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 will run 100-plus snaps with at least four wide receivers on the field in 2020.
Explanation: The last time Ben Roethlisberger was healthy for most of the year, and the first year under Randy Fichtner as offensive coordinator, the Steelers logged over 100 snaps with at least four wide receivers on the field, about a third of which featured five receivers, almost entirely coming in the final three games of the season. With Roethlisberger back and a deep receiving corps, they could return to this approach in 2020.
The Steelers didn’t run this much last year, but we essentially have to throw out the 2019 season. Not only was Roethlisberger out, they cycled through their receivers. Donte Moncrief got hurt. JuJu Smith-Schuster got hurt. It’s completely unrepresentative of what they would have liked to do.
They showed who they were in 2018, and that was a passing team who likes to throw to their receivers. With Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, James Washington, Chase Claypool, Ryan Switzer, and Deon Cain, they have the personnel that would allow them to run the offense effectively, in select circumstances, with four or five receivers on the field, and they have the offensive line protection to allow them to do it.
A lot of the usage of four-receiver sets that year came as a result of the lack of depth and experience at running back after Le’Veon Bell crapped out of the season, leaving an inexperienced James Conner to shoulder the load. If it were not for the desire to give Conner a break and off the field, we wouldn’t have seen as many snaps out of this set. And then we saw the five-receiver set come out after he got hurt.
Add in the fact that the Steelers will probably want to use more two-tight end sets this year because of the signing of Eric Ebron, and that’s another avenue that will cut down the opportunities for the Steelers to run with four-plus receivers on the field. They’ll still do it, but not at a rate of about 8-10% of their total offensive snaps.