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: Will Johnson, FB/TE
Considering the amount of time that coaches and teammates seem to spending praising him during the offseason, the Steelers certainly don’t utilize the talents of fullback/tight end Will Johnson as much as the praise would suggest.
He has seen five or less snaps in four games this season, and only once played more than 20 snaps in any individual contest. He has surpassed 15 snaps in a game just three times during the team’s first 11 games this year. In fact, he is averaging just 11 snaps per game.
It’s difficult, of course, for him to find a spot on the field with the offense conducting so much of its business out of the 11 and 12 personnel packages, and he primarily only gets a chance to string some snaps together when the Steelers are playing with the lead and running the ball well.
That was the case in Pittsburgh’s last game before the bye week, as Le’Veon Bell rushed for over 200 yards against the Titans, which was just the five time in franchise history that a running back accomplished that feat.
Johnson’s playing time in that game skewed heavily toward the beginning, when they began with six straight carries, and toward the end, when they ran out the clock by constantly feeding Bell.
The majority, perhaps significant majority, of his snaps this season have come from the tight end position, in the rare instances in which the Steelers use three tight ends, as Matt Spaeth absorbs the second tight end snaps.
However, he is typically employed as a lead blocker all the same, pulling, usually along with another player, to carve out a path along either side for Bell. He did this exceptionally well in the previous game, in what was probably the performance of his career.
As a receiver, he has been given limited opportunities, receiving just eight targets. He’s caught five of them, while dropping one of them. Another went for a five-yard loss on a pass that shouldn’t have been thrown. His longest gains of the season have gone for 18 and 12 yards, with most of his targets coming at or behind the line of scrimmage. It always seems to be a hope of the offense to get him more involved, but it never seems to happen.