Would you have believed me if I told you at the beginning of the season that the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive personnel at the skill positions at the end of their Week 11 game would consist, comprehensively, of James Washington, Johnny Holton, Tevin Jones, Vance McDonald, Nick Vannett, Jaylen Samuels, Trey Edmunds, and Tony Brooks-James?
Three of those players were not even on a 53-man roster to start the season. Vannett was with the Seattle Seahawks. And Holton actually started out on the practice squad as well. Yet these were the weapons that Mason Rudolph had to work with through much of last night’s game.
But only after starting running back James Conner, looking to return from a shoulder injury, had to check himself of the game as the injury worsened. Only after JuJu Smith-Schuster took two blows to the head on the same play, suffering a concussion. Only after Diontae Johnson took an ugly and unnecessary hit to the head after the play by safety Damarious Randall, who was ejected for the hit.
Regardless of how they got there, though, for much of the night, Rudolph was targeting Holton and Jones, and handing the ball off to Edmunds, and predictably, things did not go particularly well. That’s virtually inevitable when you’re literally down to only three wide receivers.
“I liked the effort tonight. But not enough playmaking”, head coach Mike Tomlin said after the game. “Some people went down on offense; we didn’t have enough playmaking”. He added, “we had some inexperienced guys in there, and when you’re behind in a game with inexperienced guys, and the pace that you have to work at and things of that nature, we got challenged”.
He was asked about one moment in particular, after the Steelers failed to convert on many of third opportunities on third and one, and they decided to go for it on fourth and two. Tomlin elected to call a timeout beforehand, and he was asked why.
“We didn’t have enough wideouts for guys to be fresh and get back”, he said with hesitant laughter. “We had some young people in there, we wanted to communicate some of the minutiae of what we were doing on the call, so sometimes you lose a little bit of pace or element of surprise or whathaveyou. We just needed to communicate and try to win that down”.
The Steelers have a week and a half now to figure out what happens on offense the next time they take the field. Their top two wide receivers are dealing with concussions, and we don’t know how that might go. Their starting running back is not as far along with a shoulder injury as he thought and hoped he was.
That was a huge impact on last night’s game. The only way to fix it is to get these guys back, but there’s no way to rush the process. They’ll be available when they’re ready.