It’s fair to say that the Pittsburgh Steelers are not going to be submitting any game balls to Canton from Sunday’s loss to the Oakland Raiders based on their success on the ground. They gained just 40 yards on 19 rushing attempts, though one of those attempts was a sweep from Darrius Heyward-Bey for a seven-yard loss.
Even still, 47 yards on 18 carries is not what you’re after, and that includes 15 yards on two scrambles by backup quarterback Joshua Dobbs. Rookie Jaylen Samuels, who started the game and played almost 90 percent of the running back snaps, was limited to just 28 yards on 11 rushes. Stevan Ridley fared worse, picking up just four yards on five carries, though that included a two-yard touchdown run.
Of Samuels’ 11 rushes, just two of them were successful plays. He had a five-yard gain on first and 10 on the first play of the second half and followed that up a couple plays later with a nine-yard gain on a new set of downs. Each of his other nine carries were failed plays for the offense, including a two-yard gain on third and three and a zero-yard gain on first and goal from the two.
In spite of these numbers, offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner defended his rookie running back’s performance, saying that “Jaylen did a nice job” in the game, per the team’s communications department. “I don’t think he disappointed last week. I know, again, the number of runs…might not have been from a yardage standpoint that statistically we’re talking about, but he did some nice things in the run game. He’s been very positive with the ball in his hand”.
While he might not have looked like Le’Veon Bell out there on the ground, however, Samuels did find ways to contribute in the passing game, catching all seven of his targets in the game for 64 yards, both of those figures representing the second-highest totals on the team for the game. That included a 23-yard screen pass.
“He’s converted some on the throw, some opportunity throws, and he did a nice job in protection”, Fichtner further elaborated on the rookie back. “So, he grew leaps and bounds last week. I think he’s really excited about another opportunity to play”.
It will be interesting to see what happens tomorrow. James Conner was able to participate on a limited basis yesterday, and Fichtner previously suggested that he wouldn’t necessarily have to practice at all in order to play.
But he also said that he would have liked to have seen Ridley get some more work, singling out his efforts on the two-yard rush. If all three backs dress, how will their responsibilities be divided following the Raiders game?