Steelers Beat Writer

Dale Lolley is a contributor to the Observer-Reporter and has been covering the Pittsburgh Steelers since 1993.

How’s that Minkah Fitzpatrick trade looking now?

When the Steelers traded their 2020 first-round draft pick – along with some other late-round selections – to the Miami Dolphins in September for Fitzpatrick and some later-round picks, critics questioned the move.

After all, how could the Steelers trade away their 2020 first-round pick just a day after losing Ben Roethlisberger for the season? Weren’t they going to need what was surely going to be a top-5 pick to draft their next quarterback?

Those people simply weren’t looking around the league. And they were underestimating just how many bad teams there are in the NFL this year. The Steelers, even with Mason Rudolph at quarterback, aren’t one of them.

Yes, the Steelers’ three victories have come over teams with a combined record of 3-20. But their four losses have come against teams with a combined record of 27-4. And three of those losses have been by four points or less.

The thing is, after playing the 5-2 Colts today, the second half has the Steelers playing a schedule that includes only two teams with winning records and opponents with a combined record of 23-36-1.

According to FootballOutsiders.com, the Steelers’ remaining opponents make up the 27th easiest remaining schedule in the league.

The team they’re chasing, the Baltimore Ravens, by the way, have the seventh-most difficult remaining schedule, starting with a game tonight against the unbeaten New England Patriots.

Which brings us back to Fitzpatrick.

Since trading for Fitzpatrick, the Steelers’ defense has allowed 292 yards and 16.8 points per game. And after intercepting a pair of passes against his former team, he’s accounted for four turnovers in five games.

Even if they don’t make the playoffs, the Steelers are going to wind up with a draft pick that would have been somewhere in the teens. And they weren’t getting a player of Fitzpatrick’s talent with that pick.

  • With the way that outside linebacker Bud Dupree is playing, the Steelers are going to have to give serious consideration to making a strong pitch to keep him beyond this season.

Since making the move from left to right outside linebacker, Dupree has 9 1/2 sacks, 19 quarterback hits, an interception and five pass defenses in 23 games.

Those aren’t No. 1 outside linebacker numbers, but the Steelers don’t need Dupree to be Batman. T.J. Watt, who has 19 sacks in the 23 games since the Steelers made the switch in sides with he and Dupree, is Batman.

But they do need Dupree to be Robin. And he’s playing Robin really well.

  • Ryan Switzer has 50 career receptions, including 44 with the Steelers. Of wide receivers with at least 50 career receptions, his average of 6.4 yards is the lowest in NFL history.

That hasn’t been helped by his 3.4 yards per catch this season.

Johnny Holton has played 105 snaps this season and been targeted with five passes but has yet to catch a pass.

Is it any wonder the Steelers waited to release Donte Moncrief? Next to those two, Moncrief’s 4.5 yards per catch – on four receptions – makes him a deep threat.

This roster was built with the idea that Ben Roethlisberger would help make the receivers better. But without Roethlisberger, it’s a pretty thin group.

The Steelers released Moncrief Saturday, a move that will save them a third-round compensatory pick for losing Le’Veon Bell in free agency.

This week’s games

Steelers (plus 1) over Indianapolis: The Steelers opened as 1½-point favorites, but the line moved to the Colts being favored by 1. That will likely change again before game time based on wide receiver T.Y. Hilton not playing for Indianapolis. He’s missed one other game and the Colts got rolled by the Raiders at home. The Steelers should be able to run the ball against an Indianapolis defense that allows 4.8 yards per carry. And keep an eye on Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri. He’s missed five of 13 field-goal attempts outdoors. Take the Steelers, 20-16

Cleveland (minis 4) over Denver: This is one the Browns absolutely must win. If not, things could start to get even uglier than they already are. The Broncos will be starting quarterback Brandon Allen, who will be making his first career start. And their offensive line is, well, just as bad as Cleveland’s. Look for Myles Garrett to have multiple sacks in this one as the Browns show some signs of life. Take the Browns, 24-13

New England (minus 3½) over Baltimore: Bill Belichick’s Patriots have never allowed a quarterback to rush for 100 or more yards. Lamar Jackson will test that, but the guess here is that Belichick will have something in store for the second-year quarterback that he’s never seen before. This has all the looks of a low-scoring game, but it should be a good one. The hook is scary here, but the Patriots will win it. Take the Patriots, 17-13

Buffalo (plus 10) over Washington: Low-hanging fruit here. Rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins will make his first career start for the Redskins. And he hasn’t looked good in any of his mopup roles. The Buffalo defense should eat the kid alive. And that’s even with the Bills’ offense struggling. Take the Bills, 20-6

Minnesota (minus 1½) over Kansas City: The Packers last week and the Vikings this week. Patrick Mahomes picked a fine time to dislocate his kneecap. The Chiefs have a bye next week and a two-game lead in their division. The bet here is that they allow Mahomes to sit one more week to get healthier for the stretch run. And their defense just isn’t good enough to slow down the Minnesota offense, even at home. Take the Vikings, 31-20.

Last Week 3-2. Overall 24-15

Dale Lolley covers the Steelers for DKPittsburghSports.com and writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter.

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