clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Previewing the opposition: Pittsburgh Steelers

Buffalo Bills v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

The Steelers have been an unpredictable team all year. After losing four of their first five, they won seven of their next eight, only to lose to the Bills on Sunday night, dropping them to 8-6 on the year. A loss to the Jets won’t eliminate them from postseason contention, but will push them to the brink.


Despite throwing four interceptions against the Bills, undrafted rookie Devlin “Duck” Hodges has been confirmed as the starter to face the Jets.

The Steelers had won a few games with Hodges starting, as he has completed 68 percent of his passes on the season.

Obviously Ben Roethlisberger should be the starter, but he’s been on injured reserve since September. Mason Rudolph is said to be considered the quarterback of the future, but he hasn’t played since the controversial Myles Garrett incident last month.

The Steelers also have Paxton Lynch on their roster but he’s unlikely to be active.

Offensive Line

The Steelers have good continuity on their line as four of their starters have played together for some time and the fifth, Matt Feiler, took over as the starting right tackle midway through last season. Feiler has given up a team-high four sacks this year.

Left tackle Alejandro Villanueva and right guard David DeCastro have played every snap, along with Feiler. DeCastro has had a good season but Villanueva has committed a team-high nine penalties.

Left guard Ramon Foster and center Maurkice Pouncey have each missed a couple of starts. The veterans have each been inconsistent this year, especially in the running game.

Reserve center BJ Finney has made two starts off the bench and backup tackle Chukwuma Okorafor started against Cincinnati a few weeks ago. The other reserve offensive lineman is Zach Banner who gets regular playing time as a sixth lineman.

Running Backs

With the offensive line less dominant in the running game than in the past, James Conner and fourth-round rookie Benny Snell Jr. have still combined for over 750 rushing yards but each averages just under four yards per carry. Conner leads the team in rushing yards and has a team-high four rushing touchdowns.

Jaylen Samuels is listed as a running back but he’s more of an all-purpose weapon with 42 catches on the year. As a runner, he averages just 2.7 yards per carry.

Seventh-round pick Kerrith Whyte has flashed some playmaking ability with an average of over six yards per carry and, although he’s listed as a fullback, Trey Edmunds tends to get a few touches each game.


Juju Smith-Schuster has been banged up and is having a down year after having racked up 111 catches and over 1,400 yards in 2018. He missed the last game, but has been declared healthy for Sunday. In fact, the Steelers had a completely clear bill of health on this week’s injury report.

With Smith-Schuster’s production down, James Washington is having a breakout season, as he leads the team with 694 receiving yards. Washington is a constant big play threat who averages 18 yards per catch.

Third-round rookie Diontae Johnson is also having a big season, as he leads the team with 47 receptions and four touchdown catches.

Off the bench, Johnny Holton and Deon Cain have just 10 catches between them and Amara Darboh is yet to contribute.

At tight end, Vance McDonald leads the way with 33 catches and three touchdowns, but Nick Vannett started last week with McDonald out. Vannett has 16 catches.

Fifth-round pick Zach Gentry has just one catch so far in his rookie season.

Defensive Line

The Steelers have a formidable front seven with Cameron Heyward, Javon Hargrave and Tyson Alualu starting on the defensive line. All three are good against the run and Heyward also contributes as a pass rusher. He has eight sacks.

Dan McCullers is the back-up nose while reserve end Isaiah Buggs doesn’t play much. Buggs was a sixth-round pick in this year’s draft.

The loss of Stephon Tuitt, who went on injured reserve in October, has been big for the Steelers. Tuitt had been playing well.


The Steelers pass rush is spearheaded by their outside linebackers as TJ Watt has 13 sacks and Bud Dupree has 9.5 of his own.

Anthony Chickillo and Olasunkanmi Adeniyi provide some depth off the bench but undrafted rookie Tuzar Skipper has yet to contribute.

At inside linebacker, Mark Barron and Vince Williams are listed as the starters, but Barron has been overtaken by the 10th overall pick, Devin Bush Jr. Bush is second on the team with 92 tackles.

Back-ups Tyler Matakevich and Robert Spillane don’t get to play much off the bench.

Defensive Backs

Veteran Joe Haden is the Steelers’ top cornerback and he’s having a good year with four interceptions. The other starter is Steven Nelson, who just had first pick of season against the Bills.

Mike Hilton is the starting nickel, but Cameron Sutton also gets regular playing time in subpackages.

Artie Burns has played some reserve reps over the course of the season, but rookie Justin Layne hasn’t played much.

At safety, Minkah Fitzpatrick was acquired via trade in September and immediately took over from Kameron Kelly as the starter alongside Terrell Edmunds. Fitzpatrick has had a big impact, with five interceptions including one for a touchdown. Edmunds leads the team with 94 tackles.

Kelly was waived on Friday after having been arrested. The next man up, Jordan Dangerfield, likely won’t get to play much because the Steelers tend not to run many three-safety sets.

Special Teams

Kicker Chris Boswell has only missed two kicks all year, as he’s been perfect from inside 40 yards and on extra points. Punter Jordan Berry has had a solid year too.

In the return game, Whyte handles kick-offs, with Holton and Burns backing him up. He’s posted underwhelming numbers so far. However, Johnson has been good on punt returns with one touchdown and an average of over 12 yards per return since replacing the injured Ryan Switzer.

In kick coverage, Matakevich is tied for the NFL lead with 15 tackles. Holton, Spillane and Dangerfield have also contributed well, while Layne has showed some potential when active.