The Pittsburgh Steelers have invested heavily in their defensive line. They ought to have, after all. It’s where their talent had coalesced. Neither Cameron Heyward nor Stephon Tuitt got anything less than they were entitled to during the years in which they were given extensions.
With that reward also comes responsibilities and obligations. They bear the load. The success or failure of the line begins and ends, largely, with them. Or so it does when they’re healthy. Tuitt was injured in the sixth game of the season.
In spite of the reality that Heyward and Tuitt represent the bread and butter of the unit, the Steelers had every intention of making good use of the depth on the line, namely Javon Hargrave and Tyson Alualu, with Daniel McCullers taking some snaps as well.
They had been successful in deploying this rotational philosophy for the better part of the first six weeks, but have largely had to abandon it since. Heyward has played at least 79 percent of the snaps in each of the past five games, in fact, and logged 69 snaps, or 90 percent, on Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams.
Since Tuitt’s injury, Hargrave has seen his snap count go up fairly significantly. He was averaging about 45 percent of the team’s defensive snaps prior to the injury, and since then has been seeing playing time about 65 percent of the time. He’s logged over 100 snaps in the past two weeks combined.
Head coach Mike Tomlin was asked about the rotation on Monday following the game against the Rams, and made it clear, “I don’t even know how many snaps they had”, half joking that the reporter who asked the question would probably have a better idea than did he.
We’ll take a look at some of those things when we get an opportunity to, or when the opportunity arises to. Right now, with the challenges that we face, particularly just in terms of time, it’s just not a lot of time to ponder those things. Those guys understand that. We all got to tote a load, and different people have got to tote a different type of load at different points in the journey based on their roles or circumstances. We don’t spend a lot of time dwelling on that. We just do what we’ve got to do, and those guys are doing it. When we get an opportunity to look at it and pause, maybe in this 10-day period, we’ll do so, but it won’t be a lot of pause and looking at it as we prepare for Thursday night.
Long story short, Heyward and Hargrave are going to bear the brunt of it for the rest of the way, unless they can devise a strategy to give them some additional time off when they have some extra days to work with following tonight’s game against the Cleveland Browns.