The Pittsburgh Steelers have recorded seven rushes by wide receivers so far this season through four games, including one touchdown. Five of those rushes came on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles, with three by rookie wide receiver Chase Claypool and two by Ray-Ray McCloud.
The Steelers totaled five designed running plays for non-running backs in all of 2019. They had nine in 2018, but six were from Ryan Switzer, whom they occasionally used in the backfield, not within an end-around or jet-sweep motion. Martavis Bryant did have six rushes in 2017, the highest total of his career, but you get the idea.
The Steelers are using motion and getting the ball in their wide receivers’ hands more frequently this season, in a trend that appears to be an evolving one as Claypool and McCloud the new faces to the group, becoming more integrated into the offense.
“Everyone at some point is running around, running the reverse or getting the ball flipped to them or handed to them”, offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner told reporters earlier this week, via a transcript from the team’s media department. “That’s just kind of where today’s football is in an attempt to spread the football out and an attempt to utilize and do things that maybe is different than the defense might want you to do”.
“When you run up the middle, and that is all great, but there’s too many bodies in there”, he went on. “It’s not worth fighting city hall for that. He has done an excellent job when he has had an opportunity to touch the ball as a runner, and that is exciting. Ray-Ray as well”.
The Steelers have so far been using these plays successfully. Claypool has gained 14 yards on his four carries, but three of them were successful plays. He converted on fourth and one for eight yards in the opener, had a two-yard touchdown run, and converted on third and two for three yards.
McCloud carries the ball twice on Sunday against the Eagles. One of them he managed to break off for a 58-yard gain, which was the highlight, of course, but he also picked up five yards on his other carry on first and 10. In week three, Diontae Johnson also executed one rush for nine yards on first and 10—except, of course, he suffered a concussion on the play.
That’s seven rushes and six successful plays, including several big plays, converting on possession downs, getting into the end zone, or racking up significant yardage. Just another way that this 2020 Steelers offense is shaping up to be slightly different from what we have become accustomed to seeing.