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 are not getting their tight ends involved enough in the passing game.
Explanation: For whatever reason, the Steelers are not making much use, or practical use, of their tight ends in the passing game, Mason Rudolph instead relying heavily upon the running back position for all of his release outlets between James Conner and Jaylen Samuels.
Considering the fact that we talked about this potentially being the breakout season for Vance McDonald and here he is sitting there in the middle of the season with just 22 catches for 176 yards, I would think it’s very easy to call this one: the Steelers, and Rudolph, are not making use of the tight end position in the passing game the way they should.
McDonald did catch five passes yesterday, but for just 30 yards, though he did get his third touchdown of the season, one off of his career-high of four, which he has hit in two of the previous three seasons. Nick Vannett, meanwhile, has just four catches for 48 yards since coming over.
The tight end position is an important zone-beater in the intermediate areas of the field, which is exactly where the offense needs to be attacking more. We know that McDonald can make people miss after the catch, and Vannett has been solid in his limited opportunities in the passing game as well.
The position that is really being underutilized is wide receiver. Consider the fact that Samuels has 28 targets on the season, fifth-most on the team, in spite of the fact that he has missed multiple games. Conner’s 29 receptions are the second-most behind JuJu Smith-Schuster, who is not even that far ahead.
It doesn’t matter who Rudolph is targeting, ultimately. It matters where and when. Too much is happening behind, at, or near the line of scrimmage, and it’s increasingly becoming something defenses are able to read and react to. Depth levels must vary.