While the Pittsburgh Steelers spent the first day of the new league year quietly biding their time, as they typically do, they did spend new league year’s eve completing a very interesting assignment that may have gone under the radar.
In re-signing tight end Matt Spaeth and tendering fullback Will Johnson to a deal he has no business not signing, the Steelers completed the task of returning every meaningful player from last year’s offensive system that produced the second-best points per game in franchise history.
To be specific, the Steelers are returning 33 of 33 touchdown passes, 30 of 33 touchdown receptions, and eight of 10 rushing touchdowns.
The two biggest ‘losses’ on offense from last season came via player releases of free agents who signed multiple-year contracts last offseason that did not work out. Running black LeGarrette Blount and wide receiver Lance Moore both signed two-year contracts, but the former never even saw the end of that first year.
Blount scored two rushing touchdowns within the first three weeks of the season, rushing for over 100 yards in that third game, but he accomplished very little from there on out, and was ultimately phased out of the offense until he gave up on the team, which prompted his release mid-season.
Moore, meanwhile, was brought in as insurance, but he was injured when the team needed him most. He missed the first two games of the season and finished the year with 14 receptions and just two touchdown receptions. The only other offensive points not (yet returning) are the six brought in by Michael Palmer’s one touchdown pass.
While neither Spaeth nor Johnson have been significant contributors in the passing game of late, they both play key, vital roles in the ground game, which helps to keep the offense balanced and opens things up for Ben Roethlisberger and his targets.
Spaeth and Johnson in particular figure prominently on the Steelers’ most successful individual running play, the counter run, which sees right guard David DeCastro pulling. Heath Miller typically leads, but Spaeth has led on occasion. Otherwise he cleans up the backside pursuit, while Johnson also escorts Le’Veon Bell through traffic.
While only three of the Steelers’ six wide receivers from a year ago remain on the roster, those three account for, by far, the vast majority of the team’s production, including 23 touchdown receptions, over 200 receptions, and nearly 3000 receiving yards.
While the Steelers do have some work to do in terms of locking up a couple of key pieces of their offense for the long haul, the fact of the matter is that the team has what is largely a young offense very much on the rise, which could be even more explosive and efficient in 2015 as the players continue to develop.
The ability to retain all of these key starters and role players helps provide a foundation of consistency from which to continue to build, even if some of those pieces aren’t always as appreciated as well as they should be.