It’s safe to say that rookie running back Jaylen Samuels did a lot of nice things for the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday evening in their big victory over the New England Patriots, and I will be taking a closer look at his running later in the week. He recorded eight plays of 10 or more yards on his 21 touches, an impressive ratio when only two of those were receptions.
But he did have some moments in pass protection that show he’s still learning the position. Patriots linebacker Kyle Van Noy came in on a last-second blitz and Samuels did not have the presence of mind to pick him up back on the second possession of the game, which led to a sack of Ben Roethlisberger.
Alex Kozora also placed the blame on the other sack of the game on Samuels, though the fault there was certainly more ambiguous. And he did show the ability to work in pass protection elsewhere in the game, and earlier in the year. But it is something that needs to be discussed if he is going to have a bigger role in the offense, and the passing game in particular.
Something that Roethlisberger and Head Coach Mike Tomlin both talked about yesterday. “He did miss the blitz early in I think the second drive”, the quarterback said on his radio show. “That was his guy that blitzed and sacked me, so it wasn’t perfect, and he knows that”.
During his pre-game press conference, Tomlin also pointed out that Samuels was responsible for the sack that Van Noy was able to register in the first quarter. “Obviously we gave up a big blitz against New England, got our quarterback hit”, he said. “We’ve got a young back back there, we understand all of those things, so he’s got to answer that challenge”.
While he was featured a lot in the passing game in college, Samuels was pretty open after the draft with the fact that he was never asked to work in protection much. Why? Because he was always asked to run routes instead. In fact, he’s been pretty open overall about the fact that he is in many ways new to the running back position.
Still, both his quarterback and coach offered praise for his overall body of work on the day, during which he produced 172 yards of offense, the only player on the team with more than 65 yards. And Roethlisberger even complimented his protection after the sack.
“After that, I thought he really did do some good things in picking up the blitz, giving come chips on the edges to help the tackles”, he said. “The way that he played really I thought will help his confidence and will help him continue to grow where we can continue to use him. So that’s fun to see, where he started at training camp and where he’s come to”.