2021 South Side Questions: Why Didn’t Anthony McFarland Dress?

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: Why didn’t Anthony McFarland dress for last night’s game?

The Steelers dressed four running backs most of last season, and it seemed like they were going to do that again this year once Anthony McFarland was activated from the Reserve/Injured List. The second-year back dressed last week, and saw more snaps than the other backups.

Yesterday, however, he was made inactive, and it’s not clear why. Tight end Eric Ebron has missed the past two games due to injury, though. They chose to elevate tight end Kevin Rader from the practice squad to dress as the third for last night’s game; they chose to only dress two in the previous game.

Does that mean that McFarland is going to be a healthy scratch when Ebron is healthy again and able to dress alongside Pat Freiermuth and Zach Gentry, both of whom are already regular contributors to the offense as both blockers and pass-catchers, and their starting ends on the field goal unit?

The way the roster is constructed this year, it would be hard not to sit one of the four running backs, admittedly, if the team is going to be dressing three tight ends, which they had not been doing in recent years. We predicted that it would be Kalen Ballage who would sit, but that did not come to fruition.

Will this be a situation of two dogs—possibly even three—and one bone on a weekly basis, to see which running backs dress behind Najee Harris? It seemed last week that they had a package in mind for McFarland, the only back on the roster with a somewhat different skillset. Maybe next week. Maybe not.

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