Steelers shuffle the deck for playing time on offense, defense, against Packers

The Steelers worked out a last-second victory over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday Night Football. With several key players sidelined for the game, the makeup of playing time should interest Steelers fans and provide a glimpse of what to look for as December football approaches.

Offensively, there were no big surprises in playing time for the big names. Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and all of the offensive lineman (including fill-in Chris Hubbard) played the full game. Le’Veon Bell was given two snaps off, one each to rookie James Conner and practice squad call-up Fitzgerald Toussaint, who saw his share of time as a kick returner.

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The other kick returner on Sunday was WR Martavis Bryant, who saw his most snaps since Week 1 of the regular season, as a result of JuJu Smith-Schuster being ruled out with a hamstring injury. Bryant played 78% of the game, which is his second-most since Week 1, but his 58 snaps were a season-high against the Packers.

Another player who saw an uptick in playing time was TE Xavier Grimble, who also saw his most action of the month with over a quarter of the offense’s snaps.

Second-year tackle, 2016 fourth-round draft pick Jerald Hawkins saw his NFL debut with five snaps Sunday. He replaced Chris Hubbard as the extra tight end in the Steelers run-heavy package. His five snaps equaled that of FB Roosevelt Nix, who has seen his playing time dip as Ben Roethlisberger attempts more passes at home over the last two games (45 in each contest).

WR Eli Rogers also saw a season-high in playing time due to JuJu’s absence. Rogers played 74% of the Steelers offensive snaps.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Steelers mostly stuck to their guns this weekend, as several defenders played all or nearly all of the game including Artie Burns, Mike Mitchell, Sean Davis, Bud Dupree, T.J. Watt, Ryan Shazier, and Coty Sensabaugh. The linebackers left the field a few times, with Arthur Moats, Tyler Matakevich, and Anthony Chickillo each spelling them for two snaps.

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DT L.T. Walton made the most of his three snaps, cutting off Packers QB Brett Hundley for a sack. S Robert Golden also made a one-snap appearance in the game, as the Packers used multiple receiver sets forcing William Gay onto the field for 29% of the game. That ate into Javon Hargrave‘s snap count, as the “gravedigger” only saw 20 of the team’s 55 defensive snaps.

Mike Hilton and Vince Williams are firmly entrenched in the defensive plans as each played 60% and 78% of the game respectively. The rest of the front seven was anchored mostly by Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt seldom leaving the game. The aforementioned Walton, along with Tyson Alualu (7 snaps, 13%) spelled both of the big men in this game.

Absent Sunday was James Harrison (ruled out with a bad back) Daniel McCullers (inactive), L.J. Fort, and J.J. Wilcox. The latter two each contributed on on special teams, but did not see a single defensive snap.

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