Every week I’ll be giving a look inside the Steelers’ wide receiver meeting room and breaking down their performance as a group. We’ll be taking a look at the plays the receivers impressed then working down to what they need to improve on in the next week.
We’ll be separating the article into the following categories (if applicable week to week):
- Yards After Catch
- Hustle / Effort
Everybody gets a little spring in their step after beating the Baltimore Ravens, it just means more when these two teams meet each other. That feeling is doubled after getting all the hope sucked from this fanbase due to an abysmal game in Cincinnati, that Pittsburgh never had a chance to win after the opening kickoff.
While it took almost three quarters for this Pittsburgh to find its footing on the newly sodded Heinz Field, we saw some big plays from this receiver group. Let’s get into it.
The best catch of the day, in my opinion, won’t go down in the box score as a catch at all. Ray-Ray McCloud lines up as the point man in a three-receiver bunch and runs a slot fade. He’s able to press vertical against the physical Marlon Humphrey while keeping his path down the numbers. This gives quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, a ton of room to put this ball.
Roethlisberger delivers an absolute dime throw into the bucket and it seems McCloud pulls it in for a much-needed explosive play for this offense early in the second half.
That is until it was overturned by the referees. To an extent, I can see where the referees overturn this call but at the same time, with the call on the field being a catch, I simply don’t think there’s enough definitive evidence to overturn this call.
The rules have changed since the Jesse James fiasco. The ball CAN hit the ground as long as the receiver doesn’t lose control of the ball, and I’m having a hard time deciphering where McCloud loses control of this ball.
Both touchdowns were more so scheme-driven than due to outstanding catches or route-running, but we can’t not include them so we’ll place them here. It’s honestly been all year long for me to say we schemed open a touchdown! *insert sarcastic cheer for Matt Canada*
In all seriousness, this was a great call against cover zero. Out of a 2×2 set, the Steelers run a post-wheel concept to the front side of the formation.
The route concept forces the defensive to communicate if they want to pass off the receivers to one another or stay with their original man.
As you can see, they communicate poorly and end up picking each other, leaving Diontae Johnson wide open in the middle of the field for a walk-in touchdown. When’s the last time we’ve seen that?
Looking at the second touchdown, it’s a play-off of a traditional rub route where you have the slot fade naturally creating a pick for the slant underneath. Instead this time, Johnson runs a whip route, where you run a slant and then whip back to the outside.
This creates all the separation Johnson needs as Humphrey overcommits to the slant, leaving him in no position to make a play on this throw. Johnson does make a nice adjustment on this throw as it should have been more to his outside shoulder leading him to the pylon. The inside throw brings Humphrey back into play, but Johnson does a great job lunging for the end zone while keeping the ball secure. Gritty time x2!
Another great play call by Canada in crunch time.
Chase Claypool and Ben Roethlisberger continue to be on different pages throughout the 2021 season, and we’ll dive into that more as we get deeper into this article. However, this play was one of the few times they connected on a timing pattern.
Claypool doesn’t do anything too much at the line, but Humphrey, again in coverage, gives a lane to throw back-shoulder for Roethlisberger and he takes advantage. Claypool senses it, throttles down and makes the contested catch for a first down.
It’s been well documented about Diontae Johnson fixing the drops that plagued him through his first two years in the NFL. However, while he’s consistently catching the ball now, it doesn’t mean they’ll never happen. Unfortunately, it came up at a rough spot Sunday.
The Steelers went back to the well and ran the same concept they hit deep to Claypool against the Chargers. It gets them the result as Johnson is able to slice through the cover-4 defense with his wide-release post.
Roethlisberger lays another dime to Johnson and he simply doesn’t look the ball all the way in. As a former receiver, I can confirm sometimes these balls are the hardest ones to catch. You’ve done the hard part, which is getting open. However, that ball seemingly hangs up there FOREVER giving you all the time in the world to think about what can go wrong all you’re thinking is “don’t drop it, don’t drop it.”
Sometimes these happen. The important part is that it’s not consistent. The other important factor in this is, in years past we saw this type of play take Johnson’s mind out of the game. He’d show poor body language and shut down. He jumped right up and went back to work. As you can see in the fourth quarter, he was able to more than makeup for the drop.
The bad does outweigh the good that we saw from this group in the route running department in week 13. We’ll start with old-faithful, Diontae Johnson.
Lined up at the bottom of the screen, Johnson is running a post-route. Due to the corner’s initial depth, he inside stems while breaking vertical before a slam step to break inside.
Johnson continues to make this look separation thing look so easy. He finishes with a nice hands catch, away from his body for a 15-yard gain.
We’re constantly evaluating go-balls. In my opinion, there are far too many in relation to the talent on this team, especially so on third-down.
Nonetheless, here, Claypool gets a nice release with a foot fire and swipe of the hands. He’s then able to use his speed to vertically stack the corner.
