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Week 6 snap counts show the Steelers finally unleash Alex Highsmith and Pat Freiermuth

The Steelers showed they are willing to change things up to win in week 6.

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Pittsburgh Steelers Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers won their third game of the season, pulling back to .500 in the standings with a 23-20 overtime win over the Seattle Seahawks. It wasn’t pretty, but a win is a win. A two-game winning streak and a 3-3 record heading into the bye is a lot nicer than a 2-4 record. The Steelers still aren’t in great shape on the injury front and this week the Steelers snap counts showed they are willing to give different players a shot, and are willing to change up their strategies to get the best out of this team.


Offense

Dan Moore Jr. missed some of the game and Joe Haeg replaced him, Benny Snell had a pretty nasty looking injury in the first quarter, and while Kalen Ballage then received all the backup running back snaps, Benny Snell continued his role as a primary special teams player after the injury. Whatever fans may think about his play as a running back, he’s a really valuable special teams player, and apparently one tough dude.

The Steelers played Ray-Ray McCloud a lot on offense in Week 6, with James Washington playing only 8 snaps. It could be that while he was cleared to play, he wasn’t 100% during the game. It could also be a sign that with JuJu Smith-Schuster out, McCloud is taking over the #3 WR spot. While I lean more to the injury side of that coin, this season hasn’t been a good one for James Washington.

The biggest change is the overall percentage of tight end snaps for the Steelers. The Steelers have been averaging 1.2 or fewer tight ends per snap in their other games this season, but with JuJu Smith-Schuster out they leaned more heavily on the tight ends, with 1.36 tight ends per snap. And when you add in Derek Watt, that comes to 1.44 TE/FB per snap. That uptick in snaps correlates with a much bigger uptick in production as Eric Ebron and Pat Freiermuth combined to catch all 9 of their targets for 68 yards. That’s more than the duo had in the previous three games combined.

Getting their talented receiving tight ends off the line and in space should pay dividends, especially in Matt Canada’s offense. It also stands out that Najee Harris caught a touchdown on a play where he lined up in the slot. The loss of Smith-Schuster is a big loss, but the Steelers leaning on Matt Canada’s use of RBs and TEs in creative ways should pay dividends for the entire offense, and help offset the loss.


Defense

The main four defensive backs all played 100% of snaps, which isn’t uncommon. What is unusual is Alex Highsmith joining the 100% club for the first time in his career. It paid off with Highsmith recording his first 4 QB hits of the season, collecting 1.5 sacks to go with 2 tackles for a loss. Before this week Highsmith had 0 sacks, 0 QB hits and 1 tackle for a loss on the season. That’s a breakout game.

On the other end of that snap increase is Melvin Ingram playing a total of 17 snaps, half his previous low from this season, and for the first time this season didn’t produce a single stat. I can’t remember anything about him being injured, he was on the injury report for missing Wednesday’s practice with a non-injury-related designation, and he practiced the rest of the week. Perhaps we’ll find out he was hurt in the game. Derrek Tuszka didn’t see the field at all after playing in three straight games. You would expect him to see some snaps if the Steelers had an injured linebacker.

Another big deal is Henry Mondeaux coming in third in defensive line snaps for the second straight game. After a preseason where he was consistently the player right behind Wormley, the Steelers put him on the practice squad, but since they elevated him he has been the #3 lineman. It doesn’t make sense to me that they would put on the practice squad a guy who, when he’s on the roster, ranks ahead of multiple players they kept over him.

The Steelers continued their rotation of Arthur Maulet playing mostly in nickel, then coming out in dime for James Pierre and Tre Norwood. Both Tre Norwood and Arthur Maulet made plays against Seattle, and looked good for most of the game. The Steelers defense isn’t what it was when it had Mike Hilton, Steven Nelson, Vince Williams, Tyson Alualu and Stephon Tuitt, but the Steelers have found players to fill those roles well enough to keep the defense solid even with players out and players like Devin Bush playing at less than 100%.