With the Pittsburgh Steelers coming off their bye week and little to talk about in the interim outside of returning players, now would be as good a time as any to take a look back on what’s transpired this season and give out some mid-year player evaluations.
The team as a whole has suffered its ups and downs throughout the season, particularly the bi-polar offense that prefers the comforts of home. Even with all the road struggles, however, the Steelers are ranked seventh in the league in scoring, averaging 26.2 points per game.
On the flip side, the defense has struggled not only with youth and inexperience but also with injuries, en route to posting the 19th-best defense in points allowed, giving up 23.9 points per game, with hopes to start changing that down the home stretch.
Player: Brett Keisel, DE
Even though Keisel is not a starter, he has been seeing more time than Cam Thomas, who is starting along the defensive line. On the year, Keisel has logged 418 snaps, while Thomas has played 364, split between end and nose.
In comparison, Cameron Heyward has logged 596 snaps, or about 86 percent of the Steelers’ defensive snaps. It’s not often that a rotational player logs more than 60 percent of a team’s snaps, but that is the case with Keisel.
He has started a few games this season—once when the Steelers came out in the nickel defense—including two games at his old right defensive end spot in the base defense when the Steelers played Thomas at nose tackle due to injury.
While he has only one sack on the season, he has gotten back to pressing the passing lanes, having gotten his hand on five passes this year, including two in the last game.
No defensive lineman outside of Heyward has more than one sack this year, though pressure across the board has been down for this defense. But Keisel has been a bigger factor as a pass rusher than the one sack would suggest.
He and Heyward both generate their share of pressure, or open up lanes for others to pressure the quarterback. That has been Keisel’s hallmark since entering the starting lineup, and is why he continues to see most of his snaps when the Steelers play in their nickel defense
While Keisel’s late signing may have had the secondary effect of the Steelers losing out on Josh Mauro, a rookie undrafted defensive end who showed promise and was likely to be carried on the 53-man roster had the veteran not been brought back, it’s hard to imagine this team without his contributions and leadership for at least one more season.
Stephon Tuitt may be the future along the defensive line, but in his rookie season, he is certainly benefiting from the 36-year-old’s tutelage, even if it in all likelihood has translated into less snaps for the rookie.