After their 21-18 victory over the Cleveland Browns, the Pittsburgh Steelers have plenty of work to do. When the dust finally settled on Sunday, some clearly intentional roster decisions made themselves apparent when examining the snap totals.
On defense, several players returned to the field who hadn’t see significant snaps all preseason. Ryan Shazier and Mike Mitchell, to name a couple. But Shazier did participate in the preseason and was better equipped to handle the full workload of a regular-season game. On Sunday, Shazier played all 66 of the defensive snaps. As for Mitchell, he started the game but played only 44 snaps (67%), while J.J. Wilcox logged 20 snaps in his Pittsburgh debut.
The Steelers rotated players to help keep Mitchell healthy, while also letting him get acclimated to the game again. This seemed to work by all accounts until Wilcox left the game with an apparent head injury and, according to Mitchell, this arrangement might continue in the near future.
Safety wasn’t the only position where players split time. It also happened with the cornerbacks. Mike Hilton and William Gay seemingly swapped series as the nickel cornerback, with both usually on the field when the team was in its dime defensive package. The Steelers ran a lot of dime defense in the early portions of the game, which increased the snap totals for both Hilton (34 snaps / 52%) and Gay (26 snaps / 39%). Neither player stood out good or bad, and this rotation also could continue throughout the season.
On offense, Jesse James was the primary tight end and, after the dismissal of David Johnson before the season, you have to wonder what role newly acquired Vance McDonald will play.
The Steelers spread the field a lot on Sunday and, because of that, James was the lone tight end on most occasions. James played 54 snaps (90%), while McDonald only saw 18 snaps (30%) throughout the game. When McDonald was in, he did get a target but dropped the pass which would have been short of the first down even if caught.
Other than the tight end situation, the Steelers snap totals on offense were fairly status quo. It was a surprise to see JuJu Smith-Schuster log 25 snaps, while Le’Veon Bell saw only 43.
It was a weird game all around, and the Steelers clearly are still searching for the personnel groupings they need to be successful. Some of these will shake themselves out, but others—like the one the team will face if Stephon Tuitt’s injury is serious— will force them to make adjustments on the fly.
Either way, take a look at the snap totals for yourself and draw your own conclusions. You can see them HERE, courtesy of Pro-Football Reference.