Do you remember, just a few weeks ago, when Cincinnati Bengals rookie wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase was seemingly on pace to make all kinds of history, and was being touted as an elite deep threat just five games into his career? He had five catches of 40-plus yards in just his first four games. He has only added one more since then—but that doesn’t take away how good he’s been.
For starters, he went 8-201-1 just a few games ago, and he’s scored in three of the past four games. He has eight touchdowns this season in 10 games, and has caught 47 passes for 867 yards—even if he has been held to under 50 receiving yards in each of the past three games.
So what happened—assuming anything ‘happened’? The same thing that happens to any rookie who comes out guns a-blazin’. “Plays on tape”, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said yesterday, pointing to his own first-hand experience.
“If you remember a year ago, for example, Chase Claypool in the first five or six weeks was just ringing up big play after big play”, he told reporters during his pre-game press conference. “You get plays on tape, people recognize your talents. They make necessary adjustments and efforts to minimize your talents. Everyone’s professional. It’s a component of the game”.
The Steelers were among the teams who got in on the early portion of the learning curve. He caught four passes against them for 65 yards and two touchdowns, including one explosive-play touchdown. He put up even bigger numbers the next four weeks before being held to his three lowest yardage totals of his career in the past three games.
“It seems like every year there’s a young talented wideout that kind of takes the League by storm in September, and that’s not downplaying any of the significance of what Chase has done”, Tomlin added on the rookie. “It just happens every year. Like, okay, that speed is real. The same could be said about Claypool a year ago. I go so far back as Mike Wallace when he was young, Martavis Bryant when he was young when we first started playing him”.
That’s two more Steelers mid-round picks who excelled as rookies under Tomlin. Wallace was a third-round pick in 2009, Bryant a fourth-round selection in 2014. And they didn’t die on the vine after teams started taking them seriously. They adjusted. It’s part of the process.
“I just think that when you don’t have a reputation on tape or an on-field reputation, you earn that with plays. He’s earned that with plays”, Tomlin made clear. “He’s earned the respect, and they’ve earned the respect, of people that are preparing for them that they’re making a concerted effort to minimize some of that”.
You can be sure that Chase is a central point of focus in the Steelers’ defensive game planning this week, though they had better not ignore the impact of running back Joe Mixon, who is having his best season, already with a career-high nine rushing touchdowns (and another two receiving).