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Steelers Week 16 snap counts show the reason for the Steelers improving season

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By: Geoffrey Benedict

Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

The Steelers are stacking wins with a simple change in philosophy.

The Pittsburgh Steelers were victorious in Week 16, beating the Las Vegas Raiders 13-10. At this juncture in the season, the team has somehow found a way to claw their way back to 7-8. How they’ve done it can be shown in the way they are deploying their players both on offense and defense.

Let’s start on the offensive side of the football…

Offense


The Steelers offensive line played another complete game together, and their streak of complete games has this offensive line approaching something no Steeler line has done going back to at least 2006. So far, three offensive linemen have played every offensive snap of the season, with Dan Moore Jr., Kevin Dotson and James Daniels having played every snap of the season so far, while Chukwuma Okorafor has missed only one snap so far.

The Steelers have never had three lineman play every snap of a season. They’ve had two linemen pull it off in the same season several times, but never three. And With Mason Cole missing the most time, he’s still played over 95% of snaps, the Steelers haven’t had all five lineman play 90% of snaps before, let alone 95%.

That kind of time together has allowed the line to develop into a much better version of itself compared to what we saw early in the season. Let’s hope they finish the last two games together as well.

The Steelers hit a new mark for offensive balance in Week 16, as they averaged exactly 2.5 wide receivers per snap, balancing it equally with the other skill positions. The Steelers didn’t run the ball extremely well, but they did well enough to keep at it and make the Raiders keep focusing energy on it.

When you look at the players though, you can see the Steelers weren’t in run focus mode, as Pat Freiermuth played a large majority of the game, and Derek Watt only received two snaps. The two running back look received a few snaps this week again. It’s been a while since we’ve seen that. Connor Heyward’s snaps are interesting, because he doesn’t get snaps when the Steelers are down enough that they go pass heavy, and he doesn’t get snaps when the Steelers go heavy with no concern for giving away that they are running the ball. Heyward’s athleticism and decent blocking make him a very versatile player well suited for a game plan like the one that played out against the Raiders.


Defense


Robert Spillane joined regulars Minkah Fitzpatrick and Cameron Sutton on the 100% snap club. Despite his limitations, Spillane has become a trusted player for this coaching staff. With the absence of Terrell Edmunds, Damontae Kazee started, but behind him it was Elijah Riley getting more snaps than Tre Norwood, who has lost his positions as the No. 3 safety and the primary dime back this season, and now seems to be behind another defensive back in the pecking order. James Pierre received the most snaps of any non-starting defensive back. Pierre has worked his way back out of the dog house again.

Chris Wormley’s injury paved the way for DeMarvin Leal and Isaiahh Loudermilk to get more snaps, but their numbers haven’t been high because the defense hasn’t been on the field as much recently.

In fact, the Steelers are averaging the fewest defensive snaps per game in the NFL since their bye week, and the 11th most offensive snaps. The Steelers offense has been successfully slowing the game down and limiting possessions, and the defense has benefitted with fewer drives faced, the least number of snaps played per game and with Cameron Heyward and Larry Ogunjobi able to keep snap counts from being too high but still play a large percentage of the game, the defense is much better.

Before the bye the Steelers defense played the 3rd most defensive snaps per game. The Steelers bye-week focus on protecting the defense has paid off, with the Steelers defense allowing 20+ points only once in the seven games since the bye week, compared to five out of 8 before the bye. It’s not a coincidence that the Steelers are 5-2 since the bye week after going 2-6 in the first eight games. Keeping Cameron Heyward as fresh as possible and also on the field as much as possible is a big deal when your goal is to win football games.

The Steelers remain in the playoff hunt, for now, and prepare for the Baltimore Ravens in Week 17. Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the team as they press on throughout the waning weeks of the regular season.

Originally posted on Behind the Steel Curtain – All Posts