Film Room: Big Hits And Misses For Vance McDonald In Passing Game

It has taken a good-long while, but it seems as though the Pittsburgh Steelers have finally managed to integrate their newest tight end, Vance McDonald, into the passing game. After getting his first reception last week at long last, on a big 25-yarder from the shadow of their own goal line, he came up with two more receptions on Sunday—though it should have been three.

The Steelers acquired McDonald, known as something of a receiving threat in spite of a reputation for dropping passes, from the 49ers in late August because they were not satisfied with the productivity that they were getting all around from the tight end position.

It has taken about half of the year, but it seems as though they are finally getting to a level of comfort with him in which he is now able to take on a bigger and bigger role. As I mention in another article today, he was comfortably out-snapping Jesse James on Sunday before he had to leave with a knee injury.

But I want to focus today not on his run-blocking—for once, which has been the subject of all of my other articles about him—but rather on his work in the passing game. He was targeted three times, as I insinuated above, but he also played an important role on one non-target.

Early in the second quarter, facing a second and five from their own 41, Ben Roethlisberger was able to find his target on a post for 28 yards, McDonald showing off some speed and athleticism in the process. He did a nice job of getting behind the linebacker here.

It was on the next play as a decoy that was key, however. A big component of hitting on JuJu Smith-Schuster’s wide open 31-yard touchdown pass was McDonald’s ability to effectively run a deep corner route that cleared out that side of the field and coaxed the deep safety into vacating the zone.

Later, toward the end of the quarter, the Steelers had the tight end in the backfield on second and two. He leaked out to make himself available to Roethlisberger, who found him at the 50. He managed to slip past one defender for another six yards.

But he had a chance three plays later to put the nail in the coffin on first and five. Coming off the right side of the line, McDonald was open for a back-shoulder throw that should have been a touchdown.

It would have been a nifty little catch, but I still have this going down as a drop. McDonald is going to become a bigger and bigger part of the passing offense, I have to believe, and the inconsistencies are just something that is going to have to be dealt with. It is an acceptable trade-off if it yields explosive plays, I think.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • Paddy

    In today’s NFL you can’t have too many tight ends, they are the QBs last resort sometimes. If McDonald can get open in time on Ben’s third read then the chains will move a few times more.

  • DangZone

    he is still learning and developing chemistry with Ben, saving his best performances for the stretch run and hopefully the playoffs!

  • Orlysteel

    Can we have an update on his knee injury, really like this guy hope he can stay healthy.

  • Mr. Unreliable when it comes to the passing game. Decent blocker though.

  • PaeperCup

    Maybe we were spoiled with Heath, but I love me a good TE. Look how reliable he can be in a pinch, especially out of the H-back position.

    V McD has a great skillset, it’s unfortunate that his hands are even worse than expected.

  • Bill

    Guy looks good. Would have been SPECTACULAR catch..not at all upset he didn’t make it. Very, very tough.

  • CountryClub

    at least when he catches the ball he is capable of doing something with it. He has some YAC ability.

  • capehouse

    It’s nice to see some explosion at TE, but damn that drop just epitomizes why he’s such a risk.

  • nutty32

    Like him, but his drop rate has got to be at or over 50%…how long can that lasts before he gets rendered down to blocker & decoy status?

  • Matthew Marczi

    He did not practice today.

  • Matthew Marczi

    I didn’t consider the first one a drop because it was hit by a defender, even though it’s a ball he could have caught. I know other sites marked it as a drop. I have him down for two drops on the season now on 9 official targets with three receptions. It’s still too bad Ben just missed him on a long one last week. But it’s a good sign that he already has two catches of 25+ yards.

  • nutty32

    2 drops, 5 catches. 40% drop rate is shaky. He did almost take his seam route catch almost to the house v. Cin…..just tripped up, oh so close to being a hero.

  • Orlysteel

    Thank you.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Yeah, high rate of course, but attributable in part to a large sample size. We’ll see what happens during the second half of the year, as I strongly suspect he’ll be seeing more targets.

  • PA2AK_

    McD and JJ certainly have a very different skill set. I doubt either are long term solutions. I think having both is better than one or the other. Hopefully he continues to improve. Feel he is much less of a liability overall.

  • americanpatriot

    I still contend that PI should have been called on the the end zone ‘drop,’