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Nix’s Loss Will Test Creativity Of Coaching Staff

Danny Smith said he’s going to miss him. And you should too.

Yes, Roosevelt Nix will be back in 2016. He shouldn’t have a problem making the team when a year ago, that was such a crazy thought you’d be institutionalized for it.

But not having him for the rest of the season, his year done with a foot injury, is a larger loss than it seems on the surface.

And sure, maybe the “rest of the season” amounts to one game against a battered and tattered Cleveland Browns team they should – emphasis should – defeat. And so maybe it ultimately doesn’t matter.

But if it does matter, if the Steelers beat the Browns and Rex Ryan comes through with a win too, I’m going to wish I could see Nix in the playoffs.

It’s not just that he’s a special teamer, a catch-all phrase that gets tossed around all the time. But it’s not that he plays on one phase. He’s on almost every unit, 4th on the team in special teams’ snaps with 243.

It isn’t as simple as swapping Nix out for one guy because there aren’t many players like Nix who can play on four separate units, much less when you’re looking for one in a pinch. Just as it did with Terence Garvin, it will take several players to adequately fill his shoes. Factor in the other potential special teams injuries to Antwon Blake and Doran Grant, and the problem is compounded. Blake and Grant obviously don’t play Nix’s role but it hurts the team’ depth overall.

The other element is his absence will hinder, and possibly eliminate, the Steelers’ ability to run its 22 personnel. It’s been mixed in throughout the year to a high degree of success, averaging 6.6 yards per play the 86 times . It’s a grouping Todd Haley has liked to use early in games, doing so in four of the last six weeks. Will Johnson was thrust into that spot last week but isn’t nearly the lead blocker Nix is and Haley could, with good reason, scrap it.

That ability to switch personnel and more importantly, mindsets, from the high-octane three receiver sets to heavy, physical packages like the ones Nix is apart of, is one of the components of a successful offense. Clearly, Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton are the guys you want on the field the majority of the time, and make no mistake, 11 personnel is the Steelers’ “base” grouping. But forcing defensive coordinators to have to adjust to different groupings, not allowing them to get comfortable facing one look, makes that 11 group all the more effective.

It’s one of those seemingly overlooked losses. One that has quite the ripple fact in two phases of the game. How the Steelers are able to adjust in both areas will speak to the coaching staff – positive or negative – competency.

 

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