clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Snap Counts over the past two weeks show a changing of the guard on the Steelers defense

New, comments

The Pittsburgh Steelers secondary is getting younger, which means there is a changing of the guard going on.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Throughout the years of me writing articles related to the Pittsburgh Steelers snap totals from any particular game, the one thing I’ve noticed are there are trends from game-to-game. They might use a player a lot one week, and hardly use them the next. It all depends on the opponent and the game plan heading into that week.

What I have decided to do, is not do a weekly snap count article, but rather focus on trends I see on a multiple week basis. After the team’s Week 4 win over the Baltimore Ravens, I wanted to take a look at the Steelers secondary and their overall snap totals. What I found was a changing of the guard which was proposed prior to the season, but is coming to fruition after a quarter of the way into this thing.

The changing of the guard I alluded to is Mike Hilton becoming the team’s No. 3 cornerback over veteran William Gay. Before the team’s Week 1 game against the Cleveland Browns, Hilton was getting ‘some’ reps with the first team defense, and he and Gay split time as the nickel cornerback the first two weeks. However, things changed in their Week 3 game against the Chicago Bears.

In Week 3, Hilton played twice as many snaps as Gay (20 plays to 10), and the trend continued into Week 4 where Hilton played 44 snaps, while Gay just 28.

It isn’t as if Gay isn’t playing anymore, but he is now the dime defensive back, and Hilton has certainly leap frogged him on the team’s depth chart, regardless of what the team’s official depth chart might suggest.

This change shouldn’t shock many, and is a testament to the hard work Hilton has put in to be not just a serviceable player, but a difference maker when he is around the ball. Hilton’s blitzing ability combined with his knack to make plays is something the coaching staff clearly saw as something they can’t take off the field.

The infusion of Hilton into the defense strengthens the overall secondary of the Steelers, something which had been a weakness prior to the regular season, and having Gay play less snaps could also be the perfect fit for a defensive back nearing the end of his career in the NFL.

Other snap count tidbits from Week 4:

  • Vance McDonald (30 snaps) had a season high for snap totals since coming to Pittsburgh via trade. The Steelers deployed a lot of 2 TE sets, and even used B.J. Finney (15 snaps) as an extra TE in run-heavy formations.
  • JuJu Smith-Schuster (54) played more snaps than Martavis Bryant (48), something not many were predicting before the season started. However, Smith-Schuster’s blocking ability certainly gets him on the field more in running situations.
  • Speaking of running the ball, Roosevelt Nix saw the field on 13 plays, a high number for him under Todd Haley.
  • Vince Williams (41 snaps) is turning into a part-time starter when the team goes into their sub packages. This isn’t a surprise with Williams strengths being in run support, as well as the team thriving with their nickel and dime defenses against the opposition early in the season.

You can see all the Steelers snap counts HERE, thanks to our friends at Pro Football Reference.