The snap counts in week Four present the restricted capabilities of the Steelers in key positions
After seeing a unicorn not only in the form of an offensive score in the first quarter but also in the form of an opening drive touchdown at Green Bay, the Pittsburgh Steelers fans were able to see the same old Steelers battle it out for the ball to move, Najee Harris ruled on offense and got stops on defense.
If you look at this week’s Snap counts, it’s easy to see how few options the depth map has left.
Joe Haeg came on for Chukwuma Okorafor against the Bengals and wasn’t very good. He was better this week as the line-up is the most consistent and effective game this year. They have gotten noticeably better every week and still haven’t reached the level of “good”. But we can say they haven’t been bad this week, and that’s a huge improvement.
That improved line showed what Najee Harris can achieve with proper blocking, and Harris was again the best offensive player on the field. Yes, he didn’t hit every hole, but he more than makes up for any mistake.
Benny Snell was again the main subject for Harris, once again showing that he was never good on spot service. He does his best when he’s the lead, but he’s not nearly effective enough to warrant that role. Kalen Ballage received his first offensive snaps as a Steeler but couldn’t get the ball. We’ll see if Ballage can overtake Snell for the role of the back coming in to drive home how good Najee Harris is.
Ray-Ray McCloud got back just a few snaps after walking in last week when the Steelers dropped multiple recipients. Cody White even got a few snaps against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 3. James Washington reappeared as he normally does, looks good when the quarterback game looks awful.
Eric Ebron tripled his total catches for the season, going from 1 to 3. His 2 catches on 2 targets gave him his first 100 percent catch-rate game in his Steelers days. He also ranked behind Pat Freiermuth and Zach Gentry in yards. The Steeler tight ends were 4/4 with 29 yards in play. Not the production we expected from a room with Freiermuth and Ebron.
Where do the Steelers go from here? There is talent in the field, but there is no corresponding production. The offensive line has borne the lion’s share of the blame since week 1, but it’s improving and the offensive isn’t improving. The negativity surrounding Ben Roethlisberger and fan belief that he will change the way they are used to seeing after a bad game seems to be waning.
The Steelers probably won’t put Roethlisberger on the bench, but if you look at the roster, where else can fans hope for a spark?
We’re going to jump straight to what I consider to be the most important snaps on this list. Last week it turned out Arthur Maulet played all of the nickel snaps and Tre Norwood and James Pierre played the dime snaps. If you watch last week’s movie and look for it in this week’s game, it held. Tre Norwood has films out there now, and the novice’s mistakes are being exploited by seasoned recipients. In no time you can protect him more. Maulet wasn’t great, but he was solid. James Pierre is a sophomore player but he still has some areas to grow in. This is not the veteran group that the Steelers 2019 and 2020 had, and there are clear areas for teams that this secondary school can be attacked in, and they are.
It becomes clear that Joe Schobert isn’t going to be good in the role of Buck linebacker, he’s more of a Mike in that defense. To be clear, these are no longer positions in this defense, the roles of Buck or Mike change with the play. Devin Bush was better than Mike Linebacker, but with this line-up he’s the best ILB dealing with blockers, lightning and traffic navigation. It’s not 100%, I saw Aaron Jones run away from Bush and turn the corner. The first time I saw Bush, his speed is just not there.
Speaking of not playing at full speed, TJ Watt didn’t seem 100% either. When Dupree and Watt were together, the quarterbacks didn’t overtake the Steelers Edge Rusher. Aaron Rogers did that with TJ Watt this week. Playing on the field and playing hard doesn’t mean you are 100%, and while Watt tried great and was one of the best players on the defensive, he clearly wasn’t 100%. Ingram and Highsmith both played and both looked good but not great. You have to wonder how much more we can get out of them and how much they need to dominate TJ Watts to produce.
On the defensive, Isaiah Buggs has played the most games this season, both in terms of total snaps and percentage. In fact, he’s tied up his snapshot career and set a new mark for the snapshot percentage. He didn’t play bad at all, he had a good game. But we also know the limits of Buggs. He won’t give the Steelers what Stephon Tuitt or Tyson Alualu give them. Buggs is a nice reserve, and he’s performed for the Steelers this week, but it’s not enough in a game where the line struggled in the running game and Aaron Rogers wasn’t putting much pressure at all. The Steelers need hitting play, and there aren’t a lot of places to get it from.
The injury report will be crucial this week as the team prepares for the Denver Broncos in week 5 at Heinz Field. Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and advice on the black and gold as it goes on during the regular season.