You know what would be great about Vance McDonald? You know, other than holding on to more passes thrown his way (which, in fairness, he has been doing)? Staying healthy. Yeah. That’d be great. Because he does some things real well, and also helps limit Jesse James’ role, which is a good thing.
Jesse James is what I’m going to call a bend-but-don’t-break blocker, which is not what you want. He often looks like he’s being pushed around and yet just gets enough of the guy to let Le’Veon Bell squeeze through. McDonald actually looks and blocks like a tight end.
But if he keeps getting himself hurt—it looks like he’s going to miss his third game of the season with a third different injury—then, well, you can’t count on the guy. In fairness, in this instance he was rolled up on from behind on a kick return, not much you can do about that.
But let’s talk about some of that blocking, which is what I want to focus on here, even if this was the game that he caught his first touchdown pass with the team on two receptions for 16 yards. This was actually one of the more frustrating runs of the day because of its potential for more thanks to McDonald’s third-level block, had Bell not gotten tripped up. The linebacker saved at least 10 yards here and perhaps more.
Later in the second quarter, the Steelers tried an end-around for Martavis Bryant that didn’t work out so well. It’s partly because the left tackle didn’t get enough of the linebacker, forcing McDonald to pick up on him, and partly because the Colts just read it so well. The tight end was put into a no-win situation.
This is one of my favorite plays of the game, and JuJu Smith-Schuster deserves to be highlighted here as well, as the both do a great job of clearing a lane here for a screen pass to Bryant that goes for 13 yards—for those of you who complain about the screen passes, by the way.
Here, on this third-and-one run inside the red zone, McDonald used both momentum and power to drive the right end out of the play to allow Bell space. Credit again goes to Smith-Schuster, as well as Eli Rogers.
Then there was the obligatory 10-plus-yard run for James Conner that we apparently see once a game, with the well-executed counter-trey, the tight end and David DeCastro leading the way.
This final play was not necessarily anything special in the grand scheme of things, but just watch the power and drive from McDonald here. That’s what a tight end is supposed to look like blocking.
The Steelers got a good player when they traded for this guy. The real question is simply going to be how healthy he can stay. The team just plain has success when he is on the field, more often than not.