On the heels of the Pittsburgh Steelers releasing much of their 75-man roster to attempt to reach the league mandated mark of 53 players, I decided to look back at the Steelers preseason offense from an analytical and personnel usage perspective. I’ll explain everything as clearly as I can while including personnel packages, player snap counts, and other pertinent information you may find interesting.
General Offensive Numbers
The Steelers ran 285 plays this preseason (317 counting penalties), while averaging just 4.3 yards per play. I won’t get into overall preseason statistics too much, but it is worth noting that Pittsburgh ran for just 2.5 yards per carry over their five exhibition games. They allowed 15 sacks for an average of 3 per game, an extremely troubling mark. The rest of the team’s offensive numbers weren’t flattering either, losing the turnover battle by two and scoring just 70 points (seven touchdowns) for an average of 14 points per game.
Pittsburgh failed to find the end zone in two of their five games, but even with the multitude of injuries at the kicker position, the specialists remained a perfect 7-7 throughout the preseason. The offense did have some big play potential even when it struggled, with 17 snaps going for a gain of 20+ yards down the field.
The team ran 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WRs) almost 59% of the time, but featured a variety of different packages each game. Interesting to note that through the first four preseason games the team operated out of 20 (2 RBs, 0 TEs, 3 WRs) personnel just five times (all against Green Bay), but began Thursday’s game against Carolina with four straight plays without a tight end on the field. Will Johnson often made identifying personnel packages fun, because he’d line up as a tight end far more than in the backfield. More on that in a bit.
Ben Roethlisberger: 39 snaps, 16-21 (76%), 189 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs, 2 sacks
Bruce Gradkowski: 10 snaps, 3-5 (60%). 25 yards
Landry Jones: 230 snaps, 65-120 (54%), 724 yards, 4 TDs, 2 INTs, 9 sacks
Michael Vick: 35 snaps, 7-10 (70%), 130 yards, 4 sacks
Tyler Murphy: 3 snaps (all RPO rushes)
Analysis: Jones obviously took the vast majority of snaps in preseason action, but completing just 54% of his passes is an abysmal mark. Pressure and drops were massive contributors to that low number however, but Jones struggles were apparent throughout the team’s five games. He also averaged just six yards per attempt, which fits the narrative surrounding the Oklahoma product loving to check the ball down.
Vick being sacked four times in just 35 snaps (18 drop backs) isn’t a great sign when you consider his lack of ball security and propensity for taking lots of hits by holding onto the ball for too long. However when watching the plays, his lack of protection has clearly been the bigger issue.
Roethlisberger was humming along in his limited snaps, completing almost every pass and averaging 9.0 yards per attempt. Of the two times he was sacked, one was his fault and the other was Cody Wallace’s.
Le’Veon Bell: 32 snaps, 10 att, 32 yards, 3.2 avg
DeAngelo Williams: 34 snaps, 13 att, 63 yards, 4.8 avg, 1 TD
Josh Harris: 71 snaps, 24 att, 57 yards, 2.4 avg
Dri Archer: 84 snaps, 13 att, 51 yards, 3.9 avg
Jawon Chisholm: 62 snaps, 21 att, 35 yards, 1.7 avg
Cameron Stingily: 18 snaps, 11 att, 18 yards, 1.6 avg
Will Johnson: 87 snaps, 4 att, 8 yards, 2.0 avg
Roosevelt Nix: 69 snaps
Braylon Heard: 16 snaps, 5 att, -2 yards, -0.4 avg
Analysis: Bell, like many of the starters, didn’t play in the team’s first or fifth preseason game, but was his normal excellent self when he was on the field. Among those 32 snaps, worth mentioning that Bell was split out side on five of them, a reminder that Haley loves to get Bell involved in every facet of the offense. When he’s back, he’ll rarely come off the field.
Williams was one of the brightest spots amidst a struggling preseason offense, showing off excellent vision and cutback ability in his 13 carries. He scored the Steelers lone rushing touchdown of the preseason, adding the two-point conversion a play later as well. Williams was split out wide twice as a receiver.
Harris, who was waived today after a dismal preseason, failed to prove his worth to the team despite leading the Steelers in carries over the past five weeks. Said this earlier today on Twitter, but for a guy as stacked and well-built as Harris is, he never ran to dish out punishment. Also was the only running back to drop a pass.
