The injury situation for the Pittsburgh Steelers hasn’t been good, and it didn’t get any better in Week 5. But what did improve was the result, as the Steelers picked up their second win of the season with some key contributions from depth players.
Two key positions played 100% of snaps, the quarterback and offensive line. Those are generally the most important positions to have continuity, and it worked well for the Steelers in this game. Chukwuma Okorafor returned and continued his streak of playing his best against top pass rushers, as he and the rest of the offense were the first team to hold Von Miller to 0 sacks and 0 QB hits.
The line continued to look better in the run game as well, with Najee Harris picking up his first 100 yard rushing game and the Steelers first 100 yard rusher since October 18th of last year. The Broncos last allowed a 100 yard rusher in Week 12 of 2020. The Broncos allowed 102 rushing yards to the Ravens in Week 4, the Steelers topped that by 45 yards.
In the receiving room, the Steelers lost JuJu Smith-Schuster, and with James Washington out, Ray-Ray McCloud stepped in as the No. 3 receiver. Chase Claypool led the team with 6 targets and 130 yards, as it looked like the run game is opening up the passing game. Ben Roethlisberger’s 10.12 yards per attempt is his highest since his 5 TD game against Carolina in 2018, and a big boost to his 6.08 yards per attempt from the first 4 games.
The depth at running back showed up more this game, with both Benny Snell and Kalen Ballage getting 10+ snaps, giving Najee Harris 23 snaps off, by far the highest of his young career. Benny Snell was able to take advantage of the run blocking for 20 yards on 5 carries, He had 3 runs for 1 yard before this game. Kalen Ballage gained 5 yards on two of his carries, only to lose those 5 yards on two others for a balance of 0 yards on 4 carries.
Zach Gentry and Derek Watt played their most snaps of the season as well. Zach Gentry has been a dynamic run blocker and added another reception for 13 yards. He leads Steeler tight ends in receiving the last two weeks. While that is a sad reminder of how under-targeted the Steelers top two tight ends are, it also shows Zach Gentry is a valuable No. 3 tight end.
I would be remiss if I were to leave out Minkah Fitzpatrick playing a single snap on offense. The Steelers remain undefeated when he plays on offense, in my favorite role in the sport, the deep safety job in victory formation.
On defense the first thing that stands out is James Pierre playing all but one snap in this game. While he struggled at times in the expanded role, he came through in the clutch with a fantastic interception to seal the game. He joins Terrell Edmunds, who is having a really good season so far, as the only Steelers to intercept a pass this season.
When Devin Bush was hurt Robert Spillane stepped in and was solid, and Henry Mondeaux showed up big coming in and recording a sack while playing the third most snaps on the defensive line.
As the Steelers dig deep into their depth chart, they are finding some good football from players you probably weren’t expecting much from. As long as the next men up keep playing solid football, the Steelers will have a chance to win and buy themselves time to get some more impact players healthy.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the Seattle Seahawks in Week 6.