Last year the Steelers were swept by the Cincinnati Bengals, neither game was competitive, and the Bengals Tyler Boyd stated he felt the Steelers gave up. In Week 1 of the 2022 regular season the Steelers never gave up, fought the entire game, and came out with an improbable win. In their game plan for that fight, they used their personnel in interesting ways.
Only Mason Cole missed snaps on the offensive line, coming out for 4 snaps. The rest of the game the starting offensive line was intact, and while they weren’t a strength, they continue to look a bit better every week, at least in pass protection. Trenton Scott came in for the jumbo package on two plays.
Derek Watt played 6 snaps, which is his most common snap count as a Steeler. He’s played exactly 6 offensive snaps 6 times, the second most common snap count is 0, which he’s accomplished 4 times. You are welcome for that tidbit of information.
Najee Harris’ injury paved the way for Jaylen Warren to play more. While we want to see Harris out there, he didn’t look like himself when he was in the game and averaged 2.3 yards per carry, the same as Warren. Najee Harris at 80% in this run game isn’t good for anyone.
Looking at personnel usage, the Steelers averaged 2.7 wide receivers per snap, and 1.3 tight ends/fullbacks. There was also a rare occurrence of three snaps with no running back, and only one kneel down, so it wasn’t that.
The most interesting part of the offensive snap counts to me was Myles Boykin and Gunner Olszewski at wide receiver. They didn’t come in individually to give a starter a break, both came in for two series early in the game. The three-receiver set of Chase Claypool at the X, Gunner Olszewski in the slot and Myles Boykin at the Z was on the field for the trick play pass to Pat Freiermuth, as well as the downfield pass to Boykin which fell incomplete.
It’s an interesting change of pace that on the surface doesn’t make a lot of sense talent wise, or when you consider that that group saw several of Mitchell Trubisky’s few downfield passes.
It’s definitely something to keep an eye on going forward, to see if that is a package Matt Canada has plans for, or if it is just a thing they tried to spark something in this game.
Two snap counts records need to be brought up here, as Pat Freiermuth played the highest percentage of snaps that he has in his career. The 89% he played this game is a solid increase on his high of 78% from his rookie season, even if it wasn’t the most total snaps he’s played.
Also Percy Harvin III played the most snaps he’s played, with 14 as he tied his career high for punts (8) and set a new yardage record at 388.
Interesting, and unexpected, stat: The Steelers are now 17-14 all-time when punting for 385+ yards.
Both Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds played the entire game on defense, a common occurrence for both. Since joining the Steelers, Fitzpatrick has played every snap in 42 of 49 games and has never played less than 90% of snaps in a game he was active. Terrell Edmunds played 100% of snaps for the 38th time in his Steelers career, well over half his games played.
Joining them this week was Ahkello Witherspoon, his first time playing 100% of snaps for the Steelers. A lot of players set new highs for total snaps played in this game, as 100 snaps is not something I’ve seen before. Ben Roethlisberger’s record for snaps played was 89, and he played for a long time and didn’t rotate out. Minkah Fitzpatrick’s previous high was 85 snaps played, and that was Week 1 of last season when the Steelers upset the Buffalo Bills. Cameron Sutton missed the 100-snap club by 1 play.
The Steelers played this game like they knew they were in for a long one, as they started rotating their defensive lineman early and often. It paid off with Cameron Heyward leading the defensive line with only 57 snaps, Tyson Alualu played 33 snaps, the 4th most at the position. That’s spreading the work out and it kept the line playing well all game.
As for position usage, the Steelers averaged 5.3 defensive backs per play. That is not unexpected, as the Bengals play a lot of receivers. The Steelers averaged 2 defensive lineman per snap, with only 6 extra DL snaps beyond the two per play. The Steelers never really played their 3-4 defense, they were in nickel and dime defense outside of their goal line defense snaps. The 1.7 inside linebackers per snap let us know that the Steelers spent roughly 70% of the game in nickel, almost 30% in dime, with a few heavy package sets thrown in.
The saddest stat on the list is T.J. Watt’s 66 snaps. Watt was having an incredible game before his injury. He is irreplaceable and the entire team, offense, defense and special teams, are going to have to step up to cover for his loss.