Archer was utilized all over the offense, with 19 of his snaps coming at wide receiver, and the other 65 coming from the backfield. Interesting to note that over the Steelers final three preseason games Archer received just 20 snaps, 10 of which came at wide receiver. I’ll let you all deduce from that what you may, but certainly could be an indication that the team sees his role as truly split and has given up on expecting him to ever be much of a contributor as a pure rusher. Archer also led his position in snaps during the preseason, and finished the five games with zero drops, a definite improvement for him.
Chisholm, Stingily, and Heard were vastly ineffective, which led to all three getting sent on their way. It remains to be seen if Chisholm will be brought back for a practice squad spot or not.
Nix obviously has earned his way onto the team, at least temporarily, but didn’t receive a carry in any of the five games (he had several in 11v11s during camp). He made his mark on special teams and as a lead blocker. All of his snaps came from the backfield except one at tight end (wingback position).
Antonio Brown: 39 snaps, 5 catches, 30 yards
Markus Wheaton: 46 snaps, 4 catches, 62 yards, 1 TD
Martavis Bryant: 101 snaps, 8 catches, 215 yards, 2 TDs
Darrius Heyward-Bey: 34 snaps, 4 catches, 35 yards
Sammie Coates: 147 snaps, 10 catches, 179 yards, 3 drops
Shakim Phillips: 151 snaps, 8 catches, 134 yards, 1 TD, 4 drops
Tyler Murphy: 138 snaps, 8 catches, 90 yards, 1 TD, 1 drop
C.J. Goodwin: 76 snaps, 4 catches, 44 yards, 1 TD
Devin Gardner: 25 snaps, 2 drops
Jarrod West: 23 snaps, 3 catches, 57 yards
Kenzel Doe: 7 snaps
Dri Archer: 84 snaps, 10 catches, 58 yards
Le’Veon Bell: 32 snaps, 3 catches, 25 yards
Roosevelt Nix: 69 snaps, 3 catches, 14 yards, 2 drops
Jawon Chisholm: 62 snaps, 3 catches, -6 yards
Josh Harris: 71 snaps, 2 catches, 14 yards, 1 drop
DeAngelo Williams: 34 snaps, 1 catch, 10 yards
Braylon Heard: 16 snaps, 1 catch, 4 yards
Analysis: Quiet preseason for Brown, who obviously didn’t see many snaps. Don’t need to see much from him, we know what he’s about on Sundays.
39 of Wheaton’s 46 snaps came from the slot, while just three of his snaps came in a 2WR set. He did run over Bryant consistently in those situations, but it will be interesting to see if the team moves him outside more until the second-year receiver returns from his suspension. Wheaton will likely still run predominantly from the slot, while Heyward-Bey is outside. Todd Haley has consistently moved his receivers around the formation however, so expect to see Wheaton operate plenty from the outside as well.
Bryant didn’t get any preferential starter treatment, playing into the third quarter of many games, and generally excelling throughout the preseason. A splash play machine, Bryant averaged a ridiculous 26.9 yards per catch, as he looks to improve on his league leading 21.1 average from last season. He’ll be sorely missed through the first 4 weeks.
Coates came on slowly, and struggled with his route tree and consistency, but he did show the ability to be a vertical threat at times. He’s still inconsistent at tracking the ball down the field, but he did manage to snag 54 and 42-yard bombs this preseason. Just ten of his 147 snaps came from the slot.
Murphy made the 53-man roster largely based on how fast he picked up the offense after starting camp at quarterback, where he played at Boston College. Just 11 of Murphy’s 138 snaps came as an outside receiver, and 3 were as a quarterback. The other 124 reps came from the slot, where he’ll likely see primary duty should injury force him into action.
Phillips probably had the most impressive preseason of the rest of the bunch, although four drops didn’t help his case. Goodwin looked strong early on, but injuries slowed him down as the month progressed. Doe and Gardner failed to secure a catch in their limited opportunities. All West’s snaps came in the final preseason game, where he made a strong case for a practice squad spot despite limited opportunities to shine.
Archer tied with Coates for the team lead in receptions during the preseason with ten, often working from out wide rather than the backfield as I mentioned earlier. Nix showed off the hands of a converted defensive lineman with his two drops on minimal targets.
Heath Miller: 38 snaps, 1 catch, 11 yards, 1 drop
Matt Spaeth: 69 snaps, 1 catch, 14 yards
Jesse James: 6 catches, 42 yards, 2 drops
Will Johnson: 87 snaps, 4 catches, 28 yards
Cameron Clear: 1 catch, 4 yards
Ray Hamilton: 1 catch, 4 yards
Analysis: Four of Miller’s 38 snaps came with the big tight end flexed to the slot. Even Spaeth, who is typically an in-line or bust guy, was asked to show off some versatility by stepping into the slot for three snaps.
