Like it Or Not, Steelers Missed TE Matt Spaeth Last Season

The Pittsburgh Steelers lost several key players to injuries last season, but one player that’s not talked about a lot as being a big loss is backup tight end Matt Spaeth.

Spaeth went down last year in training camp with a Lisfranc injury and as a result he needed surgery and missed the first 12 games of the season. Like or not, the Steelers running game suffered without him.

With Spaeth sidelined most of the season, the Steelers were forced to use David Paulson, Michael Palmer and David Johnson as second tight ends in addition to an occasional extra tackle. As you can see in the stats below, the Steelers running game was dismal when all three were on the field.

Now, I don’t want to give the appearance that this was 142 different running plays, as often times a combination of the three were on the field at the same time. I can tell you, however, that there were roughly 100 different running plays last season that did not include a combination of two or more of those three players. When you consider that the Steelers ran the ball nearly 400 times last season, you can see that at least one of those three players was on the field for 25% of those runs.

So what about when Spaeth returned to the lineup late in the season? According to our charting, the offensive averaged 4.08 yards per carry on the 78 running plays that he was on the field for during the final four games of the 2013 season. The Steelers won three of those four games with their lone loss being to the Miami Dolphins, which just so happened to be Spaeth’s first game back. He only saw eight run snaps in that game.

So surely the passing game suffered when Spaeth was on the field, right? Wrong. In fact, the Steelers averaged 7.85 yards per pass play on the 54 plays that Spaeth was on the field for in those final four games of the season. On all other pass plays that Spaeth was sidelined for over the course of the entire season, the offense averaged 6.41 yards per pass play.

With Spaeth and fellow tight end Heath Miller now back fully healthy, I speculate that you will see both on the field together for at least 350 total plays in 2014 and maybe even more, depending on whether or not the team is leading in the fourth quarter of games.

With center Maurkice Pouncey also now back healthy and Mike Munchak now on board as the new offensive line coach, you have to think that the Steelers running game will be vastly improved in 2014. Spaeth should play a big role in that.

2013 Steelers Tight Ends Offensive Snap Count Breakdown

Matt Spaeth 78 4.08 54 7.85
David Johnson 39 2.38 36 5.60
David Paulson 69 1.79 120 6.01
Michael Palmer 34 0.41 15 6.21
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