Head coach Mike Tomlin said following yesterday’s game that veteran tight end Vance McDonald suffered a concussion. He caught one pass in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ victory over the Arizona Cardinals for three yards, but while he may not be a major statistical contributor this season in that regard, he has been a crucial component to their run game and in pass protection as well.
If he misses next week’s game against the Buffalo Bills, the Steelers will be rather shorthanded, with only Nick Vannett and rookie Zach Gentry on the roster, and Gentry only dresses when there are so many injuries that they have no choice but to activate him.
There is the caveat that one also had to consider Zach Banner, who is used quite liberally as the tackle-eligible tight end as an extra lineman. That’s partly because of the fact that they have to run the ball more without Ben Roethlisberger, and also partly because he’s simply done a good job in the role.
Even while it would be a hindrance for McDonald to sit, however, if wouldn’t be the first time this season. He had to see out the Week Four victory over the Cincinnati Bengals due to an injury that he suffered the week before playing against the San Francisco 49ers, his former team. Overall, however, he has been much healthier than his tenure out west indicated he would be.
While he hasn’t had the season that was expected of him—he has just 242 receiving yards on 32 receptions, a Jesse James level of efficiency at 7.6 yards per catch, with three touchdowns—opportunities in the passing game haven’t been plentiful at all.
Diontae Johnson leads all Steelers with 69 targets in the passing game this season, which is insane, considering there are only three games remaining. He is on pace to see just 85 targets on the year, which would be the first under 100 as the leading target recipient since Mike Wallace had 98 in 2010, and the fewest since 2000 when Hines Ward led the team with just 83 targets.
The offense has shied away from the tight end position this year without Roethlisberger, the combination of Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges tending to prefer the running back position as their safety valve, with Jaylen Samuels and James Conner combined for over 70 reception on the season. Samuels was leading the team in receptions coming into yesterday’s game.
So while it would make things more difficult without McDonald out there, should he have to miss time with a concussion, it may not have as big of an impact on the game plan as it might have had in other circumstances.
This was supposed to be a breakout season for the seventh-year tight end, but that was when there were still big plans for the offense with Roethlisberger under center. Now they’re just trying to do whatever is necessary to win games.