Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Eric Ebron has endured an up and down career in the National Football League. He struggled to find his footing with the Detroit Lions, and had a terrific start with the Indianapolis Colts before that went south. Now, in his sixth year in the NFL, it seems the former North Carolina standout is finding a balance in the black and gold’s offense.
His stats don’t reflect it, but Ebron may be having the best season of his career. Although he only has 16 catches and one touchdown on the season thus far, he’s making the small, winning plays that don’t show up in tangible numbers. Whether it is getting dirty in the trenches or running his routes effectively, Ebron is finding ways to continue to make winning plays for this offense.
When Ebron signed a two year, $12 million contract this offseason, many thought he would mainly be a boost for the passing game. And he has done that, catching the fourth most passes on the team thus far. But what he deserves praise for is mixing it up in the running game.
Ebron was a part of the first wave of tight ends that showed more versatility to be split out, and play more of a detached role. In his new role with the Steelers, they lined him up at H-back, in line, flexed out and as a single receiver. On Sunday against the Browns, he made some key blocks, especially on this play below, to spring James Conner for some big gains. He takes a nice path after faking as if he was going out for a pass, and completely moves the linebacker sitting in the hole. Really nice stuff from Ebron.
On this next play, Ebron does a really good job reaching his defender on the goal line. The two key blocks to make this wide receiver sweep with Chase Claypool work are depending on Ebron and Jaylen Samuels to make their blocks. The key thing here is Ebron has a solid base upon initial contact, runs his feet and does just enough to allow Claypool to run to the corner of the endzone. These are things you love to see from your tight end, who was mainly expected to contribute vertically for this offense.
Not every play was perfect from Ebron, but I did not see many missed blocks or assignments from him. He’s doing everything asked of him, and he’s delivering. That is the type of winning culture the Steelers want on their team.
Passing Game Contributions
Eric Ebron only caught two passes for seven yards on Sunday. However, there were a few plays he made that helped lead to touchdowns, by simply doing his job.
This play design was beautiful, and came at a perfect time in the game. Ebron is running a deep curl route that ends up occupying the safety’s eyes. On the outside, James Washington runs a double move that gets the corner to bite. Because of how hard Ebron runs his route, the safety vacates leaving Washington for an easy touchdown.
Ebron also helped protect Big Ben in pass pro, allowing him to drop a dime to Chase Claypool. While it isn’t the prettiest block, Ebron is able to do just enough to keep the Browns edge rusher from getting to Ben Roethlisberger. Coming into the game, I expected Ebron to be a factor in pass pro. The Steelers are certainly getting their money’s worth with Ebron this season.
As much praise as I have given to Ebron throughout the course of this article, there were a few big plays he left out on the field.
On this first play, there seems to be some sort of miscommunication between Ebron and Big Ben. Ebron is running a vertical route from the slot, and he begins to throttle down right before the goal line, expecting a back shoulder throw in that area. However, Big Ben expected Ebron to continue his route and threw it at the back of the endzone. It was a missed opportunity for a touchdown, and I’m sure both will get together in the film room this week to clean it up.
This next play should not have been called as pass interference on Ebron, but the referees thought otherwise. Ebron runs a beautiful corner route, and catches it for a big gain and first down. However, he was called for pushing off right at the top of the route. This negated a 20 yard gain. Although this isn’t necessarily on Ebron, it is still a missed opportunity.
Nonetheless, Steelers fans should be excited with his contributions up to this point. I expect his volume of catches to increase over the course of the season, as gameplans will try to take away both Chase Claypool and JuJu Smith-Schuster. The Steelers are in good hands with their receiving talent. His offseason acquisition has quietly been one of the best in not only the AFC North, but in the entire AFC.