James led the group in catches, and didn’t drop a pass after his dismal preseason opener against Minnesota. He definitely made progress during camp, but will likely be a very minor part of the team’s offensive attack this season.
Johnson has the most versatile usage on the offense by far, even in comparison to Archer. On his 87 snaps, 3 were at fullback, 5 at running back, 3 out wide at receiver, and 76 came at tight end. We think of Johnson as a fullback, but really he’s just a utility man, at his best when hitting blocks in space rather than blowing defenders out of the hole. Johnson’s versatility is what has kept his NFL career alive, and his presence as TE3 will likely keep Jesse James inactive on most game days this year.
Not much to add about Clear and Hamilton. The former’s injury kept us from ever really seeing what he offered in game action, while the latter was nothing more than a camp body to take reps off of the veterans.
Kelvin Beachum: 75 snaps
Marcus Gilbert: 73 snaps
David DeCastro: 75 snaps
Ramon Foster: 58 snaps
Maurkice Pouncey: 20 snaps
Cody Wallace: 86 snaps
Chris Hubbard: 173 snaps
Alejandro Villanueva: 232 snaps
B.J. Finney: 241 snaps
Mitchell Van Dyk: 132 snaps
Kelvin Palmer: 117 snaps
Miles Dieffenbach: 85 snaps
Collin Rahrig: 46 snaps
Reese Dismukes: 98 snaps
Doug Legursky: 58 snaps
Kevin Whimpey: 10 snaps
Analysis: The starters were about status quo on snaps and performance, with the exception of Pouncey’s ankle injury opening the door for an increase in snaps for Wallace. Foster also missed the Vikings game, which led to his snap count being a bit lower than his linemates.
Outside of the normal starters, everyone else saw time at multiple positions along the offensive front throughout the preseason. Wallace got 11 snaps at left guard and even one at right guard on the last play of the preseason after Van Dyk and Finney were injured. Obviously the vast majority of his 86 snaps came at center.
Hubbard was all over the line this month, with 71 snaps at left guard, 101 snaps at center, and one at right tackle, on the same play Wallace jumped in at right guard. Hubbard struggled mightily, but did enough to make the Steelers 53-man roster, at least temporarily.
Villanueva finished just behind Finney for the most preseason snaps of any offensive player on the team, as his time was split between right and left tackle. The hulking offensive lineman took 129 snaps on the left side, and 103 on the right side, as the team worked hard to get him plenty of experience with Mike Adams on the P.U.P. list to start the season. He clearly grew more comfortable on the left side, but Villanueva did make strides at right tackle as he became more comfortable there.
Finney’s tale is a miserable one, as he led the team in preseason snaps and worked diligently, only to be injured on the meaningless, penultimate play of the preseason. Finney got ten snaps at center, his college position, against the Vikings, but all 131 other plays came at right guard. The team was clearly grooming for a spot on at least the practice squad, but Finney’s injury at the most inopportune time erased all of that.
Van Dyk is in a similar boat, with probably less of a chance to even make the practice squad before his injury on the same play. 72 of his snaps came from the left side, while 50 were at right tackle and another ten at right guard. His versatility was probably his most desirable trait, as Van Dyk looked overwhelmed during the final preseason game, allowing at least two sacks.
Palmer was given plenty of opportunity to prove himself to the team, and I actually don’t think he played terribly. He simply wasn’t consistent enough in pass protection, and didn’t move anyone in the run game. Like the other backup offensive tackles, Palmer saw 28 snaps at left tackle and 89 on the right side, where he looked more comfortable.
All Dieffenbach’s snaps came at left guard, and he didn’t play at all against Buffalo, a precursor to the team including him in their early cuts. Rahrig was in the same boat despite the fact that he wrestled playing time away from Dieffenbach, as all of his snaps came at left guard as well. Dismukes surprisingly avoided the first round of cuts despite not playing in the third or fourth preseason game. The Auburn product saw 16 snaps at left guard in the final game against Carolina, with all of his other reps coming at center in the first two contests. Dismukes marked the seventh and final Steelers offensive lineman to take snaps at left guard during the preseason.
Legursky wasn’t here long before he was sent packing, although he’ll likely be the player who returns when Pouncey is sent to IR/Designated to Return. The bulky lineman got 27 snaps at center against Carolina, while his other 31 snaps came at left guard.
Whimpey’s ten reps all came at left tackle against Minnesota, as the lineman simply could not get back onto the field for the rest of the preseason.