The (4-3) Pittsburgh Steelers entered their bye week with quite a few problems needing to be solved if they hope to get back on track following two consecutive losses. With that noted, below are five players who can quickly help this 2016 Steelers team quickly get back on track starting this Sunday in their game against the Baltimore Ravens.
ILB Ryan Shazier – While Shazier was able to make his return to the field in Week 7 in the Steelers loss to the New England Patriots after sitting out the three previous games with a knee injury, he only played 32 defensive snaps in that contest. In fact, while Shazier technically only missed three games with his latest injury, he’s only played 40.3% off all defensive snaps so far this season. In the Steelers first two games of the Steelers regular season, a then-healthy Shazier registered 18 total tackles and two passes defensed along with an interception and a forced fumble. Shazier’s speed and ability to shoot gaps has been irreplaceable since he went down injured in the Week 3 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles and assuming he can stay on the field for the rest of the season, it would go a long way in helping the Steelers defense make some much-needed improvements.
DE Cameron Heyward – Heyward, like Shazier, missed a lot of playing time in the Steelers first seven games of the regular season and while he only technically missed two games, he missed another full half of the game against the New York Jets after injuring his hamstring. Heyward has only played 51.9% of all defensive snaps as the team exits their bye week and in the two full games that he missed the Steelers defense allowed 362 yards rushing in addition to failing to register a single sack. It’s obvious that a healthy Heyward moving forward can help the defense start playing better.
TE Ladarius Green – At some point over the course of the next few weeks, Green is likely to make his debut with the Steelers. While he probably won’t be asked to play more than 25 offensive snaps in a single game, at least not initially, when he does start seeing the field, he will give the offense yet another receiving threat that will be hard to match up against. Keep in mind that of the 77 career receptions that Green had during his four seasons with the San Diego Chargers that 15 came on 3rd downs and 11 of those were successful plays. Additionally, 20 of his career receptions resulted in gains of 20 yards or more.
WR Eli Rogers – While Rogers is far from being considered a premier receiving threat in the NFL, the former undrafted free agent out of Louisville started the 2016 regular season as the team’s starting slot wide receiver. Prior to him suffering a toe injury in the loss to the Eagles, Rogers had registered 9 receptions for 100 yards with one touchdown. Keep in mind that 5 of Rogers’ 13 receptions so far this season have come on 3rd downs and 4 of those resulted in successful plays, meaning a new set of downs. Hopefully he is now out of the doghouse and learned that he can’t be late moving forward as the Steelers offense needs him on the field contributing.
WR Sammie Coates – Prior to suffering a broken left index finger in the Week 5 win over the Jets, Coates was starting to establish himself as one of the league’s top deep passing threats. Since suffering that injury, Coates has only played 24 total offensive snaps and has only caught one pass for 4 yards. Assuming Coates’ finger injury isn’t one that will hamper him the rest of the season, one would think that several more deep receptions are forthcoming for him.
CB Justin Gilbert – I included Gilbert on this list not because I expect him to make many, if any, contributions on the defensive side of the football, but because I think he can help out the Steelers in the kickoff return phase. While he’s only returned 3 kickoffs so far since arriving via a trade just prior to the start of the regular season, Gilbert has averaged 23 yards an opportunity and that includes a team-long of 32. While we all hope Gilbert doesn’t have to return more than just one or two kickoffs a game moving forward, a field flipper or two is certainly something he can provide and the Steelers offense could certainly stand to use a few of those moving forward.