The Pittsburgh Steelers gained the services of free agent wide receiver Lance Moore last night for the first time in four weeks after the veteran missed the first two games of the regular season, in addition to the final two games of the preseason.
Yet they certainly didn’t make liberal use of him against the Carolina Panthers. I haven’t had the opportunity to comb through the entire game yet, but according to Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Steelers only played him for one snap on a four-wide set.
Kaboly asked Moore after the game if he was healthy after missing nearly a month with a groin injury, and he told the reporter that he was fine, having been able to go through a full week of practice and dressing for the game.
Many speculated throughout the week that Moore’s return would help give the offense a boost, which had only produced nine points over the previous six quarters of football.
Todd Haley and the offense obviously had other ideas.
Justin Brown, the first-year receiver who spent his rookie season on the practice squad, logged over 100 snaps through the first two weeks of the season, and he continued to dominate the slot receiver snaps against the Panthers.
The Steelers, however, also varied their personnel packages more often last night, deviating from the 11 personnel with some 12 and 21 looks. Second tight end Matt Spaeth and fullback Will Johnson both certainly played more on Sunday night than in either previous game.
Even third tight end Michael Palmer saw his first playing time of the season, though they resulted in a dropped pass in the end zone to go along with an offensive pass interference penalty that turned first and goal from the one to first and goal from the 11.
Brown, the 6’3” former sixth-round pick, has been favored by the offense throughout the offseason, where he’s developed a rapport with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger despite the fact that he still has little to show for it in terms of production.
It’s not entirely clear why the Steelers stuck with Brown when it came to absorbing the slot receiver snaps last night. While he has been involved in the offense all season, Moore did manage to go through a full week of practice. He may be as surprised as the rest of us about his miniscule playing time.
One factor was likely Brown’s blocking ability, especially given the Steelers’ reliance on the running game last night. Roethlisberger threw for under 200 yards, but between Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount, the team put up 265 rushing yards.
Perhaps the coaching staff held Moore back to give him more time to recover from his injury to be on the safe side. Perhaps they felt that Brown’s physicality was a better matchup schematically against the Panthers’ defense. It should be interesting to see how the slot time is divided going forward, as I don’t believe that Brown has necessarily passed the veteran on the depth chart.