The Pittsburgh Steelers actually did play a game on Sunday and, though it was meaningless for their playoff seeding, the team was able to scratch out a 27-24 win over the Cleveland Browns in overtime with a large number of backups in the lineup.
Throughout the game, it’s easy to look at the usual statistics and draw conclusions. There are plenty to draw from those stats but, for me, the snap totals are especially revealing. For those who don’t know, whenever a player steps onto the field, they are logging a snap, whether it’s offense, defense or special teams. Those numbers can point to trends, players on the rise and much more. So after the Week-17 game, I took a look at the snap totals and saw five intriguing trends with the Black-and-Gold moving into the playoffs.
Playing with fire
Everyone knew the Steelers were going to rest some big-name players in Week 17. Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell and Maurkice Pouncey were all inactive. But other than James Harrison, who did dress for the game, the team essentially ran their starters for more than four quarters at Heinz Field. The following starting players were on the field for 100 percent of the snaps played by their respective units: David DeCastro, Alejandro Villanueva, Ramon Foster, Marcus Gilbert, Artie Burns, Sean Davis, Mike Mitchell, Lawrence Timmons, Ryan Shazier and Bud Dupree. Frankly, the Steelers were lucky none of these regulars was injured. But the Steelers played with fire and, thankfully, didn’t get burned.
While looking over the snap totals, I couldn’t help but take a look at the cornerbacks. Ross Cockrell played all but one snap and Artie Burns played every snap. William Gay, the third cornerback, played 67 percent of the snaps. It made me wonder, what would happen if Cockrell or Burns went down? Most likely, Justin Gilbert is the fourth cornerback on the depth chart, but he hasn’t played a single snap on defense this season and he’s coming back from a shoulder injury. The Steelers could move Gay to the outside, but what would they do with the slot-cornerback position? Move Sean Davis there? I doubt it. Move Robert Golden there? Not such a good plan. In other words, the Steelers are still very thin at the CB position, and that’s something to keep an eye on as the playoffs begin.
McCullers coming out party?
Daniel McCullers hasn’t played much and he’s been a disappointment at the nose tackle position since being drafted out of Tennessee. But with Stephon Tuitt out of the game, Javon Hargrave being checked for a concussion and Ricardo Mathews hurting his ankle in Week 17, McCullers was forced into the lineup. He played in 31 snaps (40 percent), the highest snap total of 2016 for the massive nose tackle. And McCullers made the most of his opportunity, tallying five tackles (three solo), one sack, one tackle for loss and one quarterback hit. I know it was the Browns, but McCullers needed a shot of confidence heading into the postseason. Week 17 just might have done that for the man known as “Shade Tree”.
Arthur Moats odd man out
James Harrison was given the day off in Week 17, which meant there would be another outside linebacker getting snaps opposite Bud Dupree. Dupree ended up playing the entire game, as noted previously, and it was Jarvis Jones who got the majority of Harrison’s snaps instead of Arthur Moats. Against the Browns, Jones saw 60 snaps (77 percent) while Moats had 18 snaps (23 percent). There had been a strong feeling that Moats would be the next man up at outside linebacker but, other than the occasional snap, Moats has become primarily a special-teams player. Not that there’s anything wrong with that (shameless Seinfeld reference), but I think I speak for everyone when I say we felt Moats came to the Steel City to provide more than only special-teams snaps.
L.T. Walton another 6th-Round Pick from Central Michigan
When someone says 6th-round pick from Central Michigan, the true Steelers fan will think of just one man — Antonio Brown. But there’s another 6th-round pick from Central Michigan who’s slowly making a name for himself. That player is none other than L.T. Walton. In his second year, and with a chance to finally see the field, Walton is making the most of his opportunity. Against the Browns and without Tuitt and Heyward, Walton played 66 snaps, the most of anyone along the defensive line. While he might not be the marquee player that Brown is, he’s certainly providing quality depth along the defensive line.