Over the course of the past few games, Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Matt Spaeth has been given more playing time recently as the offense has exploited the success that they have found running one of their staple running plays, the power counter with right guard David DeCastro pulling to the left.
While DeCastro tends to be the focal point on these power counter runs—Heath Miller and Will Johnson also receive a good bulk of the credit—Spaeth’s work in these situations has also been invaluable, and the Steelers used him in a greater variety of ways in this look on Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals, including using him as a pulling lead blocker, which was typically the duty of Miller or Johnson as Spaeth stayed inside.
Of course, it wasn’t all the counter play. Early in the game, Spaeth ended a five-yard run with a pancake on Emmanuel Lamur. The veteran tight end lined up tight against right tackle, moving well down the line and keeping the defender free of the run off left tackle.
The first big run of the day did come on the counter, however, out of a two tight end set, and it was Spaeth, not Miller, pulling as a lead blocker. With DeCastro taking out the first defender, Spaeth came around Miller to help him seal off two linebackers in order to get Bell out to the perimeter, which allowed him to gain 18 yards with minimal individual effort.
Although this early second quarter run only picked up four yards on a second and long, that has quite a lot to do with the recognition and quickness of linebacker Vincent Rey coming across the formation with little resistance to make the play.
As a matter of fact, this is another example of Spaeth doing well pulling ahead of Bell, this time working in conjunction with DeCastro to coordinate the blocks to get him downfield. Had Rey been held up by Markus Wheaton on this play, it could have gone for a touchdown. Of course, the Steelers got the touchdown two plays later.
On the first play of a late third quarter drive, Spaeth motioned from the left to the right side of the line before the snap and took on Carlos Dunlap one on one. By the time Bell reached the hole, Spaeth was able to get the defensive end turned out of the hole, which translated into a 14-yard gain. On the following play, he was able to drive off Wallace Gilberry well out of the play, but Rey had gotten around Miller to make the tackle for a four-yard loss.
Spaeth also served his role on Bell’s two touchdown runs in the fourth quarter, with the more impactful coming on the second of the two. Lined up off left tackle, he, Johnson, and Miller coordinated the edge protection to create an alley for Bell to the outside, which he rode up the left sideline for the 22-yard score.