Over the course of the Pittsburgh Steelers first two postseason games, they haven’t thrown the ball around all that much. They have actually recorded more plays on the ground than passing plays so far. But when Ben Roethlisberger has thrown the ball, it has mostly been in the direction of Antonio Brown.
Now, that is nothing new, of course, but with the low number of targets, there hasn’t been a lot left for the rest of the receivers. But they did find a way to get the ball to Jesse James in space a number of times by building off of the running game, and it helped him have his biggest day as a receiver.
Last week I took a look at James’ blocking, so this time I’m going to look at his receptions. He caught five passes on six targets, with the lone miss being the result of a poor throw. His first two receptions both came early in the game on the Steelers’ opening drive.
The Steelers had just converted a third down to keep the opening drive alive when Roethlisberger found James for the first time. Though they had not established the run at that point—in fact, they hadn’t run the ball at all yet—Roethlisberger was able to use play-action to get the linebacker to commit, leaving James free up the seam for an easy 13.
On the very next play, the Steelers took advantage of multiple levels, using James and Eli Rogers in conjunction depth. While Rogers took an initial wide arc, he executed a shallow crossing route, drawing the underneath coverage. James worked behind the coverage about 10 yards deeper to find the opening for another 16 yards.
Early in the second quarter, the Chiefs threw in a nine-dropping look with only two rushers, robbing all the throwing lanes, so Roethlisberger just checked down to James, who worked his way up the field for a safe five-yard gain.
Later, in the middle of the quarter, the Steelers took advantage of a common screen play that they like to run to create misdirection. With Antonio Brown and Rogers to his side, Brown prepared to take the screen with James looping to the edge, but instead he turned up inside and up the field, where he ran past the safety coming in too hard to stop the screen, and finding the ball for 26, a new career-long.
Late in the game, at the top of the fourth quarter, Roethlisberger hit the second-year tight end for another long game, this one a 23-yarder, and you should notice some similarities with the second catch. Once again, the offense created tiered depth routes for the Chiefs to defend, with Rogers shallow and James deeper. Both underneath defenders attacked Rogers hard, leaving James wide open.
Had Roethlisberger hit him in stride, this gets turned into an even bigger play, but hey, I’m not complaining. It was a good day for the offense’s ability to incorporate the tight end position into the mix through scheme.