Steelers Film Room: Pat Freiermuth Is TE1 In Pittsburgh

The Pittsburgh Steelers came out of Cleveland with a 15-10 victory over the division rival Cleveland Browns Sunday. The game proved to be a real nail biter as Pittsburgh successfully stifled the Browns rushing attack and successfully established their own ground game in this matchup. However, several controversial calls including a fake field goal that led to the injury of K Chris Boswell resulted in Pittsburgh having to makeshift their kicking game the rest of the way, relying on P Pressley Harvin III for kickoffs and the offense going for it on fourth downs and attempting two-point conversions with Boswell out of the game.

However, Pittsburgh managed to drive the length of the field at the end of the game and rookie TE Pat Freiermuth made a statement play to help Pittsburgh secure the victory on the road. Freiermuth played 58 offensive snaps Sunday against the Browns (78%) and hauled in four receptions (on seven targets for 44 yards and a TD. Per Pro Football Focus, Freiermuth earned a 77.3 overall grade Week 8 against the Browns which ranked third of all offensive players for Pittsburgh.

We’ll start by breaking down the game-ceiling TD catch Freiermuth makes in the back of the end zone with 11:00 left in the fourth quarter on fourth down. You see Freiermuth line up in the slot on the right side of the formation and rub off the top of #11 Chase Claypool running a whip route on the goal line. Freiermuth runs a goal line fade against #33 Ronnie Harrison in man coverage, getting hands-on with Freiermuth as he runs to the back of the end zone. Ben fires the ball on the inside as Freiermuth turns around, getting position on Harrison as he focuses on bringing in the ball with Harrison initially knocking the ball out, securing the catch inbounds for the score.


On this slowed down version of the play, we see Harrison play the ball perfectly, getting his arm in-between Freiermuth’s arms, knocking the ball out. However, Freiermuth keeps his eyes on the ball after the initial deflection and reaches his right hand of to keep it from hitting the ground bring his left hand to trap the ball to his frame whilst having the awareness to drag his toes in the corner of the end zone to complete the process of the catch before getting pushed out of bounds to secure the go-ahead TD.


Here is the back end zone view of the play, showcasing Freiermuth’s situational awareness and ability to adjust his body to bring in the difficult catch.


Watching the game, you could see that Freiermuth was going to be heavily targeted by QB #7 Ben Roethlisberger in this matchup. Even when he was tightly covered or had defenders closing in on the pass, Ben trusted Freiermuth to come down with the play. Here is an example where Freiermuth runs an out-breaking route from the in-line position on first down. Roethlisberger throws the ball low toward the sideline, giving Freiermuth a chance to make a play, but he is unable to secure the catch as he hits the ground, resulting in an incompletion against contested coverage.


Many questioned whether Chase Claypool would move inside to the slot or if Pittsburgh would try and play James Washington or another receiver inside with the loss of JuJu Smith-Schuster for the season with a shoulder injury. After watching the last two games, it looks like that role of the “big slot receiver” likely belongs to Pat Freiermuth. Watch this play on second-and-seven in the first quarter as Freiermuth lines up in the slot on the left side of the formation and does a good job hitting an outside jab step to the left, getting the linebacker to pause his feet as he breaks inside on the slant for the easy completion over the middle from Ben, showing a little run-after-catch for the first down.


Here in the third quarter, we see Freiermuth line up detached from the LOS on the left side in the slot and runs to the open area in the flat. He catches the ball and evades the diving tackle attempt by #22 Grant Delpit (remember his tackling issues coming out of LSU) and gets up field after recovering and staying upright, picking up YAC as he is escorted out of bounds for a 22-yard catch-and-run.


We see Freiermuth take up a similar role JuJu had when healthy or even that which Heath Miller had during his time in Pittsburgh as a viable third down target. Here on third-and-long, Freiermuth lines up in the slot on the right side of the formation and runs the out route to the right sideline, catching the ball in space and makes #20 Greg Newsome miss on his diving tackle attempt before he is wrapped up and brought down by two Browns defenders short of the sticks.


Overall, the Sunday night matchup against Seattle proved to be an appetizer of what was to come Sunday afternoon, as Freiermuth has looked to have earned Ben’s trust and will be a more featured part of the offense moving forward. Alex Kozora of Steelers Depot has said since training camp that Freiermuth catches everything, and he has done well to meet that description, presenting a reliable receiving option to match clutch possession catches to move the chains and present a mismatch in the red zone. He is already a fan favorite and has garnered Heath Miller comparisons for what he provides to the offense as a safety blanket with play making ability.

While he has a long way to go to earn that lofty comparison to Miller, Freiermuth’s versatility as a receiver, reliability in key possession situations, and room to grow as a blocker suggest the Pittsburgh has likely found their franchise TE1 going forward.

What are your thoughts on Pat Freiermuth’s performance Sunday against the Browns? Do you think he has cemented his status as TE1 in Pittsburgh moving forward? Do you think that he can become one of the better starting TEs in the league and will be a heavily utilized piece of the offense moving forward? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!

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