It is not very far-fetched to imagine that Pittsburgh Steelers third-year nose tackle Daniel McCullers may be faced with his most significant, and most important, assignment in his NFL career on Sunday if the team’s starting nose tackle, rookie Javon Hargrave, is going to be sidelined due to the concussion that he suffered in the team’s previous game.
Considering that he has not played a great deal this season, nor recently, that could prove to be a major storyline for the Steelers against the Bills, who enter the game with a commanding lead in terms of total rushing yards gained, as well as yards per carry, and rushing touchdowns.
Since the bye week, in five games, McCullers has played only 51 snaps, which is an average, obviously, of just over 10 snaps per game, but a lot of those snaps came with late leads. His most significant work came in his 13 snaps against the Cowboys, which was a consistently close game.
The curious thing about the Bills’ rushing success is that they actually do not rely heavily upon obvious run formations, whether it is using multiple tight ends, a fullback, or an additional lineman, which is somewhat surprising. In fact, by my quick and rough calculations based on their total number of wide receiver snaps logged versus their total number of snaps, they actually seem to run out of the 11 personnel formation approaching 80 percent of the time.
One would think that a team that leads the league in rushing and is very efficient at doing so would also correspondingly rely upon a heavy dose of run personnel looks, but the reality is that a lot of their success can be traced back to the threat as a runner that Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor presents.
So far this season, Taylor has run the ball, either on designed plays, options, or scrambles—or kneel downs—73 times, in doing so, gaining 469 yards on the ground, scoring six touchdowns with his feet. He is averaging nearly 40 yards—or nearly a quarter of the Bills’ total rushing yards—per game, so that has to be taken into consideration.
And that has to be something that McCullers is excruciatingly aware of if he is going to see an expanded role against the Bills due to injury. This is a concern given that the team could potentially be without two of their top three chase-down linemen, as I noted yesterday, but as it pertains specifically to McCullers, he needs to pay attention to the rush lanes, and needs to finish off the pressure when he generates push in the pocket.
Regardless of how much Taylor is a part of the equation, or how many run looks they show, however, the bottom line is that the Bills do run the ball frequently, which means that there is a place for a big body up front. They have a very nearly even split between runs and passes this year.