The Steelers lost a close game in Week 2, but it didn’t feel as close as the final score, and the Patriots aren’t exactly a top team this year. It definitely feels like the Steelers won a crazy upset in Week 1, and then lost a game they should have won easily in Week 2. Let’s dig into the personnel that were a part of it.
The offensive line and quarterback played the entire game, usually a good thing, but a significant section of the fan base are not happy about Mitch Trubisky playing the entire game. The offense is struggling mightily, and the quarterback is the most important position, so it is understandable. But when we look at the personnel usage, one thing really stands out, and that is the Steelers continued their reliance on 11 personnel. The Steelers averaged 2.76 wide receivers per snap, 1.24 tight ends and fullbacks. That’s a pretty clear delineation. The Steelers ran 11 personnel roughly 3/4ths of the game.
In 2021 the Steelers were more effective out of 12 personnel (two tight ends one back) than they were with three wide receivers, but Ben Roethlisberger was far more comfortable with 11 personnel, so they ran that more. The Steelers, however, continue to use three wide receivers even though their third receiver, George Pickens, has only 26 yards on two catches through the first two games, which is less than the Steelers top two tight ends and Najee Harris.
You have to wonder about that usage after a preseason full of multiple tight end sets and a close game where the run game was working better but still only got 22 carries even with Jaylen Warren taking a decent chunk of the work load. Matt Canada’s offense is best playing off of the run game and attacking defenses out of play-action, and you would think that would favor multiple tight end sets, and the numbers from 2021 back that up. It’s strange to see the Steelers commit so heavily to three wide receivers in a close game, where that set wasn’t working, and with Pickens being targeted once every 16 snaps.
There are a lot of problems with the Steelers offense, so sticking with the same thing that didn’t work last season, and wasn’t working this week just seems nonsensical. Especially when “trying something different” would be going back to what has consistently worked better.
Cameron Sutton joined the 100% snap club and all three members from Week 1 returned. Levi Wallace showed he is the primary nickel back playing all but 9 snaps of the game, with Arthur Maulet playing 8 and Tre Norwood playing 6 snaps. That leads to an average of 5.07 defensive backs per snap, meaning the Steelers were in nickel almost the entire game.
Looking at the inside linebackers the Steelers played Myles Jack most of the game, with Devin Bush and Robert Spillane still splitting snaps behind him. The Steelers averaged 1.65 inside linebackers per snap.
Outside, with T.J. Watt out, the Steelers played a rare game where they didn’t average exactly 2 outside linebackers per snap. Alex Highsmith, Malik Reed, Delontae Scott and Jamir Jones combined to average 1.69 outside linebackers per snap, meaning 21 snaps were played with just 1 outside linebacker on the field.
That leads us to the defensive line. We know from the cornerback snaps that the Steelers had to have 5 defensive backs on the field for at least 59 of the 68 snaps (4 played 100% and Wallace played 59) and yet the Steelers averaged 2.59 defensive lineman per snap.
The Steelers defense used defensive lineman to help ease the loss of T.J. Watt, and to improve run defense in their nickel sets. It didn’t work out so well at the end of the game, but at least the defense looked outside the box to deal with their challenges.