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Steelers snap counts show next man up hits a new high for banged up defense

While the receivers were dropping the ball, Steelers defenders were dropping out of the game.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers first loss came in their third game in 12 days, after their quarterback didn’t practice and in a game where the defense was down 4 more starters. But even with those factors against them, facing a young Washington Football Team on a win streak, the Steelers should have won the game, but the dropped the ball. Literally.


Offense

Most of these numbers are to be expected, Ben Roethlisberger and the offensive line played the whole game. Benny Snell was the starter at running back, and the same as every other time he is the main running back, Jaylen Samuels comes in on obvious passing downs. Anthony McFarland Jr. got his normal share of snaps, and Derek Watt got a few snaps as well.

The Steelers used their tight ends more in this game with 85 snaps, or 1.2 TEs per snap, up from their recent numbers, and more in line with early season tight end usage. The 6th offensive lineman, Jerald Hawkins, was used 4 times, and was targeted once.

The big change this week was with the wide receiver snaps. From weeks 8-11 James Washington fell behind Ray-Ray McCloud in both offensive snaps and targets, regaining the 4th wide receiver spot in week 12 and in week 13 receiving more snaps than Chase Claypool, who started the game as the teams leader in both receiving yards and touchdowns.

Claypool and Washington were each targeted 4 times in the game, both caught 2 of them, Claypool for 38 yards and Washington for 80 yards and a touchdown. Washington led the team in receiving yards despite being in a three-way tie with Claypool and Jaylen Samuels for the 4th most targets. Diontae Johnson again led the team in targets with 12, and with 71 yards took over the team lead in receiving yards. Eric Ebron was targeted 11 times, catching 7 for 68 yards while JuJu Smith-Schuster was targeted 10 times, catching 7 for 28 yards.

When the Steelers team leader in receiving, and the receiver who has been making big catches for the team are taking a back seat for players who are killing drives with drops, there is a problem.


Defense

The Steelers defense was dominant for most of the game, despite Bud Dupree joining Devin Bush on the list of players out for the season, and Steven Nelson missing the game. The Steelers would lose Robert Spillane and Joe Haden in the game, and with 5 key players not on the field, would finally give ground, allowing 13 points in the 4th quarter while the Steelers offense was only able to muster 54 yards on their last 4 drives.

Alex Highsmith was predictably the major replacement for Bud Dupree, playing over 80% of snaps, and before Robert Spillane was injured the Steelers had at least one play with only one of their edge rushers on the field. Without Spillane, the defense relied more on Avery Williamson, but also saw Olasunkanmi Adeniyi get more snaps. Tyson Alualu’s snap count dropped back to a better place after he struggled a bit with a drastic increase in workload against the Ravens.

Cameron Sutton played every snap with Steven Nelson out, and Justin Layne played 28 snaps as the dime back and then playing outside once Joe Haden left the game. They join Highsmith and Adeniyi in setting career high snap totals in this game.

Considering the Steelers saw 4 depth players set career high snap records and Avery Williamson set his high mark as a Steeler, the defensive performance in this game should be looked at as a success. The NFL average is 24.7 points, and the Washington Football Team, which was absolutely terrible for a big stretch of this season averages 22 points per game, giving the offense a mark of needing to score 24 points to win is acceptable, and not bad at all when that defense is missing so many key players.