The Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Chicago Bears in a surprisingly close match up in Week 9, and as they did, some of the trends we’ve seen recently were really cemented into place. Let’s look at what we can expect from the Steelers the rest of the season.
The Steelers had their starting offensive line and quarterback on the field for every snap again this week, and again they pulled out a win. Consistency in the most important places cannot be undervalued in the NFL. We saw last season’s Steelers fall apart with offensive line injuries, and while this line has three rookies starting, and has had it’s share of troubles, they have become a major force in the Steelers’ win streak.
Speaking of major offensive forces...
Pat Freiermuth played 70%+ snaps for the second week in a row, he’s played 74.6% of snaps since the bye week. Before the bye he averaged 50.6% of snaps. An increase of 35 snaps over the pace he was at before the bye.
In the first 5 games Freiermuth gained 100 yards and scored 1 TD on 13 targets. Since the bye he has 87 yards and 3 TDs on 13 targets, in two games. He has been a clear determining factor in the last two games. All four of Freiermuth’s touchdowns are red-zone scores, and his three in the last two games has the Steelers red zone touchdown rate at 71.4%, which would be a top five mark this season. In two games won by a combined 7 points, that matters a lot.
The development of Pat Freiermuth into a top offensive option for Ben Roethlisberger is a huge factor in the Steelers 4-game win streak. The Steelers are 3-0 when Pat Freiermuth plays 40+ snaps in a game, they are 2-3 when he doesn’t.
James Washington played 41 snaps, the third most of his season, and posted his second best receiving total. Ray-Ray McCloud played a solid 36% of snaps, and found a way to contribute with a 12-yard catch on a scoring drive, a little bit of a recovery from his devastating punt return fumble.
Lastly, it was interesting to see Anthony McFarland inactive for this game, and it was interesting to see Kevin Rader active but not playing a snap on special teams.
With Rader only getting a single snap on offense and none on special teams, you have to wonder if his role couldn’t have been filled by Derek Watt, and why the Steelers wanted Rader active for this game.
The main four defensive backs played 100% of snaps, and it appears the rotating Terrell Edmunds off the field experiment has died again. It has baffled me why they would want one of their most versatile and athletic defenders on the bench before, and I’m glad to see it go by the wayside. The last three games Edmunds has taken on big roles in run defense, while also being a key man defender in the passing game. And while that has taken a toll on his efficiency numbers, his ability to absorb more responsibility has benefitted the defense a lot.
Cameron Heyward’s usual level of dominance was on display again in his usual allotment of snaps. This week the Steelers captain recorded the second interception of his career. Terrell Edmunds and Minkah Fitzpatrick are the only current Steelers with more interceptions for this team the last two seasons. Heyward is tied with Joe Haden, and has more than Cameron Sutton, James Pierre and the rest of the defensive backs.
The inside linebacker rotation was fully implemented in Week 9, with Devin Bush and Joe Schobert playing every nickel and 7-man front package snap, and Robert Spillane playing all 10 dime snaps.
The Steelers swap Schobert, Bush and Arthur Maulet for Robert Spillane, James Pierre and Tre Norwood when they go from nickel to dime. The Steelers are embracing formation specialists more than a rotation behind the front seven. In my opinion it does more to cover for the lack of a real No. 3 cornerback and to hide the limitations of the linebackers than anything else.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the Detroit Lions at Heinz Field in Week 10.