On Sunday night against the Atlanta Falcons, the Pittsburgh Steelers defense cycled through most of its roster, with 19 different players playing at least three snaps in the game. That included cornerback B.W. Webb seeing his first time on defense all year for the Steelers.
The team rotated all five of its defensive linemen active for the game, with both Cam Thomas and Daniel McCullers seeing a snap here and there, though the majority of the time was spent with just Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt on the field in sub-packages. Nose tackle Steve McLendon, in his second game back from injury, saw about 40 percent of the snaps.
At linebacker, there was a bit of rotation for everybody but Jason Worilds, who remained on the field for every snap. Lawrence Timmons missed some time due to injury. The bulk of the snaps next to him continued to go to Vince Williams, though Sean Spence played in the base. Ryan Shazier even saw four snaps in passing situations in the game.
With James Harrison remaining out, Arthur Moats and Jarvis Jones continued to split reps at the right outside linebacker spot, with Jones seeing the nickel snaps, which saw him almost exclusively rushing the passer.
During the game, both starting safeties missed a few snaps after getting banged up, and it was Will Allen who filled in for both of them, playing a total of 10 snaps. The starting cornerbacks each played all but one snap, while Antwon Blake, the nickel outside corner, played nearly two thirds of the game. As mentioned, Webb also saw a few snaps in the dime defense.
In fact, the only four players on defense active for the game who did not see playing time on defense were linebacker Terence Garvin and safeties Robert Golden, Ross Ventrone, and Shamarko Thomas, all of whom are key contributors on special teams.
It’s unusual for a defense to have positions that see so much platooning, but the Steelers currently have two on the right side of their linebacking unit. Jones and Shazier were supposed to be the clear starters at those positions, presumably with minimal rotation assuming they played well, but that is not how the season has shaped up.
Both young players suffered injuries early on in the season that have forced the team to improvise, creating platoons and splitting reps. And just as it seemed that Harrison had established himself as the obvious starter, he went down with an injury.
As for Shazier, it’s difficult for a rookie to miss so much time both in games and on the practice field. He has had a hard time earning snaps as a result, which has left the Steelers trying to piece together the plays he’s missing. Whether or not the situation at either position changes over however many games the Steelers have least this season remains to be seen.