This past Sunday in the Pittsburgh Steelers home win over the Oakland Raiders, nose tackle Steve McLendon played a season-low 12 snaps as the team’s nickel package was on the field for most of the game.
During his weekly talk with the media on Thursday, Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler was asked about McLendon and the lack of playing time he had this past Sunday.
“If you talked to Casey Hampton, he wouldn’t like that very much either,” said Butler, who is in his first year as the team’s defensive coordinator. “It’s gone that way more and more. Each year, the league plays a little bit more with three or more wide receiver on the field. They’re straightening the game out a little bit. As a consequence of that, you have to put another defensive back in there. Who do you take out? The poor nose guard. He comes out.”
In total, the Steelers were able to use their base defense on just 12 plays against the Raiders on Sunday and one of those plays was a kneel-down to close out the first half. McLendon was on the field for 10 of those plays while second-year player Daniel McCullers was the nose tackle on the other two. The remaining two snaps that McLendon played on Sunday came in the team’s goal-line package and McCullers was also on the field with him for those two plays.
In the Steelers Week 8 game against the Cincinnati Bengals, McLendon played a career-high 56 defensive snaps as the team turned to him to replace defensive end Stephon Tuitt, who missed that game with a knee sprain. Butler talked about that on Thursday in addition to how McLendon has improved as a player
“I think he’s gotten better year by year, because he’s always had the mentality that he’s going to work his butt off,”said Butler. “He’s a valuable member of our team, because he’s had that experience of doing it. We lost Stephon Tuitt a little bit. When we lost Tuitt, he came in and played well for us. We’re not afraid to put him in there. Even in situations where we have the nickel package.”
While Tuitt and Cameron Heyward were able to play every defensive snap for the Steelers against the Raiders, it’s obvious that they both won’t be able to continue to do that every week moving forward so expect McLendon to start lightening the load of both players some starting Sunday against the Cleveland Browns as it’s obvious that the team is no longer comfortable playing veteran Cam Thomas if they can help it. Thomas, by the way, didn’t play a single snap against the Raiders.
McLendon is currently in the final year of his current contract with the Steelers. He has registered 8 total tackles and one sack so far this season.