Monday was an overall uneventful win for the Pittsburgh Steelers. However, one of the underlying storylines is how much this team got back in the starting lineup. Joe Haden highlighted the list, but Marcus Gilbert and Vance McDonald also returned on Sunday. These are the kinds of additions that can propel a team when they come at the right time.
The domino effect of Marcus Gilbert
As big of an addition Haden was to the defense, these two were to the offense. McDonald showed up on the first drive with a couple of receptions and adds in as a better blocker down the field and on the move than Jesse James. Gilbert was excellent on Sunday as well and looks as though he did not miss a beat off of his suspension.
While Chris Hubbard played well and is proving to be a really good player in the absence of Gilbert, it is clear that Gilbert is an upgrade. However, the Steelers are not done with Hubbard for the season.
Hubbard still played 18 snaps on Sunday, coming in as an extra tight end. This is not a new concept, the team did it with Hubbard last season. With Gilbert out, they were looking for efforts from Jerald Hawkins and Matt Feiler in this role. It has usually been a successful formation, but not as of recently. The team did not go to it as much, as Hawkins only played 10 and 11 snaps in that role.
In terms of a player to player upgrade, the bigger gap in talent is likely Hubbard stepping in for those snaps over Hawkins than Gilbert over Hubbard. They essentially just upgraded at three positions by getting two players back. All are big pluses in the running game.
It may not be a surprise that Bell, averaging 4 yards per carry coming into the game averaged 4.9 yards per carry with three upgrades in the supporting cast around him.
Against the Patriots, the Steelers were already having success on the edges. Hubbard was showing that he could pull, and McDonald has been a huge advantage when it comes to pickup up blocks out in space and down the field. An advantage they have already found against this team only strengthened on Monday.
Being able to have so many different personnel decisions and advantages on offense are what makes teams like the Patriots so successful. When you add in the talent of Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, it could really become special. The Steelers offense is putting the pieces together of something that could be really special at the right time as they head into the playoffs.