The Pittsburgh Steelers offense is legit, period. When healthy, they’re one of the best offenses in the league, and only a couple other teams could go toe-to-toe with the Black-and-Gold offense.
But if we were trying to nail down a weakness in this unit, many would point to the tight ends. While David Johnson, Jesse James, Jake McGee or Xavier Grimble may not attract many accolades among the fan base, it’s important to appreciate that the team won’t be asking them to be game breakers — just to take advantage of opportunities that present themselves.
While the opponent’s defense is keeping tabs on Antonio Brown, Eli Rogers, Martavis Bryant, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Le’Veon Bell, it could be easy for the tight ends to win one-on-one matchups, especially in the red zone. And that’s where the tight ends need to win, when it matters most.
Heath Miller was a legend at doing this, so maybe this is what any combination of Grimble, James and company can bring to the table in 2017.
With the Steelers driving inside the Indianapolis Colts 20 during the first quarter on Saturday night, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger did something slightly unusual on second and third down.
He didn't look for All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown.
He didn't look for returning deep-threat Martavis Bryant.
He threw passes to Jesse James.
On both downs.
The result — two incomplete passes — wasn't as important in the third preseason game as the concept.
Roethlisberger ignored his highly-touted playmakers and tried to involve the 6-foot-7 James.
It was an indication that, even without departed free-agent acquisition Ladarius Green, the Steelers still aim to exploit defenses in the red zone with their tight ends.
That thought was reinforced on the first drive of the third quarter against the Colts when backup Landry Jones thew a 10-yard pass that tight end Xavier Grimble deftly hauled in with one hand for a touchdown.
“The quarterbacks gave us opportunities to make plays,” James said. “(The red zone) is a good place for a guy to be a tall target while we're trying to stretch the field a bit down there. That could be a big success for our offense and help us down the road.”
Make no mistake, the Steelers don't plan for James, Grimble or even blocking specialist David Johnson to turn into the next Rob Gronkowski.
Tight ends will continue to take a backseat as long as Brown, Bryant and star running back Le'Veon Bell continue to collect paychecks from the Rooney family.
“That's kind of the tight end's role here,” Grimble said. “We do the dirty work — pass block, run block, pass protection, try to catch passes, make combat catches.”
“This much is certain: Before (Sean Davis), the (Steelers) knew nothing but defeat. After (him), nothing but victory.”
OK, maybe that prominent quote from the movie ‘Pearl Harbor’ was manipulated a tad to fit this narrative but, in reality, there’s a lot of truth attached to it.
The Steelers were mired in a four-game losing streak last year, they had dipped below .500, and their defense had just imploded in the final seconds of a loss to the Dallas Cowboys. Defensive coordinator Keith Butler decided it was time to make a change.
Inserted back into the starting lineup following a four-game hiatus was 23-year-old rookie safety Sean Davis (oh yeah, and some other guy named James Harrison was also put into the starting lineup at the same time).
And just like that, a new defense was born.
Sacks went up, points-against went down and the Steelers never lost again during the regular season — seven games. That number grew by two in the playoffs, before the Patriots put an end to it in the AFC Championship Game.
So, was it a coincidence or not? Davis was the main reason for the Steelers’ defensive turnaround last year, right?
Davis likely would roll his eyes and scoff at the notion of him being the sole difference-maker.
Matthias Farley isn’t apologizing to Martavis Bryant.
"I have no ill-will towards anybody. I'm not trying to hurt anybody.
"You play from snap to whistle," Farley said. "Everybody works so hard to get to the NFL, there's no part of me or anybody else that would intentionally hurt anybody."
Bryant had previously taken exception to the hit, telling ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler Sunday that it was “definitely intentional” and an attempt to injure him.