He puts himself in a perfect position to catch the ball, but at the last second, he feels the need to get the last-second push-off instead of just running under the ball. Claypool needs to recognize the corner is at your back and just keep your momentum forward. Instead, he ends up where he ends up all too often, on the ground.
The next clip is the same RPO set that the Steelers run what feels like 20 times a game. With two slants on the front side and either a vertical shot or out route on the backside.
I saw some blaming this on Claypool, however, against the catch man technique the cornerback is showing, I’m not sure what else he’s supposed to do here. Unless this is supposed to be a slant, which we haven’t seen all year, there’s simply nothing there and Roethlisberger rightfully pulls this down and eats it.
However, the miscommunications between Roethlisberger and Claypool would continue on the next rep.
We’ve seen far too many reps this year of Steelers wideouts missing hot routes, more than any other year I’ve watched the Steelers, and it’s usually the same suspects.
This rep you can see Roethlisberger point to his helmet before the play, checking the play at the line. Everyone in the stadium knows the receivers are hot here with seven Ravens lined up at the line and all of them coming after the quarterback.
From the looks of Roethlisberger’s footwork, it looked like he was looking to go to Claypool, but he runs a go route. Leaving him with nowhere to go with the ball and he’s lucky it didn’t get picked off right before halftime.
Ben Roethlisberger not happy and had words for WR coach Ike Hilliard coming off the field #Steelers
— Steelers Depot 🎅🎄🎁 (@Steelersdepot) December 5, 2021
Ben was rightfully unhappy after the play. Week 13 with all veteran receivers, missing hots is not something that should be happening.
The James Washington experiment in Pittsburgh is something I’m ready to fully put to bed. There’s simply nothing he does at this point that grants him taking snaps in this offense.
Here, lined up at the bottom of the screen, he has a nine-route.
He gives no sort of release and runs directly towards the sidelines. Unless there’s an inside route that you need an outside release to ensure you’re not hijacking their reception area, this is the last thing you want to do on a go route. It gives your quarterback nowhere to go with the ball.
There’s no route inside of Washington this should have been an easy put your foot in the ground and jab inside the corner, just like Claypool did against the Chargers.
Then, if that’s not enough he begins to simply jog down the sidelines. I’m not sure at all what Roethlisberger thought he saw here to throw the ball but there’s nothing there. The only good part of this rep by Washington is playing defensive back and knocking this ball away. Overall though, just a poor rep.
Yards After Catch
This play checks a ton of boxes for what Steelers fans have been clamoring for out of this offense. Play-action under center with a throw to the deep middle of the field.
Another cover-0 look that the Steelers’ receivers exploited. Over routes are extremely hard to cover, especially when you’re on an island.
Claypool does a great job using combining his speed with strength on the run after the catch here, finishing off the run strong. Wanted to point out at the top of the screen, Johnson using the throw-by technique once he sees the ball is going to Claypool. While normally you throw a corner by and then block him, this actually caused the DB to lose his balance and was effectively taken out of the play. Claypool is able to pick up probably 10 extra yards because of this.
This next clip shows just how much Roethlisberger trusts his young receiver, in Diontae Johnson.
Johnson slips on his release and even that doesn’t stop Big Ben from letting it rip.
Johnson sticks with the play, makes the necessary adjustment on the back-shoulder throw, and is able to walk through the attempted tackle from the cornerback. His second effort gains roughly 20 extra yards for this offense.
Johnson also was able to put his agility on display for some yards after the catch. Here on that same RPO concept shown earlier, he has a slant.
While in the process of making the catch, Johnson feels to corner behind him and stops on a dime to cut back outside. This effort turns what is likely a five to six-yard catch into a first down. Great sense of awareness.
The blocking from this group of receivers has been nothing to write home about lately and the Baltimore game was no different.
This is a toss crack attempt by the Steelers.
Claypool motions in and is supposed to close out the edge defender while Cody White’s job is to “crack” an unsuspecting middle linebacker scraping across the formation.
Neither does a very good job of their assignment. Claypool, not bringing his feet with him after the initial punch and White being extremely hesitant, gets ran over. Thankfully, running back, Najee Harris, is still able to cut back and make this is a decent run, but really was in spite of the receivers than anything else.
This will be the final clip of this week’s film room.
I don’t have a problem with the actual blocking in this clip, I just want to address how odd of a play design this is.
This is a clear drag from Freiermuth that is basically a long-developing screen play. I’m just unsure how this is supposed to work without it being offensive pass interference. A real head-scratcher of a play call. The receivers on the right both instantly block from the snap and the ball isn’t caught until Freiermuth crosses the far hash. That’s a full three seconds of blocking downfield. In what world would this not be OPI?
The receiver group put together some explosive plays when this team needed it most Sunday and it was just enough to put away their most hated rival. We’ll see how they do on a short week in Minnesota, Thursday.