Excepting the season opener, whenever the Pittsburgh Steelers have been able to play with a lead, substantial or otherwise, it seems that Todd Haley and the offense is able to find more time, and snaps, for fullback and tight end Will Johnson.
The Steelers spent plenty of time leading last week against the Indianapolis Colts, and that translated to the second-most snaps that Johnson has had all season with 18. Only the 29 snaps that he played in Week Three against the Carolina Panthers topped that number, though it was still only about 21 percent of the team’s offensive snaps.
Still, Ben Roethlisberger did manage to get him involved in the passing game a bit, though he spent most of his time run blocking, either at the line or from out of the backfield, an assignment that he performed well.
The Steelers opened their second drive in a three tight end set, with Johnson, obviously, serving as the third tight end, tucked inside Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth on the right side of the offensive line for a running play.
Johnson and the line all shifted to the left as the snap, while the two traditional tight ends turned their efforts to sealing off the back side of the play. As Le’Veon Bell cut the run back, however, the tight end peeled back and picked up Cory Redding, blocking down and driving him upfield, though the play only gained three yards.
Later on the same drive in the opening quarter, again in a three tight end set, Spaeth lined up on the right side, with Miller on the left, and Johnson on his outside shoulder. This play, unfortunately, reveals that he did not have a 100 percent success rate.
As he tried to advance to the second level to pick up the linebacker, said linebacker punched out and got his feet outside of Johnson, working outside leverage. As the back came around the corner, it was in position to make the tackle. The play gained only three yards as a result, but Miller was called for holding on top of it.
It was on the drive midway through the second quarter, however, that Roethlisberger started getting Johnson involved in the passing game. Though his contributions in that area were short-lived, is two receptions were still impressive.
On this first one, out of a 12 personnel package, Johnson shaded off the line on the left side. He cut right on the snap as though he were peeling out for a block, but instead he turned around and caught a short pass before turning it upfield and laying a shoulder at the end of the run for 18 yards.
Two plays later, on a short-yardage target, Roethlisberger hit Johnson for four yards to move the chains. The tight end bunch on the right side split the coverage and helped create the easy opening.