The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2021 season is underway, and they are hoping for a better outcome in comparison to last season. After starting out 11-0, they finished the year 1-4 in the regular season, and then lost in the Wildcard Round to the Cleveland Browns, ignited by a 0-28 first quarter.
They have lost a large number of key players in the offseason, like Maurkice Pouncey, Bud Dupree, Alejandro Villanueva, David DeCastro, Mike Hilton, and Steven Nelson, but they’ve also made significant additions as the months have gone on, notably Trai Turner, Melvin Ingram, Joe Schobert, and Ahkello Witherspoon. They also added Najee Harris, Pat Freiermuth, Kendrick Green, and Dan Moore Jr., all of whom are starting.
There isn’t much left to do but to play the games at this point. Even if they play them poorly. They still have a lot to figure out, though, such as what Matt Canada’s offense is going to look like in any given week, or how the new-look secondary and offensive line is going to play.
These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked. There is rarely a concrete answer, but this is your venue for exploring the topics we present through all their uncertainty.
Question: Will Anthony McFarland be used more than the other reserve running backs whenever he returns?
The Steelers announced that second-year running back Anthony McFarland has begun practicing after being placed on the Reserve/Injured List at the start of the season. He was eligible to begin practicing last week, but did not, which suggests to me that he might not be ready this week, but you never know.
Whenever he does come back on the field, how will he be used? So far, Benny Snell and Kalen Ballage have hardly even gotten on the field. Snell has a whopping 15 offensive snaps on the season, versus 70 special teams snaps. Ballage got his first four snaps of the season on Sunday.
That is, of course, because Najee Harris has played 238 snaps already. He barely comes off the field, as evidenced by the fact that the other two running backs on the roster have managed just 19 snaps combined, fewer than five snaps per game.
But McFarland is a different type of back, and we saw the Steelers using him on the field together with other running backs, giving them something of a different look. So can we expect McFarland to command more snaps than Snell and Ballage have gotten?
How much will the team use two-back sets once McFarland actually gets going and, presumably, earns the right to be in that discussion? Remember, McFarland played for Matt Canada in college, and they presumably have a great relationship—he was talking up Canada well before the draft last year, before the Steelers even took him.