With both Joe Schobert and Devin Bush on the COVID-19 Reserve List for the team’s Monday Night game against the Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh had to rely on their depth to try and contain the vaunted Browns running game.
LB Robert Spillane and Marcus Allen were called upon as the starters with Ulysees Gilbert III rotating in, and the trio played better than anticipated, aiding the defensive effort in holding Cleveland to 93 rushing yards on the night. All-Pro RB Nick Chubb especially had a tough time getting anything going in this one, only getting 58 yards on 12 carries.
While part of this was due to game script and Chubb dealing with a rib issue, the defense did well rallying to the football all night.
Spillane finished the game with eight total tackles (four solo) as well as the TFL shown in the previous clip. When it comes to playing against the run, Spillane excels in this area of his game, showing great pursuit to the football and finishing as a tackler, getting the ball carrier to the ground.
However, as it was well documented during the preseason against the Eagles, Spillane tends to struggle mightily in coverage. Whether it be lack of high-end athleticism or limited mobility as an athlete in open space, Spillane cedes ample separation to backs and tight ends he is matched up with in coverage, leading to easy completions over the middle for the offense.
Even when Spillane is in correct position in coverage, his lack of quick twitch to break on the ball can be the factor of either getting the pass breakup or giving up the incompletion, like we see here on this play where #85 David Njoku runs the whip route, getting into Spillane’s frame and breaking toward the sideline for the reception.
Devin Bush’s struggles this season have been well-documented both against the run as well as in pass coverage, and Joe Schobert’s play has been lackluster given the $8.75 million he is scheduled to make in 2022. Thus, the inside linebacker position should be held under the microscope this offseason. Realistically, both Bush and Schobert could be penciled back in as the starters next season, but Spillane has a case to put his name into the mix given the struggles of the group as a whole. His coverage leads a lot to be desired, but Spillane brings that edge in the run game that Pittsburgh needs after being historically bad in run defense in 2021.
The hope would be that Pittsburgh either has Devin Bush and Joe Schobert rebound after respective disappointing seasons where both underwhelmed to expectation, or they go out and add a capable starter either in free agency or via the 2022 NFL Draft. Given the other needs on this roster, however, Pittsburgh may elect to address other areas of the roster and run it back with the LB room they currently have. If that would be the case, a camp battle should be allowed to make Bush and Schobert earn their starting spots, with the likes of Spillane and Buddy Johnson having a chance to unseat them to field the best tandem in the middle of the defense.
What are your thoughts on Robert Spillane this season and in his performance against the Browns? Do you think he warrants consideration to start at ILB in 2022? Do you think his upside and athleticism limits his capability of being more than a running-downs defender? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!