I’m going to go out on a limb here and project that Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Stephon Tuitt is not going to play today after suffering a biceps injury last week on the second play of the game. While he avoided a major injury, he did nothing but cardio work in practice by the end of the week.
Obviously, that means there will be a bunch of snaps for others to absorb. The question now becomes how it will all be sorted out. His immediate replacement to finish out the first drive of the game was L.T. Walton, coming in for two sub-package snaps, but Tyson Alualu played most of the rest of the game, all but about nine from that point on.
Walton did not see any time in the Steelers’ 3-4 defense as a defensive end despite the suddenly short line there, but he did see time in the nickel and dime, often paired with either Alualu or Javon Hargrave. And it is Hargrave’s role that I find most interesting.
The second-year defensive tackle did not play as many snaps as I would have figured in a game in which Tuitt only played two. Only about a quarter of his 24 snaps during the game actually came in the nickel or dime, which means that they were mostly limiting him to service as a traditional 3-4 nose tackle.
I can’t help but wonder—and perhaps, hope—that with a week to prepare and revise, heading into a game in which they expect they will not have Tuitt, the Steelers’ coaches will have a more ambitious plan for Hargrave.
While he saw all but one snap in the 3-4 or goal line front, he only played one snap in the dime defense, and just seven out of 38 snaps that the defense lined up in their nickel, which has become their base defense over the past three seasons.
I think Hargrave showed last week the kind of effective piece he can be, and I think he offers more than Alualu as a pass-rusher, so I would like to see him get more situational work in sub-packages.
On a related note, with Daniel McCullers likely to be active, it will be interesting to see if the Steelers actually use him. They didn’t have any issues using only four defensive linemen last week, so even though he is a shoe-in to dress if Tuitt does not, that does not guarantee playing time.
On a McCullers note, it will be nice at least to get the big man back on the field goal and extra point blocking units, because you never know what can happen. He does have a blocked kick in his NFL career, and I believe he had a few in college as well.