Are the Pittsburgh Steelers beginning to phase out or demote third-year wide receiver Eli Rogers? One might begin to wonder about that if they observe the decline in his playing time that became evident on Sunday. In fact, the team’s starting slot receiver from a year ago was not even targeted in the loss to Chicago.
Rogers did play 22 snaps out of the Steelers’ 65, to be clear. That is still just a bit over a third of their total offensive snaps, which, actually, really is about what a slot receiver’s workload would look like a decade and a half ago before it became the norm to use three wide receivers on a typical play.
But it’s not that the Steelers are resorting to a heavy dose of run-heavy sets with tight ends and fullbacks as far as the eye can see. As a matter of fact, they are utilizing them less frequently so far this year than in any other year we have tracked, which may well mean less frequently than ever before.
55 of the Steelers’ 65 snaps on Sunday saw them use at least three wide receivers, with one snap on which they used four. They nearly 85-percent workload is not far off from what they were already using from the first two games. So Rogers’ snaps didn’t drop because of personnel packages.
They dropped because they were given to JuJu Smith-Schuster, who played 52 snaps on Sunday, though that is a notable topic for another day—something I will probably tackle for tomorrow. What is interesting is the fact that they moved heavily toward him, and away from Rogers, in the second half on Sunday.
The Steelers played 31 snaps in the second half, and Rogers only featured on seven of them, including the final drive of the game for them with 52 seconds left in which they ran three plays. He was on the field over Martavis Bryant, for whatever reason, in that instance.
There was a stretch of 14 plays in the seconds half, spanning the entirety of the three drives prior to their last, on which Rogers did not even take the field. In contrast, Smith-Schuster played all but one snap in the second half.
I would be interested to hear from Todd Haley why the Steelers moved away from Rogers for such a long period of time during the game and if there was anything behind it. They still had him returning punts during that time, so I wouldn’t think that he was dealing with a temporary injury or something.
But of course as I always remind, one game is such a small sample size that it is fruitless to extrapolate from that what will come next. It can, however, be useful in identifying areas to monitor in the future in the chance that develop into a trend. If Rogers’ playing time begins to decline, this is where it will have started.