Robert Spillane returning for the Steelers is best news this week

Robert Spillane of the Pittsburgh Steelers Mandatory Credit: Mitchell Layton-USA TODAY Sports
Robert Spillane of the Pittsburgh Steelers Mandatory Credit: Mitchell Layton-USA TODAY Sports /

There may be no bigger news this week than Robert Spillane returning to the Steelers roster.

The Steelers seemingly unearthed a gem this year as Robert Spillane, who was forced into action after Devin Bush was lost for the season, has been a great player. Despite low expectations due to his lack of experience, Spillane quickly became one of the better defenders on the field. Unfortunately, he was placed on injured reserve after the game against Washington back in Week 13. Now, he seems to be prepared to return to the field this week after returning to practice.

Spillane entered the season seemingly as a special team’s option only, but when he became the next man up, he answered the call admirably. He was stout against the run – one only has to remember his goal-line stand against Dereck Henry as proof of that. More importantly, he was the best Steelers linebacker in coverage. Spillane was targeted 30 times in coverage this season and only allowed just 16 receptions. Better yet, he only allowed a quarterback rating of 51.4 when being targeted. That number is elite for a defensive back, let alone a former undrafted linebacker that was not expected to start.

Spillane makes the Steelers better

Beyond his play alone, getting Spillane back is a huge win for the entire defense. Before getting injured, Spillane was playing roughly 80 percent of the snaps. He was wearing the green dot for the defense while on the field, meaning he was in charge of calling the plays and making sure the unit was lined up properly. Having that stability with the green dot can only make this defense better.

While Avery Williamson and Vince Williams have done well in his place, getting Spillane back should improve the unit. Williams is great at what he does – stopping the run and rushing the quarterback – but he struggles when he has to do more than that. This was evident after Ryan Shazier was lost to injury and Williams suddenly became the guy at linebacker. The addition of Bush and later Spillane allowed Williams to focus on what he excels at. That was a major contributor to his early-season success in terms of sacks and tackles for a loss.

As for Williamson, he has also done an ok job in Spillane’s place. That said, his coverage has been his weakest point. Getting Spillane back should improve that area of the defense and improve the run defense as a whole. The unit is deeper with Spillane back. This couldn’t come at a better time either, as the Browns have a ferocious run game that will need to be stopped. Spillane will certainly aid the Steelers in stopping the Browns.

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Altogether, there may be no bigger storyline for the Steelers this week than getting Spillane back. His excellent play mixed in with the depth he allows for the team to have once again will be huge in the playoffs. He is having an excellent year for Pittsburgh, and having him back this week is a big deal for their odds of winning.