The Pitsburgh Steelers won an ugly, close game in week 2, defeating the banged up Denver Broncos by 5 points. The Steelers still have a lot of room to grow, and as Mike Tomlin stated in his post-game press conference, “It’s good to grow while you are winning.”
Looking at the statistics, the film and the snap counts from week 2, a few players stood out.
There were two new starters on the offensive line, and the entire line played the entire game, always a good sign. There is no rotation on the offensive line, so the only real question there is what the Steelers will do if Kevin Dotson is playing at a high level when David DeCastro comes back? Dotson and right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor both played well on the right side.
At tight end the pecking order is becoming more clear, last week Eric Ebron led the position with 2 more snaps than Vance McDonald, and in week 2 that increased to 14 snaps as Ebron played the highest percentage of offensive snaps (77%) in a game since week 4 of 2018. Vance McDonald played 55% of snaps as the Steelers averaged 1.32 tight ends per play, meaning they had both tight ends on the field for a minimum of 21 snaps this week.
Jaylen Samuels dropped from 20 snaps in week one to 5 snaps in week two. James Conner is a good back on third downs, so Jaylen Samuels wasn’t needed as much, and his bobbled screen pass didn’t help him any either. Benny Snell was on offense for only 10 snaps, carrying the ball 3 times for 5 yards and catching the only ball thrown his way for -4 yards. a net gain of 1 yard on 4 touches isn’t a great game following his fantastic performance in week 1, and the trend of either James Conner or Benny Snell producing when the other doesn’t continues.
Chase Claypool continues to rank fourth in snaps played among Steeler wide receivers, despite being second on the team in receiving yards. Chase Claypool is currently averaging 25.4 yards per target, and an equally astounding 2.95 receiving yards per offensive snap. Steelers receiving yards leader Diontae Johnson is averaging 1.37 yards per snap.
Small sample size? You bet. But with numbers like that he has to play more and get more targets. Ben Roethlisberger hasn’t thrown a pass to Claypool yet that he hasn’t caught. The young man needs to be more involved, defenses are going to have to respect him, and as much as I like James Washington, his 3 targets and 34 yards in 68 snaps doesn’t come close to Claypool’s 127 yards on 43 snaps.
Diontae Johnson in 2019 played 50 snaps in the first two weeks, and put up 42 receiving yards. In 2017, JuJu Smith-Schuster played 63 snaps in his first two weeks, with 16 receiving yards. James Washington played 77 snaps in his first two weeks as a Steeler, and didn’t get over 100 yards on the season until week 12. Chase Claypool is destroying those numbers, even if you take his 84 yard TD out of the discussion.
Chase Claypool has to play more. His small sample of plays demand a larger sample. Until those numbers come down to a reasonable level he isn’t playing or getting targeted enough.
Speaking of players that need to be playing more, Steelers fullback Derek Watt has been a huge boost to the Steelers run game when he gets on the field. The Steelers have run the clock out with two game ending drives in two weeks, with 4 straight runs in both game ending drives. When the Steelers want to run the clock out, and they put in Derek Watt they pick up first downs, and they end the game with the victory formation. I can’t believe he doesn’t offer any value during the rest of the game
The Steelers have no plans of giving inside linebacker Devin Bush pays off. Two weeks playing 100% of defensive snaps, and he’s done well, as long as the Steelers don’t ask him to go outside of what is reasonable to ask of him.
Speaking of what is reasonable though, Vince Williams played 83% of snaps, and while he played well and the defense seems to be avoiding miscommunications, Vince Williams continues to be exploited by the opposing offense. Teams with athletic tight ends and good receiving backs are going to be able to attack the Steelers linebackers like the Broncos did. With Bush and Williams in at linebacker the Broncos were able to get Devin Bush on Noah Fant and Vince Williams on Melvin Gordon. Both of those were mismatches that led to both of the Broncos touchdowns and their 2-pt conversion.
When the Steelers had Terrell Edmunds covering Noah Fant and Devin bush covering Melvin Gordon the results were much better. When the Steelers have a 2 score lead there isn’t a good reason to bring Vince Williams on the field when the opponent has 3 wide receivers, a receiving tight end and a running back out there. I’d like to see Sean Davis get some snaps in those situations, and a big dime look from the Steelers with Terrell Edmunds matched up with receiving tight ends. Devin Bush is a destroyer of runningbacks, and while he’s solid covering tight ends, he can’t handle the better receiving tight ends reliably. The Steelers shouldn’t personnel match Vince Williams with a good receiving tight end, and they shouldn’t match a blocking tight end with a nose tackle, especially when they have a two score lead in the second half. Make the opposing team run the ball, don’t keep giving up chunk plays and touchdowns to tight ends and running backs.