The last time that Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Vance McDonald both started and finished a game? You would have to go, incredibly, all the way back to the sixth game of the season against the Chiefs, the game in which he caught his first pass with the team. It was a 26-yard reception and seemed to bode well for the future.
His body, however, did not. The fifth-year player has spent about half of the season sidelined with injuries, rather than on the field, yet he has pretty consistently contributed when he has been on the field.
Yet leading into yesterday’s game, McDonald had only played in three of the past eight games, and he left with an injury of some kind in each of them. He did return in the Week 10 game against the Colts, but that, I would think, hardly counts, since he missed the next three weeks.
Head Coach Mike Tomlin was certainly happy to see the trade acquisition make plays with his receiving and blocking ability and stay on the field in Houston—where he played his college ball for Rice University. “It was fun getting him involved, especially early getting him back into the flow. I think he felt it, he kind of got himself going”, Tomlin said.
“There is probably more there, but he’s coming back after a while, too, so we’ve got to kind of ease him back in in a way”, he added. McDonald missed last week’s game after he left the game the week before against the Ravens with yet another injury. In that game, he had four receptions for 52 yards before leaving.
Yesterday? He had four receptions for 52 yards, again. The exact same stat line. His game-long pass was nearly identical as well, 19 to 20. On the season, he has just 13 receptions, but they have gone for 183 yards, averaging 14.1 yards per reception. He has one touchdown.
The Steelers initially made the decision to acquire McDonald via trade with the 49ers because they were unsatisfied with the results that they were seeing from their group of tight ends at the time, which consisted of Jesse James, Xavier Grimble, and David Johnson. McDonald ended up bumping Johnson off the team.
James has had his struggles this year, but has played better in recent weeks, including a 10-catch, 97-yard day a couple of weeks ago. And more importantly, he hardly ever misses a snap due to injury. Unfortunately, when McDonald is the other option, that is hugely important.
But if the Steelers can actually manage to have a healthy McDonald for a postseason run, that can make a big difference. Not only is he a key, strong blocking presence, he also has the capability of making plays as a receiving option, as indicated by hi 14.1 yards per reception.