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Week 12 snap counts show the Steelers aren’t really committed to the run game

If you want to run the ball, you probably want to play your run blockers.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

What does a commitment to the run game look like? Is it number of carries, is it the number of wide receivers on the field, is it the formation? In my opinion, a commitment to the run game means prioritizing run blockers being on the field. If you are looking to find ways to run the ball while being set up to pass, that isn’t a commitment to the run game, that is hoping you can run while being committed to the passing game.


Offense

Let’s start with Kevin Dotson. Dotson is a fantastic run blocking guard, who is good at pass blocking for a rookie, but that is faint praise, he is a decent pass blocker by NFL standards. Dotson played 4 snaps, for one he came in when Chukwuma Okorafor missed a play with Matt Feiler moving to tackle, and three other times he came in as an extra lineman, and lined up outside like a tight end.

The Steelers put their best run blocking offensive lineman (yes, he’s their best one) outside of their right tackle and ran up the middle for a 2-yard loss. When you bring on an extra lineman the defense brings in a heavier set and puts more bodies in the middle. The Steelers somehow thought putting Dotson outside and running up the middle where they weren’t running well already against more defenders was a good choice.

Vance McDonald returned and took a bunch of snaps back from Eric Ebron, which was good to see with Ebron having played a ton of snaps in recent weeks, and McDonald is a better run blocker than Ebron. To be honest McDonald had a positive impact in the run game, but they still have better run blockers on the roster.

Derek Watt played 4 snaps. Derek Watt got a nice contract to come to the Steelers because they needed a special teams ace and a fullback who could block and be a receiving threat. Derek Watt fits that bill, but he doesn’t see the field very much at all. The Steelers were “trying” to establish the run in this game, and yet Watt wasn’t on the field.

I’ll defer to J.J. Watt’s tweet that his brother T.J. Watt liked. . .

I feel the same way J.J. Watt.

We were calling for more Derek Watt before his injury, and I haven’t brought Watt up much at all since, because he was coming back off an injury. But look at Watt’s special teams snaps, he played 76% of those snaps, no one on the team played more. Yet he wasn’t on offense.

While I loved Tomlin’s post game press conference anger at the run blocking being absolute trash in week 12, it rings a little hollow when your two best run blockers get 8 snaps combined, and both were on the field for the kneel down to end the game. If the Steelers are going to commit to the run game, it can’t be protect Ben first, have your best receivers on the field second, and then demand the run game finds success third.

If the Steelers are going to go all in on this offense being all about the passing game, then call passing plays and stop trying to force the run. If they are going to be serious about running the ball, then for goodness sake, put your run blockers out there and make the passing game work with them.

Outside of that Chase Claypool dropped in snaps as Diontae Johnson’s drops were apparently more valuable than Chase Claypool’s drops, and JuJu Smith-Schuster led the team in snaps so he could be targeted on only the shortest possible passes. Smith-Schuster’s target depth isn’t really a snap count thing, but I’m complaining about usage so yeah, what is up with Smith-Schuster only getting the shortest of routes? He’s a good route runner who happens to have a ton of big plays in his short career. I think he could handle a 10 yard out route, and he’d actually catch it too.

James Washington runs deeper routes, and he actually catches the ball, so naturally he is the Steelers 4th receiver in snaps. At least he got more time than the punt returner this week.

I can’t complain about Minkah Fitzpatrick, he was on the field for the best offensive play of the game, even if it is listed as a -1 yard run for Ben Roethlisberger, I hope to see him out there again next week.


Defense

I’m sick over Bud Dupree’s injury. He’s my favorite current Steeler, and has been an underrated force on this defense since he was drafted. I’ll be writing plenty of articles about him from now until he likely leaves the team this offseason, but man. . . we’re going to miss him.

With Stephon Tuitt out Tyson Alualu played a ton of snaps, the last time he played more than 83% of snaps was week 3 of 2017. Chris Wormley played 25 snaps, more than double his previous high for 2020 of 11 snaps. Wormley was hit or miss, getting driven off the line at times, but he made the key play on the stuff at the goal line at the end of the half, coming from the other side of the line to hit Gus Edwards in the backfield. Would love to see more of that from Wormley, especially since the Steelers may play him more to help fill Bud Dupree’s shoes. Wormley is a better defensive end than a tackle, and can play on the edge.

Alex Highsmith played 11 snaps to Olasunkanmi Adeniyi’s single snap, and that number is likely to climb steeply for the rest of the season as his red-shirt season ends and he is the primary player that will be filling Bud Dupree’s snaps..

Jordan Dangerfield was on the field for 3 snaps, including the last two plays of the first half, when he played cornerback against the Ravens no wide receiver set. Avery Williamson played 25 snaps and recorded 2 tackles as his role is increasing. Vince Williams played fewer snaps, but his snaps fluctuate week to week more than most, and this game was within the normal range.

The Steelers defense gave up one really bad play, and outside of that was solid. They have already done a great job filling in for Devin Bush being on injured reserve, now they will have to fill in for another of their top players. Next man up.