The Pittsburgh Steelers played 70 minutes of football against the only winless team in the league on Sunday, at home, and only came up with 16 points of offense. That they were playing shorthanded, including with their backup quarterback, can certainly be entertained as a contributing factor in that equation, but nobody left that game—which ended in a tie, of all things—satisfied with the outcome.
In addition to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger being unavailable, the Steelers offense was also without wide receiver Chase Claypool, their big-bodied, big-play threat, with the diminutive Ray-Ray McCloud ending up with the most catches on the day. Rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth discussed with reporters earlier today the difficulties of playing down Claypool, and whether or not he has a bigger role in his absence.
“It’s definitely tough. Chase out there, he’s a hell of a player. He brings the energy and the juice all the time”, he told reporters, “so it’s definitely hard to play a game without him out there, with all the ability [he has], but hopefully we get him back whenever he’s healthy, and I’m looking forward to it”.
Claypool suffered a toe injury in the second half against the Chicago Bears the previous Monday night. He missed Sunday’s game against the Lions, but he did return to practice in a limited capacity earlier today and could potentially be available for their next game. If not, Freiermuth is ready for whatever might be asked of him to step up.
“Whatever I fit into the gameplan”, he said. “Obviously with me and Chase playing different positions and stuff like that, he’s predominantly outside and stuff, I’ll probably be asked to do a little bit more, but nothing too crazy where it’s gonna fit outside the gameplan of what we try to do as an offense”.
A second-round pick out of Penn State, Freiermuth has already made enough of an impact as a contributor that he has been largely forgiven for his grievous mistake at the end of Sunday’s game, fumbling with just seconds to play, thereby preventing the Steelers from attempting what would have been a game-winning field goal try.
Through nine games, he now has 32 receptions for 276 yards with four touchdowns—and one very big fumble. He does have two dropped passes, one of which, like the fumble, came during the overtime period on Sunday. The first drop came back in the early portions of the season. He has caught 76.2 percent of his 42 passes on the year, Sunday marking his lowest catch percentage in a game—five of nine—while working with a backup quarterback.