The Pittsburgh Steelers have won 8 games in a row. Quite the feat, and many are wondering just how they are doing it. Clearly, the opposition matters, but so does who, and how often, the coaching staff puts players on the football field.
For instance, it isn’t a coincidence the team’s winning streak started when James Harrison and Sean Davis were named starters. Or how the offense turned to a more run-oriented attack with Le’Veon Bell at the same time. These changes make big differences in the outcome of games, and this is what I focus on after every game.
The Steelers dominated the Miami Dolphins in the AFC Wild Card round, and there are some intriguing trends to notice, and keep track of, after the contest. I analyze the snap counts after the game, and keep an eye on anything which may dictate what might happen in the future.
Hargrave and Tuitt quite the 1-2 punch
Without Cameron Heyward in the lineup, the Steelers have deployed a nice rotation of Javon Hargrave, Ricardo Mathews, L.T. Walton and Johnny Maxey to play alongside Stephon Tuitt. However, in the AFC Wild Card game, it was Hargrave and Tuitt primarily as the two defensive book ends on the field. Hargrave played 50 snaps, with Tuitt logging 57. Walton played 29, Maxey 1, and Daniel McCullers 14. It seems as though it is the Tuitt and Hargrave show moving forward, barring specific situations and needed rest for the starters.
Ayers over Sammie
Sammie Coates has been a lightning rod for criticism this season. Whether it was his ridiculous yards per catch average, his frustrating drops or now his broken fingers, the man is essentially a special teams player. You know this when rookie Demarcus Ayers is playing more than Coates. In fact, Coates didn’t see a single offensive snap, with Ayers getting 10 snaps. Cobi Hamilton and Darrius Heyward-Bey played 14 plays, and Eli Rogers saw the field for 33 plays. Coates’ goose egg is noticeable.
Masking Ladarius’ absence
Life without Ladarius Green is something this 2016 Steelers team is all too familiar with. Green missed the first half of the season with an ankle injury, and a concussion has kept him out of the lineup since Week 15. The Steelers are missing their dynamic threat at tight end, but have come to find a way to mask his absence. Utilizing both Jesse James and David Johnson. James played 45 plays on Sunday, with Johnson logging 26 snaps. The Steelers like Johnson as a blocking tight end, with James being used as a Heath Miller-type role on offense. This unit would be more dynamic with Green, but has a found a balance without him too.
Jordan Dangerfield sees playing time
During the game I tweeted out how Jordan Dangerfield was on the field. I assumed Mike Mitchell left the game with an injury, but quickly noticed that never occurred. Turns out, Dangerfield was used as a third safety in certain sub packages. They did this in 2015 with Robert Golden, and had success, and Dangerfield’s 5 defensive snaps could be a sign of things to come. Will be play against Travis Kelce in the Divisional round of the playoffs? In the Week 4 matchup, the Steelers deployed CB Justin Gilbert to guard Kelce. Will be interesting to see how this pans out.
Jarvis Jones the special teamer
Earlier this season, Jarvis Jones was inactive for the biggest game of the year against the Baltimore Ravens. Quite a slap in the face for the former first round selection. However, Jones has thrown his hat into the special teams fray to try and earn a hat on a weekly basis. This continued against the Dolphins in the playoffs, with Jones seeing 9 special teams snaps. Despite not being used on defense anymore, the team can use all the athleticism it can get on special teams moving forward.
For the full list of Snap totals for the AFC Wild Card game, see the full chart below: