By Jeremy Hritz
Make no mistake about it, rookie Pat Freiermuth is your new Steelers #1 Tight End. Not only has he out-snapped Eric Ebron in the first two games, 62 to 51, but the few catches that he has been given the opportunity to make, he has clamped 5 passes for 60 yards, with a long of 24. Conversely, Ebron has reeled in 1 catch for 19 yards, and once again has let the offense down with drops in big moments.
Freiermuth posted the highest ever catch rate in training camp per Alex Kozora of the Steelers Depot, and even now 2 regular season games in, the next pass he drops will be akin to hell freezing over. Factor in a PFF rating of 73.7 rating and acknowledging him as a top 15 rookie in the league, and Freiermuth is revealing himself as a viable playmaker in the Steelers offense if he is called upon.
Let it be known, there is a new TE1 for the Steelers, and his name is Pittsburgh Pat.
It’s no secret the Steelers have struggled the football dating back to last season, and in the first two regular season games this year, they have been more than disappointing. Much of this can be attributed to the predictability of the passing game, and the unwillingness to attack the middle of the field through the air has made it simple for defenses to scheme and stop the offense. According to Matthew Marczi, Roethlisberger “has only attempted five passes over the middle beyond 10 yards through the first two games accounting for just seven percent of his total pass attempts.” This is just not going to get it done of the Steelers are to threaten defenses and force them to cover and be responsible for all areas of the field.
What is the cause for not throwing to the middle of the field? Is it schematic and part of Matt Canada’s new offense? Is Roethlisberger fearful of getting crushed as a result of the lackluster play of his offensive line as he waits for a route in the middle of the field to open up? Is he afraid to risk turning the football over?
Whatever the reason, Pittsburgh Pat is the answer here, as he can be a desired and effective target in the middle of the field, and if Roethlisberger can begin to cultivate this QB-TE relationship, it could have a global benefit for the offense and all of its parts. And as we see his snap counts and targets continue to grow, we should see, as a result, a better overall offense, and a tight end, who when called upon in critical situations, who can hold on to the football and prove his reliability.
The “Muuthhh!” chants were in full effect at Heinz Field on Sunday, and I expect them to become even more intense this weekend, as Pittsburgh Pat begins to get more responsibility and opportunity in the offense. For comparison purposes, and maybe as a motivating target, Heath Miller caught 39 balls for 459 yards and 6 touchdowns in his rookie year; right now, if we’d project Freiermuth’s stats out over a 17 game season, he’d end up with 42 receptions for 510 yards. I’d think we’d all agree that’d be pretty successful for the rookie out of Penn State.
While I won’t get ahead of myself and say Freiermuth is the next Miller, because he is not yet that, he may be the answer to the questions on offense, and we may begin to see more of him this weekend.
With all that said, this is for certain. There is a new starting tight end in Pittsburgh. A lot earlier than all of us expected.
Go get em, Muth!