Earlier this offseason, Alex Kozora took a look at the nature of the snap distribution at the right outside linebacker position for the Pittsburgh Steelers between Jarvis Jones and James Harrison, the two players predominantly responsible for logging nearly all of the snaps that the team took at the position during the 2015 season.
The main takeaway from the study was the fact that Harrison receives by far the lion’s share of the Steelers’ snaps in the most critical moments of games—specifically, Harrison logged nearly 72 percent of snaps within the last five minutes of a game, while Jones logged 29 percent. There is a brief overlap in which both were on the field simultaneously, but it is negligible.
This got me thinking about the Steelers’ other outside linebacker position, and in particular first-round draft pick Bud Dupree, who actually logged the second-most outside linebacker snaps behind Harrison on the team, with Jones logging the least.
Dupree shared the position with Arthur Moats, who started for the majority of the season, but who actually saw a bit fewer snaps. For the most part, when the Steelers rotated their linebackers, they typically did it wholesale, taking out Jones and Moats in order to put in Harrison and Dupree.
Working under that understanding, I was expecting to see something at least relatively similar, in the ballpark, of what we saw in the snap distribution between Jones and Harrison on the right side. That assumption turned out to be wrong when I actually went back and looked at the numbers in our charts.
By my count, the Steelers logged 150 snaps in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or in overtime during the season, including the playoffs. Moats logged 92 snaps during that period, which accounts for 62 percent of the Steelers’ snaps.
That’s not what I was expecting at all, and clearly indicates that the coaching staff did a lot more mixing and matching late in the game than they did over the course of the majority of the game. It seems, typically, that Moats and Jones would usually be ‘up’ during that circumstances, but instead the coaching staff chose to substitute in Jones.
Dupree, by the way, logged 62 snaps during that same period of time, which accounts for 41.3 percent of the team’s defensive snaps. Needless to say, there was a brief overlap for the two as well, which is not surprising considering both Jones and Harrison each missed a game during the season.
Specifically, Dupree and Moats shared the field on 13 of those 150 snaps, or a bit under 10 percent of the sample, which is not a trivial amount, but the snap count discrepancy between Dupree and Moats is substantial enough to elicit discussion.
Clearly, Moats was also trusted in critical situations a bit more than was Dupree during his rookie season, which should not be surprising. Moats is a reliably veteran who has bene productive as a pass rusher in his limited opportunities. But it goes without saying that the Steelers would like to see their first-rounder demand all of those late-game snaps as well.