of one-more-bizarre-than-the-other statements on TV and social media. But as one team executive told me Sunday, “The best players, even the a——, always have a market.” Elway found a team, and peace, and won two Super Bowls. Manning found a team, and peace, and won two Super Bowls. Sanders found multiple teams and broke the bank, and is the most accomplished multi-sport athlete of this time. Brown is a strange guy, but strange guys with six years straight of 100 receptions are going to have options. In this case, one good one.

• Gruden’s a good landing spot. The Raiders have been a willy-nilly trade-and-dump team in Gruden’s 14 months in office. With some reservations—mostly monetary—I’ll say this is a win. “One thing I know,” said Rich Gannon, who was a league MVP playing for Gruden in his first Raider stint, “is Jon loves these kinds of players. He’s got street cred with them. He’s done it with Andre Rison, Jerry Rice, Tim Brown, Sterling Sharpe, John Jett, Keyshawn Johnson … He’ll tell Antonio, ‘I’ll get you your 1,500 yards, your 120 balls, and here’s what you have to do for me.’ There are things Antonio will have to be accountable for. But honestly, I don’t think Jon will have a problem with him. And remember: Jon came up in the league coaching this position. He’ll be coaching Antonio a lot during the season.”

Bold prediction, though Gannon is a big Gruden guy. I do wonder two things: How will Brown handle losing, if the Raiders continue on that path? (Steelers regular season wins per year since Brown entered the league in 2010: 10.5. Raiders: 6.2.) And what happens if there’s a quarterback shakeup this year or next, and Derek Carr leaves and a rookie steps in? Is Brown going to be a steadying force in an unstable situation to help turn the team around? Those are legit questions. Brown was a great player and his work ethic a good example for young players. He’ll have a lot of young kids looking up to him now, and he can’t be the incendiary device he was in Pittsburgh.

• Brown’s a classic Raider. Over the years, so many players the rest the league either didn’t want or thought were kaput found their way to Oakland. Some flourished, some withered. But there’s always been a WELCOME sign in the Black Hole for players like Brown. Right now there’s so much pressure on Gruden to show he’s worth $100 million, and to breathe life into a lousy team, and to show Las Vegas it’s getting a premier team. The marriage, on the surface, makes sense. The football world’s first reaction when it looked like Brown was headed to Buffalo was, What a bummer. Brown with the Bills—that’s no fun. But Oakland is another story, as is Vegas in 2020. Now the players in this drama—Brown and Gruden most notably, and Tomlin righting the shaky ship at the confluence of the Three Rivers—have to play their parts.

Read more from Football Morning in America here

How to watch Ravens vs. Steelers on Sunday Night Football

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The Pittsburgh Steelers are set to host the rival Baltimore Ravens for an AFC North showdown on Sunday Night Football, which airs Sunday night at 8:20 p.m. ET.

The Steelers are coming off a narrow victory against the Buccaneers, moving their record to 1-1-1 on the season. Look for Pittsburgh to rely on veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger — who has thrown three touchdowns in back-to-back weeks — getting the ball to his playmakers in wide receivers Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster, as well as, running back James Conner.

More coverage of Sunday Night Football

The Ravens come into hostile territory with a record of 2-1 after alternating wins and losses to begin the season. While Baltimore is known for running the ball and playing strong defense, quarterback Joe Flacco has been airing it out a bit more this season (296 passing yards per game as opposed to 196 in 2017) thanks in large part to adding wide receivers Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead IV in the offseason.

Pregame coverage of Ravens-Steelers and a recap of Week 4 begins with Football Night in America at 7:00 p.m. ET on NBC.

How to watch Sunday Night Football:

What: Baltimore Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

When: Sunday, September 30, 2018

Football Night in America: 7:00 p.m. ET

SNF kickoff: 8:20 p.m ET

Where to watch: NBC, or right here