Mike Tomlin’s lone concern about Robert Spillane’s first NFL start had nothing to do in his play. That? Tomlin was confident in that. It was all about – to steal the term from the NBA – load management. Monitoring Spillane’s snap count. The Steelers did that and overall, got solid production out of the players tasked with replacing Devin Bush.
“I know he played winning ball,” Tomlin said in his post-game press conference. “I hadn’t looked at it with a fine tooth comb but like we said even prior to this performance, we weren’t concerned about the quality of his play. I definitely was not. I was concerned about fatigue as snaps set in. And so we supplemented him on possession downs with Ulysses Gilbert who also did a really solid job and together they were able to stand in for Devin. Not that we didn’t have complete confidence in Robert, but we didn’t want him playing 65 or so snaps. We thought he’d have a better chance to play a winning performance if we kept it around 45 or so. And that’s why we supplemented them on possession downs.”
Spillane finished the game with three tackles, two of them solo, as the Steelers largely held Derrick Henry in check, although the Titans’ ground game got going late. Spillane’s best moment came in an all-for-naught sequence, standing up Henry at the goal line to force 4th and goal. Minkah Fitzpatrick was called for holding, giving the Titans new life and Henry a trip to the end zone with the fresh set of downs. Spillane made the stop but took the brunt of the blow, exiting the game with a shoulder injury. I’ll update this post with a clip soon.
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Spillane was asked about the play after the game.
“Yeah, they’re on the one-yard line,” he told reporters. “They got a 250-pound running back. There’s no going slow into the hole. So I took all my force with me and T.J. (Watt) was there to help as well and we were able to bring him down.”
Henry finished the game with 20 carries for 75 yards and that touchdown. That’s an average of just 3.8 per carry with a long of 17. Far from the best performance but today was a far cry from the 200+ yard showing Henry had in last Sunday’s win over the Houston Texans.
As Tomlin said, Spillane and Vince Williams played next to each other in base and nickel. In dime, sophomore Ulysees Gilbert III took over and though didn’t register at all on the stat sheet, seemed to hold his own. As Spillane gets comfortable in his new role, it’s unclear if the Steelers will have the same division of labor, UG3 in dime, or if Spillane will take over the full-time role. But for today, their work was good enough and that’s all that ultimately matters.