Although it shouldn’t be terribly surprising given the conditions under which the game was played, this very rare Wednesday edition of NFL football really seemed to bring out the ‘Cons’ section of the scouting reports of many players, on both sides of the ball, but it really could be blamed for keeping the game close, even though the Baltimore Ravens did very little, especially offensively.
So many of those cons were a propensity to drop passes, and we certainly saw that from the likes of Diontae Johnson and Eric Ebron, each of whom had at least two passes during the game that they should have been able to handle.
Arguably the most costly blunder, however, was by wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud, who failed to signal for a fair catch on a punt return early in the game. That allowed the nearest coverage player to read him perfectly and line up the hit for coincidental contact, jarring the ball loose.
That play allowed Baltimore to take possession on the Steelers’ 16-yard line, and they would find the end for the first—but not the last—time in the game. In fact, their 70-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter was the first time in the game that they recorded a first down through the air.
McCloud was not on the radar this year. In fact, he was with the Buffalo Bills until being waived in late July. The Steelers signed him in the middle of August during training camp, and he showed enough during that time to convince them that he was worthy of one of only five spots on the 53-man roster being devoted to wide receivers.
He has delivered, by and large, in his role as a returner, beginning only as the kick returner but also taking over the punt return duties after Diontae Johnson suffered a back injury doing it. He has a couple of near-touchdowns doing it. But those who scouted him felt there was a ticking time bomb.
You see, McCloud fumbled five times in his first two seasons in the NFL, with the Bills and the Carolina Panthers. In fact, he fumbled three times in just six games last year. Those five fumbles came on 30 career touches between kick returns, punt returns, receptions, and rushing attempts.
Needless to say, that is an insanely high fumble rate, though also one that would be difficult to sustain even for somebody without fingers. Fumbling once every six times you touch the ball is disastrous—and is the reason he was cut multiple times before arriving in Pittsburgh.
It was a mistake on his part not to signal for the fair catch, to state the obvious. But you know that Danny Smith will chew him out for it. If he makes another mistake, they may look for another option, so he has every incentive to be more careful from here on out.