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Pittsburgh – The Bermuda Triangle for Tight Ends

There are many positions of need that the Steelers will need to address in free agency and the draft. Everyone is very busy either trying to predict who will be added to the roster, or going into a panic attack about how horrible it would be to sign said person. One position that isn’t being discussed right now is Tight End. It’s a bit odd considering the complete lack of production at that position.

Pat Freiermuth – 32 receptions on 47 targets, 308 yards, 2 TD

Connor Heyward – 23 receptions on 34 targets, 167 yards, 0 TD

Darnell Washington – 7 receptions on 10 targets, 61 yards, 0 TD

Rodney Williams – goose eggs across the board

Those numbers would look even worse if you took away the catches Connor Heyward had from the fullback role. Normally, stats like that would have a fan base setting torches ablaze and sharpening pitchforks, or in this day and age, writing very mean tweets full of misspelled words and bad grammar. The fact that we all seem to be at peace with the tight end room points to an understanding that the last OC gameplan was lacking a scheme for that position, to say the least. There is talent and depth with Pat Freiermuth, Darnell Washington, Rodney Williams, and the versatile Connor Heyward all having the potential to make plays and create mismatches in game situations.

I recently watched every offensive snap from last season for an article on Kenny Pickett, and what really stood out was the complete lack of disguise for whether it would be a run or pass. If Matt Canada were a stage magician, he would never have a curtain raised to conceal the trick. I’m not a master tactician by any means when it comes to football, but I do know my way around a boxing ring. It always made my day easier when the opponent would drop his left a bit before throwing a jab, or dip a shoulder before cranking out a left hook. The Steelers offense telegraphed every punch it threw. The OC might have well put the play call on the jumbotron instead of calling it into the QB’s helmet. Several times I could see the defense pointing and jumping with excitement as they got into perfect position for the play being run at them. Considering that, it’s amazing they achieved a 7-4 record before Pickett was injured.

Pittsburgh was 25th in the league last year for scoring touchdowns in the red zone, an area where good tight ends thrive. If the Steelers have any hope of improving offensive output, no matter who ends up at the QB position, that has to improve more than any other stat. The Steelers want to be a physical run heavy and ball control offense. Dominating the time of possession can be a great way to limit the opposing offense and win games, but only if those time consuming drives end in 6 points.

In the offseason, hope should spring eternal. There’s plenty of time for negativity once play actually starts. Arthur Smith ran the most plays with two tight ends from 2021 to 2023, using that combo 1,549 times in Tennessee. The Steelers were 22nd in the league during that time. Smith also runs play action far more often than we have seen for quite some time. Pittsburgh ran play action so few times over the past three years, I’m surprised Mike Tomlin didn’t throw a challenge flag when the other team did it, thinking it was against the rules. Of course, running play action successfully means getting the receivers to block with enthusiasm. Our current group isn’t conjuring up memories of Hines Ward and his physical love of the game. New receivers coach Zach Azzanni has a reputation for not suffering fools or soft play, so that will be very interesting to watch as the season unfolds. Antonio Brown said bad things about Azzanni after his hire, which makes me think Zach is doing something right.

For more reasons to be excited, when Arthur Smith was OC for the Flaming Thumbtacks, they ranked 2nd and 3rd in back to back seasons for red zone scoring. Darnell Washington is 6 feet 7 inches tall and weighs 264 lbs. There’s no reason he shouldn’t post up and be a target to catch touchdowns over shorter defenders, or at least be used to make the shorter defenders think that is going to happen. Remember back when Duce Staley would carry the ball all the way down the field and then Jerome Bettis would get the goal line carries? His stat line would be 3 carries, 3 yards, 3 touchdowns. Washington could have stats like that, and the Steelers would be winning games. Smith is not afraid to throw to the big men down there, as this play shows.

So while everyone else is excited or in a panic based on who might or might not be wearing the black and gold this year, I’m looking forward to seeing what our current group of tight ends can do, given the chance to actually make a play. At the least, Arthur Smith can make defenses consider that a tight end might get a ball thrown their way, or that a play might not be exactly what it looks and even that would be an improvement.


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