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Steelers snap counts vs. the Bengals in Week 15 reveal the true cost of injuries

A good part of the Steelers struggles are due to the players they don’t have.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Buffalo Bills Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

The Steelers lost their 3rd game of the 2020 season, falling to a two win Bengals team. Snapping an eleven game win streak that survived Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges in 2019 doesn’t just happen, and the snap counts show the amount of turnover involved in the Steelers’ losing streak.


Offense

The Steelers had four of their offensive lineman healthy and playing the full game this week. Matt Feiler’s absence led to J.C. Hassenauer making his first career start at guard, and setting a career high for snaps playing somewhere other than center. The Steelers rotated Derwin Gray in for Hassenauer on 16 plays, setting a career snap count high for Gray. While the Steelers have seen worse offensive line situations, it was clear from the start of the game that Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t comfortable in the pocket.

Another number that stands out is Vance McDonald playing 60 snaps, his highest of the 2020 season and the 7th highest of his 8 year career. McDonald wasn’t targeted in the game. Benny Snell was again the leader in running back snaps, but James Conner’s continued absence didn’t result in a lot of Jaylen Samuels snaps in this game, as the Steelers showed they were willing to give Benny Snell more snaps in passing downs and it paid off with Snell averaging over 4 yards per carry and catching 3 passes for 23 yards.

Outside of replacing Conner, Eric Ebron and Matt Feiler in this game, the offense was fully intact, and fully dysfunctional.


Defense

Marcus Allen was a safety that couldn’t get off the practice squad in 2019. In 2020, he converted to linebacker and sat on the bench until injuries forced him into action. In Week 15 the situation was bad enough that Allen played 100% of defensive snaps and led the team in total snaps. In the Steelers three losses, their snap leaders have been Cameron Sutton, Cameron Sutton, and Marcus Allen. When backups, even valuable backups, are leading the team in snaps played, there is a problem. Marcus Allen has been the Steelers dime linebacker since Devin Bush was lost for the season, but at this point he’s not just replacing Devin Bush in dime, he’s also replacing Vince Williams in other sets, while Avery Williamson is replacing the snaps Robert Spillane took over when Devin Bush went down.

Alex Highsmith continues to log a huge snap count load as the other options for outside linebacker are liabilities the Steelers can’t cover for with their current roster.

Joe Haden’s return shored up the passing defense, but with frequent short fields, a run game that was decently productive and no pressure to push the ball downfield against a Steelers team that wasn’t scoring points, the Bengals never had to risk testing the Steelers secondary and spent most of the game going after the inside linebackers.