The Pittsburgh Steelers waited a few weeks before promoting wide receiver Demarcus Ayers from the practice squad after they had an injury at the kicker position that required an emergency signing and the loss of a roster spot. After Chris Boswell finally got right, he got the call up, but he was not active for his first game a week ago.
Tonight, however, he made his debut for the Steelers, and he not only dressed, he played a fair amount. While we will not know for sure just how much he played until we get deeper into the game and get some snap counts taken care of, the initial eye test suggests that he played a fair number of snaps, early on, and then late as well.
Not that he was a major part of an offensive game plan that primarily focused on the running game. By the time Le’Veon Bell scored his touchdown early in the fourth quarter to cut the Ravens’ lead to 20-17, in fact,, the Steelers had an exactly even 19-19 split in terms of play calls between passes and runs, excluding the victory formation play at the end of the first half.
Even though a lot of Ayers’ work ended up coming on running plays, however, he did his part in the blocking game. I noted during the preseason that, in spite of their relatively small stature, I was impressed with the want-to that both Ayers as well as Eli Rogers showed in developing the blocking aspects of their game—probably under the watchful eye of veteran Darrius Heyward-Bey.
And speaking of that Bell rushing touchdown, it was both Rogers and Ayers who factored into helping the running back catch the edge and then cut inside for the score. Rogers was able to seal a defender on the inside, and as Bell began to cut north toward the end zone, the rookie wide receiver Ayers was aware and was able to get the block on the perimeter defender to make an easy path to the score.
And that wasn’t the only play on which he was a factor on the drive. In fact, he had the first passing target of his career just two plays before the Steelers managed to score. Facing a second and four from midfield, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger looked the rookie’s way on a go route, going up against fellow rookie, cornerback Tavon Young.
Ayers was able to get a step on him and that forced the rookie starter to hold on to the wide receiver, drawing a pass interference penalty that went for 35 yards to the 15. Following an eight-yard completion to Brown, Bell scored from seven yards out on the following play.
Ayers’ first reception came on the final drive, a nine-yarder. Not a bad time to get your first grab, on what proved to be the game-winning drive of a division-clinching game. Now that he has had success in a game, it will be interesting to see how the offense uses him going forward.