The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: The Steelers will compensate for the injuries at running back with more four-receiver sets.
Explanation: The Steelers ran more snaps with four or more receivers on the field last year. It was something they were planning to continue to do in 2019, but frankly, a lack of quality receivers has prohibited them from using it too often after a couple of games. Down to only one healthy running back who has carried the ball more than once for them, however, they could go back to that as a resource for today’s game.
This is exactly what they did last year and for the same reason. Jaylen Samuels, the lone healthy back, didn’t enter his second season this year much more experienced in carrying the ball at the NFL level than did James Conner a year ago.
And the Steelers talked openly about how they used four-receiver sets purposely to get Conner and all other running backs off the field so that he could get a rest and be prevented from having too much put on his plate.
They already have their top three guys at wide receiver in JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, and James Washington, but even with Donte Moncrief’s release, Johnny Holton and Ryan Switzer are two guys that still get a snap here and there. Switzer is an interior, shifty guy, while Holton can stretch the field on the outside.
The Steelers have shied away from using the four-receiver sets this year because, among other things, it takes away the running option on plays. They did it more by necessity last year, but they are probably more comfortable in Samuels and Trey Edmunds now than they were in the field they had a year ago.
It’s also hard to make the argument that having Switzer or Holton on the field much is putting your best players on the field. Even if they go without a running back, it’s possible we could see a 02 look with two tight ends being used to complement a three-receiver look. That would still accomplish the same feat of giving Samuels a breather without putting a back on the field in which they lack confidence.