Four Downs: Steelers prepare for improvisational Seahawks QB Russell Wilson
1. Patient Wilson
A week after facing the quick-decision, get-the-ball-out-quickly Tom Brady, the Pittsburgh Steelers defense faces an entirely different style in the Seattle Seahawks’ Russell Wilson. Wilson had the third-longest average time to throw (3.02 seconds) among qualifying quarterbacks last season, according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats platform. That continued in Week 1 of this season, when just three league quarterbacks held on to the ball longer, on average.
This, of course, can be a challenge for defensive backs, who must hold coverage longer. But as some Steelers pointed out this week, it also can be a benefit to passrushers, who will have more opportunities for sacks and pressures (only two quarterbacks were sacked more often in 2018 than Wilson).
What could be most alarming, though, for the Steelers defense is that few are better than Wilson at improvising and/or waiting for his receivers’ routes to develop: according to Pro Football Focus, no passer in the NFL had a better rating (119.7) when they attempted throws more than 2.5 seconds after the snap. Only Patrick Mahomes threw more touchdown passes than Wilson (20) in such situations last season.
2. Almost Zero-point-zero
Moncrief averaged 0.16 yards per route run during the loss to New England, according to Pro Football Focus. That ranked dead last among 74 qualifying wide receivers during the NFL’s opening weekend. For context as to how poor that is, the median yards per route run for qualifying wide receivers last season was 1.58 – TEN TIMES as much as Moncrief posted in 44 routes run Sunday. Including running backs and tight ends, 129 players were targeted with attempted passes at least four times in Week 1; not one averaged fewer yards per route run than Moncrief.
As an interesting aside, only nine players among the 30 teams that played four quarters in Week 1 were sent out on more routes than Moncrief (44). Moncrief led all Steelers in routes run – topping even No. 1 WR JuJu Smith-Schuster.
"That was my worst game ever in my career" — Donte Moncrief trying to bounce back after dropping 4 passes vs the Patriots pic.twitter.com/GL5QjxhE6b
— Chase Williams WPXI (@chasepwilliams) September 12, 2019
3. Slot machines
Only 30 players across the NFL were targeted for three or more passes more while running out of the slot in Week 1; three of them were Steelers. It was a show of the diversity of looks that offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner wants to show, as well as a compliment to the versatility of the Steelers wide receivers. Even counting tight ends, just 25 players in the league ran at least 22 routes out of the slot; that group includes Smith-Schuster (29), Ryan Switzer (29) and Moncrief (22).
4. Fool’s back
Considering he didn’t even play a snap on offense in the opener, way too much has been made about the injury to Roosevelt Nix in regards to whom will fill the role of fullback. The short answer is “nobody,” because the Steelers rarely use one and, more germane, will be even less inclined to use one with Nix unavailable.
In the past, the Steelers have often had a David Johnson-type in their tight end corps, a player with familiarity at playing fullback. Currently, though, their three-man TE group on the 53-man roster includes a player they won’t put in harm’s way (injury-prone, $5.8 million cap hit) in starter Vance McDonald and a tall and lean pass-catcher in rookie Zach Gentry.
That leaves only Xavier Grimble as a viable fullback candidate among the tight ends. Grimble said that he wasn’t taking practice reps there this week, but “If you play tight end for the Steelers part of what you do is a fullback. It’s always something we’ve done.”
Grimble assured he would be ready if needed, but he didn’t sound as if he expected that to be the case: “There’s a reason we only keep one (fullback on the roster).”
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .