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: We will see seven linemen on the field several times against the Buffalo Bills.
Explanation: While it’s not the first time—they used it for one snap against the Baltimore Ravens in Week Five—the Steelers used both Zach Banner and B.J. Finney together as tackle-eligibles on six snaps Sunday, and with Vance McDonald out tomorrow night, there’s easily a case to be presented that we will see this look a healthy number of times in the next contest.
Do they have any other options? With McDonald out, Nick Vannett is the only other tight end on the roster that they have any trust in. The rookie Zach Gentry is inactive every week in which the health of the roster allows him to be. He has only seen a few dozen snaps on the season.
The Steelers have also clearly developed an affinity for the big-man packages and the tackle-eligible role. Finney has played it in the past, in 2017, I believe, as well, so it’s not new to him. He will also have gotten the opportunity to work on it in practice this week in preparation, rather than coming off the bench cold without having repped it.
All of these have been running plays, as mentioned. All of them have also been unsuccessful. On seven total snaps on the year with both linemen on the field, the Steelers have gained minus-five yards. They gained a net of zero yards on six carries against the Arizona Cardinals. Every single one of the carries—with a long of three yards—was an unsuccessful play.
Putting big men on the field doesn’t equal success in the ground game. And Finney played as much as he did because it was the result of an in-game injury with no other alternatives. Zach Gentry will dress for tomorrow’s game. He may not have played much this year, but at the very least, he is an actual tight end. And using actual tight ends will also not as easily choreograph a run.