As we will do every Saturday to get you ready for the week’s game, our X Factor of the week. Sometimes it’s a player, unit, concept, or scheme. What will make or break the Pittsburgh Steelers as they square off against the Green Bay Packers.
X Factor: Jesse James
Unfortunately, it looks like Vance McDonald is yet again going to miss this week with a mysterious ankle injury. That will leave the bulk of the snaps to Jesse James. James’ role is clear. If he does well as a blocker, makes one 3rd down/red zone catch, it’s a good week. Beyond that, you can’t expect much because of his skillset and role in the offense.
It’s the blocking that will be the sticking point this week. While the Steelers have normally had success in the run game against Cincinnati, it still isn’t easy. That’s because the Bengals’ defensive ends are imposing guys with their height, length, and strength. It’s a difficult matchup for tight ends and why the team often resorts to bringing in a tackle-eligible. And a good reason why Jerald Hawkins is suddenly getting reps there. B.J. Finney isn’t the guy to do it and Chris Hubbard is back at right tackle.
Still, Hawkins isn’t going to get enough snaps to put him on this list. James is going to see the lion’s share of the work. And he’s going to have to pass protect against these guys too, including the smaller rookies like Jordan Willis and Carl Lawson. As I’m sure I’ve said before, the Steelers are very demanding when it comes to their tight ends. Do the dirty work and you’ll see the field.
So that’ll be the challenge for James Sunday. He doesn’t need to play hero. He doesn’t even really need to be notable to the casual fan. But he has to make an impact in the run game. Base blocking the end in man-blocking schemes. Split zones where he’s kicking out the backside EMOL and trap runs where he’s pulling behind David DeCastro. He’s not the key cog but he’s one of the pistons to keep the running game’s motor rolling. Here’s to hoping.