The Pittsburgh Steelers have given up the fourth-fewest yards to tight ends in the NFL so far this season. They have also given up the fifth-fewest yards per game to tight ends, since many teams have yet to have their bye week. In all, they have surrendered 23 receptions for 234 yards to the tight end position for one touchdown, according to Pro Football Reference’s data.
In yesterday’s game, for example, they did a good job of shutting down Jonnu Smith of the Tennessee Titans, who had just one reception on four targets for nine yards in the game. Anthony Frisker had just two catches for seven yards. Smith entered the game with 19 receptions for 232 yards and five touchdowns.
He could have had another score yesterday, were it not for third-year strong safety Terrell Edmunds, who had one of the better games of his career, coming up with a big pass defensed in the end zone on second and goal from the half-yard line.
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Of course, he doesn’t always draw those coverage assignments. It’s not the way the Steelers draw things up. “Really, we rotate on tight ends”, he told reporters earlier today. But that’s not why they have been playing the tight ends well. He says it’s because of the tight ends they play against in practice.
“Just from practice, we’re going hard. I go against [Eric] Ebron every day. Kevin Rader. Big Blue [Zach Gentry] from Michigan. We just go at it every day”, he said. “They give us a great look every day, so when we go into the game, we feel so comfortable against the tight end because we’re going against great tight ends every day in practice”.
Really, outside of one coverage slip-up to Austin Hooper a week prior that led to a decent gain, tight ends have not done a lot of damage against the Steelers this season, especially relative to other teams. And it’s not like they haven’t played any talent, like Evan Engram, Zach Ertz, Drew Sample, Hooper, David Njoku, and now Smith.
Next up, however, is Mark Andrews, who if not for the existence of George Kittle would certainly be in the discussion for the top tight end in the league. The third-year Baltimore Ravens tight end developed so quickly that they ended up trading their first-round tight end, Hayden Hurst.
Even though the Ravens’ passing game isn’t quite where they would like it, Andrews remains the focal point. He is second on the team with 20 receptions for 243 yards and first with five touchdowns—the only player on the team with more than two touchdown receptions.
So Ebron and company better give Edmunds and the rest of the secondary and linebackers all they can handle this week, because things don’t get any easier after facing Ertz and Hooper and Njoku and Smith over the past three games.