Through the first two games of the 2020 season, the Pittsburgh Steelers passing game has targeted the tight end position 11 times, retrieving six receptions for 67 yards. Newcomer Eric Ebron has four of those receptions on seven targets for 61 yards, while Vance McDonald has six yards on two receptions via four targets.
They are paying both of these men to be multi-talented athletes capable of both contributing in the blocking department and as targets in the passing game, but so far they haven’t gotten a whole lot out of either one of them, all things considered, and that has led some in the media to begin to question what the plan is.
They asked that question of Mike Tomlin yesterday, specifically of Ebron, who signed for two years and $12 million back in March. “It’s early”, was all he had to say about that. “Keep watching”. Today was Ben Roethlisberger’s turn to field the tight end question.
“Both tight ends I think people are keeping a close eye on”, he told reporters. “We just really haven’t hit our stride offensively yet, where we’ve done a ton of no-huddle. I think they get involved a lot in the no-huddle stuff. We haven’t done a ton of that yet”.
“I also think there have been plays that have been called for those guys that have just been covered”, he added. “None of us are panicked. We know how special both of our tight ends are. They make the big plays when we need them. Going back to Ebron, I thought he made a big play down the middle of the field. I came back to him and he went up high and made a great catch. They’re gonna get their balls and their touchdowns for sure”.
They certainly didn’t last season. Without Roethlisberger, McDonald only caught 38 passes last year for an abysmal 273 receiving yards. He did manage three touchdowns, two of which came in the second half of the second game after Roethlisberger was injured. Ebron was with the Indianapolis Colts, of course, but his production was limited as well for multiple and similar reasons.
But McDonald went for 50-610-4 in 2018, and Ebron in Indianapolis caught 66 passes for 750 yards and 13 touchdowns. Obviously that scoring total would be an aberration and accounts for nearly half of all of his career scores, but it’s just an indicator of how much more this pairing could be contributing to the offense moving forward.