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Week 3 snap counts show an important shift for the Steelers

Interesting trends continue, but one thing really stands out.

NFL: Houston Texans at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Week 3 was a big week for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Not only did they improved to 3-0 for the first time since 2010, the Steelers beat the best quarterback they have faced in a year. But more than that, for the first time this season the Steelers offense played more snaps than the Steelers defense. It wasn’t close either as the offense was on the field 70% more than the defense was, largely in the second half, when the Steelers outscored the Houston Texans 11-0 and dominated time of possession.

The offensive snap counts also show that the Steelers used a lot of players over those 80 snaps.

The starting offensive line and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger played every offensive snap, which is always great news. Jerald Hawkins played 3 snaps as a 6th offensive lineman and last week’s story of the game, Kevin Dotson, went back to the bench for all but 4 special teams snaps.

The next highest count after those six was Chase Claypool at 61 snaps played. Last week I called for Claypool to get more snaps, and while an injury to Diontae Johnson is not the way I would want that to happen, Claypool’s snaps certainly did go up. His production did not go up though as Claypool caught only one of his 4 targets for 24 yards, but he was on the field for the Steelers big second half scoring drives and drew a 4th down pass interference penalty. James Washington also played more than in Week 2, while JuJu Smith-Schuster played one fewer snap than he did in Week 2, dropping from 91% of snaps to 72% of snaps. Smith-Schuster made an impact on the game with several important catches and his usual impact away from the ball.

Eric Ebron again played the most at tight end, as he and Vance McDonald split snaps at close to the same rate as Week 2. This week, the tight ends gained more yards than they did in the first two weeks combined. The Houston Texans were focused on taking away deeper routes, and the tight ends stepped up.

James Conner was reaffirmed as Mike Tomlin’s main runner, but he only played 3 more snaps than he did in Week 2. Benny Snell (15-10) and Jaylen Samuels (6-5) both played more than they did in Week 2, while rookie Anthony McFarland Jr. made his debut with 6 rushes and 2 targets on 10 total snaps. Derek Watt actually played in the first half, and it looked like using a fullback was paying dividends before his day was ended by injury.

If you look closely you will see a name that doesn’t fit on that snap count list. Minkah Fitzpatrick played three offensive snaps in Week 3, but it wasn’t as an emergency receiver or the start of a dual threat career. Minkah Fitzpatrick took over Chase Claypool’s safety valve role in the kneel down at the end of the game. Claypool was in for the kneel down at the end of the first half.

Those 80 offensive snaps ate a lot of clock, and that left less time for the Texans, and it shows up with the defense playing a total of 47 snaps after playing 68 snaps in Week 1 and 77 in Week 2.

On defense, the usual five played every snap with no repeats of Week 2’s 3-4 formation with Mike Hilton replacing Terrell Edmunds. So far Joe Haden, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Devin Bush have been on the field for every defensive snaps, while Terrell Edmunds and Steven Nelson have missed a combined 7 snaps.

Bud Dupree, T.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward, and Tyson Alualu played roughly the same percentage of snaps in Week 3 as they did the first two weeks. Stephon Tuitt played a bit less and Isaiah Buggs dropped from 20%+ Weeks 1 & 2 to only 4 snaps in Week 3. Vince Williams continues to play a large percentage of snaps while the game plan allowed Cameron Sutton to get back to his usual 30% range of snaps after he was used less in Week 2.

The number that stands out the most is Mike Hilton playing almost 80% of snaps, as his usage rate has gone up every week this season. If Mike Hilton continues to play at a high level, expect the Steelers to continue to make sure he sees the field as much as possible. Mike Hilton has spent a good amount of time at safety the last two weeks, replacing Edmunds on 6 snaps in a 3-4 set in Week 2, and swapping back with Edmunds covering the slot a decent amount in both nickel and dime. Mike Hilton can play safety, corner or his pseudo-linebacker role all while lining up in similar starting positions to start the play. If he keeps playing all three at a high level, the Steelers will continue to be creative with how they use him.