In the days leading up to the ‘meaningless’ regular-season finale for the Pittsburgh Steelers, there was some debate among the faithful over the merits of resting starters generally, as well as many particularly starters specifically. In the end, the team ended up resting four starters on offense, another on defense, and sat a few injured players.
In doing so, however, they were able to provide some valuable late-season snaps and experience for some key depth players that they may have to call upon to step up into bigger roles over the course of their postseason run, and that experience will, naturally, only serve as an asset in hindsight.
I think the most obvious examples of this would have to be the young wide receivers, which I talked about yesterday, with Cobi Hamilton and Demarcus Ayers—the latter a rookie practice-squad call-up just two weeks ago playing an instrumental role in the win over the Browns, as each scored a touchdown and combined caught nine passes for nearly 100 yards.
With Antonio Brown sitting, as well as Sammie Coates, nursing a hamstring injury, there are plenty of snaps for them to go around, but the Steelers were also able to get the veteran Darrius Heyward-Bey back into the offense, and he delivered with a 46-yard reception.
Speaking of veterans, DeAngelo Williams got his first work in about half a season and was given a ton of carries, and he seemed to grow more comfortable and confident as the game wore on. He scored the Steelers’ other two touchdowns of the game, one on the ground and one through the air.
As a bonus, Fitzgerald Toussaint saw his most extensive activity of the year. You might remember that he was thrust into a starting role for the playoffs after Williams was injured in the 2015 season finale. He looked like he had a little trust to knock off early on, especially in terms of being assignment-sound, to be frank, so that was a good thing.
Another player who got a nice, long burn was Jarvis Jones, who started for James Harrison and had arguably his most significant game of his career in terms of making impact plays. He hasn’t even seen the field in weeks. Arthur Moats also got some playing time as well.
With Stephon Tuitt nursing a knee injury, all the remaining linemen got a lot of playing time, but that was especially important for L.T. Walton, Daniel McCullers, and obviously the rookie Johnny Maxey, who was playing in just his second game. Walton and McCullers had probably their best games of the season, even if the rushing totals might not indicate that—and the latter looked pretty poor on the touchdown run late in the fourth quarter.
It might not seem like much, but the experience that players like Ayers and Maxey were able to get in the season finale may end up paying off in the playoffs if they are needed. The starters rested, the depth was tested, and the Steelers are better off for it.