The 2016 NFL season has already begun, but it is set to kick off in full force tomorrow. We are just two days away from the Pittsburgh Steelers getting their season underway on Monday night against Washington. And when they do, it will once again be the veteran Arthur Moats lining up at outside linebacker with the starting lineup, which is what he has done throughout his tenure with the Steelers.
Although he has always worked in a rotation—in 2014 at the right outside linebacker position working in conjunction with James Harrison, and then in 2015 on the left side of the defense rotating with then-rookie first-round draft pick Bud Dupree—there can be no denying that he has accumulated his starts for this defense.
He has certainly come to mean a great deal more to this defense than may have been expected when the Steelers originally signed him to a one-year, veteran-minimum contract during the 2014 offseason, the year in which they parted with LaMarr Woodley and had just Jason Worilds and Jarvis Jones on the roster in addition to Moats.
Moats did enter the starting lineup for the Bills in his final season there, although he did not exactly play in the same role that he plays in Pittsburgh. He spent far more of his time dropping into coverage than he did rushing the passer, and did not record a sack in his 12 starts, though he recorded a career-high 54 tackles.
He has started 20 games in 32 played over the course of the past two seasons with the Steelers, accumulating in that time 58 tackles, eight sacks—including two half-sacks—two passes defensed, two forced fumbles, and three fumbles recovered.
As mentioned, he has done all of that in a rotation. He actually saw just 337 defensive snaps for the Steelers in 2014, as when Jones went down with an injury early in the season, the team re-signed James Harrison, and he ended up taking on the lion’s share of the playing time, not through any deficiency from Moats.
He moved over to the left side last year so that he could pair with the rookie Dupree, and again Dupree took on the bigger part of the snaps, though it ended up being very close. Moats saw 554 defensive snaps in 2015, and a bit under 900 in total over the course of the past two seasons.
That is probably about what a full-time starting outside linebacker who is only occasionally spelled might see over the course of the season, and Moats’ two-year totals would work out to a pretty healthy full-season total if he were needed to take on such a task.
The seventh-year veteran had a strong preseason, and should handle his role well—a role he has handled frequently in his tenure here, as a spot starter. But this year might be his greatest opportunity, at least for the first half of the season, and the Steelers are finding the three-year, $7.5 million contract that gave him before the 2015 season well-earned, and deserved.