For a variety of different reasons, the Pittsburgh Steelers especially over the past three weeks has developed into an offense that runs through its running backs. Both of their victories on the season so far, for example, have come in the two games in which starting back James Conner had topped 100 yards from scrimmage.
Their role is not just in running the ball, of course, but also playing a vital role in the receiving game. Conner already has two games of 75-plus receiving yards, and Jaylen Samuels and Benny Snell have combined for about 100 receiving yards themselves so far this year.
The young trio—Conner in his third season is the most experienced—is being helmed by Eddie Faulkner, a first-year NFL coach, who replaced James Saxon this offseason as the Steelers’ running backs coach. Faulkner was somebody on Mike Tomlin’s radar for a while, and liked the ideas that he brings to the table.
During the week, the novice NFL position coach talked about his players and the role they have been asked to fulfill during this young season. “In the couple games that we’ve won here, a big part of the game was moving the chains, and those guys got to their spots in checkdowns when people were covered down the field”, he observed. “The quarterbacks are getting us the ball and we’re able to convert third downs, possession downs, and keep the chains moving, and that’s substantial”.
In today’s game, it is taken as a given that the receiving game is going to be an integral part of any complete running back’s game, even if it wasn’t something that they did prominently at the college level. They are going to be asked to make those adjustments at this level if they want to be at the top of their position.
And so Faulkner has worked with these young backs to get them up to Speed. Samuels, the one that he himself coached in college, didn’t necessarily need that coaching, but Snell in particular, the rookie, came into the league inexperienced in the passing game.
So it’s important for him to know where he’s supposed to be. “We’ve put a huge emphasis on that”, he said. “What it is not only to protect but to know where they need to be on their checkdowns, and they’ve embraced it to the tune of seven or eight catches in those games”.
Snell came away with the first catch of his career last Sunday, a 14-yarder. With Samuels still out likely at least another week, he might get a few more chances. Of course, Conner remains the focal point. His 26 receptions leads the team, and he has 231 receiving yards with two touchdowns in that phase.