In the Pittsburgh Steelers Week 3 road loss to the San Francisco 49ers running back Jaylen Samuels never touched the football despite playing 14 offensive snaps. On Friday, quarterback Mason Rudolph was asked how the offense can go about getting Samuels involved more moving forward.
“Just give him more touches, man,” Rudolph said. “Out of the backfield, he’s great at catching the ball and running the ball. Unbelievable ball skills. So that’s part of our job and game plan. That’s part of my job and just targeting him.”
Rudolph wasn’t the only one to be asked about Samuels lack of usage in the offense so far this season as offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner was also asked about the very limited usage the second-year running back out of North Carolina State has had so far this season and if a young quarterback such as Rudolph could possibly use him some as a security blanket of sorts.
“I think that some of that come down to opportunity,” Fichtner said of Samuels’ lack of touches so far this season. “Again, early in games, if you’re not going to convert some third downs, and you had opportunities to potentially convert, you’re not going to get all of those opportunities. Same thing in the run game. Just count up the number of plays. So, to me it’s about maybe a little bit more on first and second down.
“I challenge the group and I challenge myself. If everyone fell forward for six feet, we’d have two more yards. Third down-and-2 might not exist. You get the first down on first or second down, like I said before, and blank third down. So, we’ve got to be, as a group, a little more efficient. Run after catch, run after contact, decision making, where the ball is placed, is it allowing for a catch and run? You know, those kinds of things.”
While Fichtner’s response is somewhat understandable, it’s still hard to fathom why he couldn’t get Samuels at least one or two touches in Sunday’s loss to the 49ers. After all, that was a close game throughout, and Samuels was on the field for 14 of the 53 total offensive plays run on Sunday. Fichtner later said Friday that while the plan was to use Samuels some against the 49ers that game situations didn’t allow touches for him to transpire
“Well, yeah, the plan was to always use him,” Fichtner said. “Look at all of our situations. Again, if you’re limited on certain third downs, there’s certain third downs that he’s already earmarked for. You know that and we know that. Things in potential carries, if you’re not running the football and you’re not possessing the ball enough to run the football, then why would you take James [Conner] out? I mean, he only carried it maybe four times after three series. So, we’re always working to find the best fit for all of those guys. Like I said, when we find it, you’ll be pleased with it.
Will the Steelers find it and Samuels Monday night at Heinz Field against the Cincinnati Bengals? They certainly need to. Could we possibly see Samuels and fellow running back James Conner on the field at the same time Monday night? That’s possible as well and especially with starting tight end Vance McDonald currently ailing and new tight end Nick Vannett a long way away from being completely up to speed with the offense.
Despite it reportedly being used some during training camp this year, the Steelers have only had Conner and Samuels both on the field at the same time for just one play so far this season and that lone instance came during the team’s regular season opener against the New England Patriots.
While Samuels has played a total of 57 offensive snaps in the Steelers first three games of the regular season, he’s only managed to touch the football seven times with two of those being receptions that totaled 15 yards. His other five touches, all rushes, have totaled 22 yards.
“We’re going to try and get him some more touches,” Rudolph said Friday.