The Steelers faced off against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 13, a team that was winning games by running the football and wearing down opposing defenses. The Steelers countered that strategy by copying that game plan, and doing it better.
The Steelers offensive line continues to play together, and the offense has grown as the miscommunications on the line have mostly disappeared. Najee Harris played only 66% of snaps, a low number for him even as the Steelers have tried to keep his snaps from piling up. They subbed him out for Jaylen Warren and Benny Snell early and frequently. They knew their plan to run the ball and control the game meant a lot of carries, and they divided the load from the start.
The Steelers played their tight ends and fullback 103 snaps, averaging 1.6 per snap. The Steelers played a second blocking player more than they played a third wide receiver in this game, and when you see Zach Gentry playing more than Pat Freiermuth it drives home the focus on the run the Steelers had in this game.
Freiermuth led the team in receiving while playing fewer snaps, and he ended up averaging 2.1 yards per snap played, a pretty high number for any player.
The wide receivers struggled in this game, and the most notable receiver stat is probably the 13 snaps played by Miles Boykin. Boykin’s return to the field coincides with the Steelers kick and punt coverage teams playing a good game again after their awful showing in Week 12. That’s not a coincidence since he’s been fantastic in that role.
In Week 12 the Steelers gave up 225 yards on 5 kick returns, the second most is 124 yards on 5 kick returns. That’s a very big difference. 101 yards of field position is a serious difference in any game, and Miles Boykin is that important to the Steelers special teams and the team overall.
Only Minkah Fitzpatrick and Cameron Sutton played the entire game, and both were very impactful. Sutton played very well in coverage throughout the game, and Minkah Fitzpatrick sealed the win with his interception to end the Falcons’ last drive. Fitzpatrick was also called on to play a big role in run defense and recorded one of the Steelers three tackles for a loss in the game.
Devin Bush played the most snaps of the inside linebackers again this week, which is surprising considering most Steeler fans and analysts would probably rank Bush as the Steelers third best run-stopping linebacker behind Myles Jack and Robert Spillane. T.J. Watt’s snap percentage increased for the fourth straight week as the Steelers seem to be more comfortable with his return from injury, even if we haven’t seen him look like the player he was before his injury yet. Even without Watt putting up sacks and tackles for loss like he did in 2021, the Steelers are 4-1 with Watt playing, 1-6 without him on the field.
The snap counts which stand out the most to me is on the defensive line, where Cameron Heyward’s 61% of snaps and Chris Wormley’s 44% of snaps is only a total of 9 snaps difference. The Steelers were focused on running the ball, but also were focused on rotating their defensive line to keep players fresh and keep their starters from wearing down. The Steelers did give up some longer drives in the second half, but they still did enough to win the game.
One more thing that stands out is DeMarvin Leal’s return to the field after missing 7 weeks. He didn’t play much and didn’t stand out when he did, but he was becoming a key player in this defense before his injury, and if he can get back to that level this season, it will be a big help to the Steelers defense.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the Baltimore Ravens in Week 14.