Looking at options: Coach Mike Tomlin indicated on Tuesday that the Steelers could be without fullback Roosevelt Nix for Sunday’s game against the Seattle Seahawks at Heinz Field after he suffered a knee injury against the Patriots.
“He may miss this game, and another or two,” said Tomlin.
Without Nix, or a backup fullback on the roster, the Steelers are likely to look within the roster if they need someone to step up at the position While Nix didn’t play on offense against the Patriots, that doesn’t fully rule out using the fullback this week against the Seahawks.
So who will it be if not Nix?
“We have some candidates,” said Tomlin. “We spent some time, as we always do, looking at other options and areas where we don’t have a lot of depth. The fullback position is an area that we don’t have a lot of depth. We’re not opposed to looking at other people. We spent some time looking at defenders in the spring and summer, but we’re also capable of looking at and utilizing tight ends, which we’ve done in the past quite regularly.”
QB challenge: The NFL schedule makers have given the Steelers quite the test the first two weeks of the season in the quarterbacks they are facing.
Last week it was Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. This week it’s Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. They are two of the top quarterbacks in the league, but present a very different challenge for pass rushers.
“It's challenging, but it's challenging in a different way,” said Tomlin. “Tom utilizes his talents and experience to make good and quick decisions, he feels the rush extremely well so often times even when you're beating people the ball is out. The speed in which the ball comes out is a challenge relative to him.
“Russell is capable of that and does that particularly when they spread you out and things of that nature, but he also brings a unique challenge of mobility and his ability to extend the play and also just get on the perimeter of your defense and get chunks of yards. So the containment of him is significant, but also we better not be so contain conscious that we provide interior escape lanes. He's got a well-rounded game, well-rounded talents.”
Division of labor: The Steelers entered the regular season with five wide receivers on their 53-man roster, and then added a sixth when Johnny Holton was promoted from the practice squad on the day before the opener. All six of them were in uniform against the Patriots. According to the “Playtime Percentage” figures included on the NFL’s official game summary, the Steelers’ division of labor at the wide receiver position broke down this way: JuJu Smith-Schuster and Donte Moncrief both were on the field for 62 of the offense’s 69 plays (90 percent); Ryan Switzer was on the field for 46 plays (67 percent); James Washington was on the field for 36 plays (52 percent); Diontae Johnson was on the field for 25 plays (36 percent); and Holton was on the field for eight plays (12 percent).
As for the receivers’ production with respect to their playing time, Smith-Schuster was targeted eight times by Ben Roethlisberger, and he caught six passes for 78 yards; Switzer was targeted six times, and he caught six passes for 29 yards; Johnson was targeted five times, and he caught three passes for 25 yards; Washington was targeted six times, and he caught two passes for 51 yards, including a 45-yarder down the sideline; and Holton was targeted two times deep down the field and had no catches.
Clearly, the decision was to go with the most productive (Smith-Schuster) and the most veteran (Moncrief) players within the group, but Tomlin was asked why Washington, who led the team in receiving during the preseason with 10 catches for 208 yards and two touchdowns, didn’t play more.
“I didn’t view a lack of participation for James Washington in the game,” said Tomlin. “I thought we played him a significant amount. He’s a young guy, and he’ll continue to carve out a role for himself.”
When asked for an assessment of the group of wide receivers vs. New England, Tomlin said, “Like all of us, we’re 0-1. We better be scalded because of that, and we better work our tails off as we prepare for our next opportunity. There will be no division in this group. This is how we’re wired. This is what we put out there. We’re foaming at the mouth for our next opportunity. We better be.”