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 get the tight ends more involved in the passing game against the Broncos.
Explanation: On Monday night against the Giants, Ben Roethlisberger targeted the Steelers’ two tight ends a combined three times, with two catches, one converting a third down, the other being well short. The third target was an overthrow. They list Vance McDonald and Eric Ebron as co-starters and receiving-capable players, but the tight end position was far from a feature of the offense in the passing game.
While the Steelers can come and go with their tight end usage, it’s important to remember that everything is new again on offense right now with Ben Roethlisberger coming back from an elbow injury, and having not worked with anybody in quite a while.
Factor in Ebron being a new face who was just playing his first snaps with his new team, after a very limited offseason, and it’s not surprising to see them get fairly little work in the passing game right away. Randy Fichtner a week or two ago said that he excepts them to be on the field together a fair amount and contribute in the passing game. Just because that didn’t materialize in the opener doesn’t mean that will continue.
Still, even if it does develop, is it going to happen on a short week? Probably not. The two of them were only on the field together 16 times against the Giants, and only six of those players were on passing downs, one resulting in a sack.
The bigger ‘problem’ is the fact that this is a wide receiver-driven offense. Only a couple of teams ran out of more three-receiver sets than the Steelers did last season. On Monday, 46 of their 65 snaps were run with at least three wide receivers on the field, even with one snap featuring four receivers.
It’s more likely that we see the running back position more involved in the passing game today, particularly against the Broncos’ front seven, than the tight ends. I believe we’ll see more from them as the season progresses, but it may take more time to develop.