Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, not unlike many coaches, tries not to put too much on the plates of their rookie players. He said several weeks ago that he was beginning the process of ‘managing’ the snaps of second-round wide receiver Chase Claypool, who had quickly established himself in the starting lineup, perhaps sooner than anticipated.
His playing time dropped a bit, though by and large he was still seeing more than 50 percent of the snaps, even though he was leading the team in receiving yards and touchdowns. He had been less a part of the offense in recent weeks.
On Sunday, he played the entire first half without receiving a single target. Then Ben Roethlisberger started looking his way beginning with the opening drive of the third quarter, and…it made a difference. But not quite enough, in the end.
After totaling just 97 yards of offense in the first half, 41 yards of which came on a virtually meaningless final possession with 14 seconds left, they opened the second half with a 10-play, 75-yard drive—which stalled at the Indianapolis Colts’ two-yard line with no points. Claypool was the spark for the drive, but also a major part of the reason that it failed.
The rookie was targeted a total of four times on the drive, catching three passes for 53 yards, which immediately gave him the team lead in receiving yards for the game. The problem is that his fourth target came on third and goal from the two and he dropped what would have been a touchdown. The fourth-down play failed as well, a pass intended for James Washington being broken up.
Later in the game in the middle of the fourth quarter, Roethlisberger looked for Claypool again deep down the right sideline. The big receiver was able to get a hand on the ball jumping, but it was uncatchable. Fortunately, an illegal contact penalty gave them a free first down, and Roethlisberger found JuJu Smith-Schuster for a 25-yard touchdown, the second explosive-play touchdown of the game.
Outside of that one possession, Claypool didn’t have much of an impact on the game. He had one more catch for a single yard. Later, he was targeted on a deep incompletion, but an illegal contact penalty elsewhere on the field gave the offense a first down, and Roethlisberger hit JuJu Smith-Schuster for the game-winning score a play later.
It’s hard to deny that getting the big kid involved didn’t help to provide the spark that this team needed, though, and they can certainly stand to get him involved more again. My guess is that he plays a lot in the season finale just before he is set to make his playoff debut.