Perhaps in part because they had almost nothing to play for, the Pittsburgh Steelers chose to be more aggressive than they have been pushing the ball down the field in the season finale today against the Cleveland Browns.
Although they came up two points short on the scoreboard, it was the success of Mason Rudolph’s deep ball and the play-making abilities of their young wide receivers in Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool that helped allow them to keep the game close most of the way, and then to close the gap late.
In all, on initial charting, it appears as though Rudolph went four-for-eight on his deep throws of 20 or more yards in the air, including receptions of 41 and 47 yards. Both had a reception of 41 yards, with Johnson adding a 47-yarder. Claypool caught a 28-yard deep-pass touchdown.
Once again, minus the VERY BAD INT, Mason’s passing chart looks very good.
— Steelers Depot 🎄 (@Steelersdepot) January 3, 2021
“That was a part of the game plan”, Rudolph said after the game. “We knew we wanted to challenge them deep and take our shots carefully, as well as taking what’s underneath if they play Cover 2, play deep zone and make you check it down. Chase made a great play there. He made great plays all day, as well as Diontae there at the end, JuJu extending drives on third down. I’m really proud of the way that those guys played”.
Claypool finished with five receptions for 101 yards, his second 100-yard game, and a touchdown. Johnson only had three receptions on just four targets, but came away with 96 yards. Both averaged more than 20 yards per reception on the day.
“We tried to get as many shots as we could”, Rudolph added. “That’s something where I’ll have to go back and look at the tape, but I thought we threw the ball a lot down the field, and I thought the other ball to Chase Claypool, the DB might have gotten PI along with the touchdown. That’s something I’ll have to go back and look at, but that’s something that you always do with evaluation”.
It’s important to note just how incapacitated was the Browns’ secondary, however, not to splash cold water on the performance. Cleveland had three secondary starts absent for the game on the Reserve/Covid-19 List, those being Denzel Ward, Andrew Sendejo, and Kevin Johnson. Greedy Williams never even played this season.
So while the Steelers may have been completing deep balls with their backup quarterback, they were also doing so against a backup secondary, and they did target those who were filling in for those who were absent.