Steelers’ Scrappy Tight Ends Rise To Occasion

In an article that I wrote prior to yesterday’s game, I made the argument that the Pittsburgh Steelers had enough pieces within their tight end group to get by for this game without the services of their prized free agent, Ladarius Green, who after six mostly productive games, suffered a concussion after making his seventh explosive play of the season, and was as a result unable to play against the Ravens.

There was some pessimism expressed regarding that opinion, which I argued on the basis of the fact that they, after all, went through the first half of the season without him, and when they had a healthy offense, they were doing pretty well for themselves.

This is not an article to gloat, but I did want to talk about the initial impressions that I saw from yesterday’s game out of a scrappy group of overachievers at the tight end position that were one of the lower-profile keys to the Steelers’ all-important victory over the Ravens yesterday.

Without the benefit yet of deeper analysis, it seemed to me that all three of their active tight ends contributed a healthy number of snaps and performed admirably in carrying out their tasks, whether that was on the blocking or receiving end.

Of course, the conversation starts with first-year tight end Xavier Grimble, who has been a bit of an enigma for the Steelers all season. He had the big play early that was almost forgotten about in the aftermath of ups and downs of the second half. Ben Roethlisberger found him for an impressive 20-yard grab and his second touchdown of the season at the end of their opening drive.

Second-year tight end Jesse James, who has been functioning for the majority of the season as the Steelers’ starting tight end, essentially, also saw his biggest role—and his biggest impact—in a few weeks, coming up with some big catches late.

Unfortunately, the first target that went his way was intercepted, through no fault of his own on what was a bad read from Roethlisberger. But he was the recipient of the Steelers’ next pass and it went for 21 yards to spark an unforgettable fourth-quarter surge that carried the team to the division title.

All three of his other receptions came on what proved to be the game-winning drive, including a 16-yarder, and then a big nine-yard reception on third and four that put the ball on the four-yard line. After spiking the ball, the game was won on the next play.

And let’s not leave out David Johnson. While his only target was intercepted—again, not his fault—he did make the tackle after the other reception, and he was instrumental in blocking for some of the Steelers’ best and most important runs of the day.

It was a big game for this Steelers tight end group that showcased just what sort of depth they possess, especially at a time when the wide receiver group has been depleted due to injuries. These unheralded players stepped up and helped seize the biggest win of the season.

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