By Matthew Marczi
For much of the season, the Steelers have by and large stayed away from heavily using multiple tight end sets, especially after losing David Johnson for the season and before Heath Miller was back from his knee injury.
That wasn’t exactly the plan entering the season. The Steelers brought back Matt Spaeth in order to be the blocking tight end, but that plan was derailed when he suffered a Lisfranc injury in training camp.
The injury caused him to miss the first three months of the season before finally returning two weeks ago against the Miami Dolphins.
Though they deployed him early and often, using him on the majority of their second, long scoring drive, they overall eased him in with about 15 total snaps.
That was not the case this past game against the Cincinnati Bengals, as they featured him on nearly 80 percent of the offensive plays, as opposed to just barely more than 20 percent the week prior.
Granted, some of that was naturally the result of the Steelers jumping out to an early 24-0 lead at home.
Nevertheless, with Spaeth back, it’s clear that the offense is gradually looking more and more as Todd Haley and the rest of the organization envisioned it this offseason as the pieces slowly fall in place.
Although Pro Football Focus gives Spaeth a terrible grade for his run blocking, I suspect that this will change at least somewhat during their mid-week reviews when they make corrections, perhaps based on the coaches film.
Based upon my own observations, I feel as though the offense was certainly aided by Spaeth’s return. His block on Le’Veon Bell’s touchdown run certainly looked like a good one at the very least.
At one point in the game, he was flagged for what looked to me like somewhat of a questionable holding call that negated an eight-yard run from Bell. On the next play, he was blocking downfield on a running back screen that went for 17 yards.
Because the Steelers jumped out to such a large lead early on, they ended up running the ball quite a bit, more than they usually do, which may have influenced how many snaps Spaeth ended up playing.
It will be interesting to see how much, and in what capacity, the Steelers continue to use him over the last two games. Known primarily as a run blocker, they did use him five times in pass protection. In contrast, Miler was left in just twice while going out for 24 passes.