The Pittsburgh Steelers have been increasingly depending more and more on Vance McDonald to run their offense, the sixth-year tight end seeing his largest share of offensive snaps of the season on Sunday night against the Baltimore Ravens.
While he didn’t get many opportunities to contribute in the run-blocking department, he was a relatively frequent target in the passing game, receiving the fifth-most targets of Ben Roethlisberger’s 47 passing attempts.
Of course we know how that first target ended, a short gain on third and four on which Ravens safety Tony Jefferson did an expert job of ripping the ball out of his hands for a fumble recovery that was closer to a theft. But we don’t need to highlight that here. It was just an unfortunate offensive play and excellent defensive play.
McDonald caught four other passes during the game, three of which produced first downs, all of them coming with 10 or more yards needed. The first of those receptions came about four minutes into the second quarter, on first and 10.
Lined up off right tackle, it was a simple quick-hitter with C.J. Mosley blitzing from his middle linebacker position, leaving the middle of the field vacated. McDonald was able to catch and turn, spinning around Jefferson this time and lowering a shoulder into Tim Williams before being tackled following a 12-yard gain.
Later in the quarter, also on first and 10, he was again lined up off right tackle, this time first in pass protection against Terrell Suggs before releasing the rusher to pick up a screen pass for 11 yards. Alejandro Villanueva bought him some extra yardage with a downfield block.
Two plays later, he broke open for a 33-yard gain, his second explosive play in as many weeks. Lined off the left side this time, he exploited the zone coverage, turning inside once Eric Weddle passed him on for an easy reception of about 12 yards.
He proceeded to add 21 yards after the catch, continuing to get payback on Jefferson by lowering the shoulder into him, knocking him over and running through him for another 13 or so yards.