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Snap counts vs. the Raiders show the problems with the Steelers defense

Injuries show up clearly when you look at the snaps players played.

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

The Steelers lost their home opener, but before they lost on the field, they lost players from the team for the game. Joe Haden and Devin Bush were unexpected scratches from the roster for injury, joining Stephon Tuitt as top Steeler defenders that would miss the game. But before we get to the defense, we need to look at who played on offense.


Offense

Trai Turner missed 11 snaps after he was disqualified for apparently spitting at another player, B.J. Finney replaced him, and if Turner is suspended, will likely start for him next week.

Najee Harris didn’t play 100% of snaps in Week 2, and while he only received three snaps off, that was enough to drop him below JuJu Smith-Schuster on the snaps list. The Steelers used receivers more in Week 2, up to 2.84 receivers per snap after a 2.65 receivers mark from Week 1. That uptick came with a downtick in TE and FB snaps. Zach Gentry and Derek Watt were the ones that saw the field less, with Gentry dropping from 28% of snaps to 14%, and Derek Watt not seeing the field on offense after playing 3 snaps vs. the Buffalo Bills.

But I think the most important thing to take away from the snap counts on offense is aside from the 11 snaps Turner missed after being thrown out of the game, the offense had all of their main players available throughout the game. That was not at all the case with the defense.


Defense

Let’s start with the 100% club. In Week 1 the four main defensive backs played every snap. With Joe Haden out, James Pierre stepped in and played 100% of snaps. Pierre did well in his first NFL start, but he was not Joe Haden. The fallout from the loss of Haden didn’t end with James Pierre’s first 100% of snaps game. Pierre was the dime back, and that role was passed on to Justin Layne (9 snaps) and Akhello Witherspoon (4 snaps). There’s another significant change in the secondary depth in Week 2, as Arthur Maulet played zero defensive snaps after playing 13 in Buffalo. The Steelers continued to move Cameron Sutton inside in Dime, and they played Tre Norwood every nickel snap, so Layne and Witherspoon joined Pierre outside in dime, and Maulet, who is better inside, stayed on the bench.

The drop in snaps for the secondary came with increased usage of defensive lineman, as the Steelers went from 2.04 defensive lineman per snap to 2.24 per snap. The Steelers put a third defensive lineman on the field roughly 20% of snaps as opposed to Week 1 where they only did it a few times. The problem with those snaps is the Steelers dressed 5 defensive lineman and lost Tyson Alualu after only 4 snaps played. That led to Isaiah Buggs and Isaiahh Loudermilk playing a combined 40 snaps when last week with Alualu and Carlos Davis playing Buggs and Loudermilk combined for 8 snaps (all Buggs, Loudermilk was inactive).

Cameron Heyward jumped from 66% of snaps to 85% of snaps, and while that is understandable with the injuries on the line it needs to be stated that he played the exact same number of total snaps as week one. His workload didn’t really increase, the defense was on the field less, so he could play more of those snaps.

With T.J. Watt’s injury limiting him to 16 snaps, Melvin Ingram ended up playing 86% of snaps, with Alex Highsmith playing 54%. The Steelers stayed committed to rotating Highsmith, and that led to Jamir Jones jumping from 1 snap last week to 15 in Week 2. Highsmith has not yet recorded a sack or QB hit in 2021, while Jones recorded his first QB hit against Derek Carr this week.

Lastly, with Devin Bush out Joe Schobert joined the 100% club for the first time as a Steeler, and Robert Spillane played 80% of snaps and played well in a supporting role to Joe Schobert, leading the team in tackles and continuing to deliver big hits.

Hopefully the snap counts include a few more high profile names in Week 3, because any defense down three of their top six snap count players is going to struggle.