Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Chase Claypool had his best game of the season last week in the Steelers’ 20-18 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, finishing with seven catches for 96 yards and a touchdown. Mike Tomlin said that his ability to work the inner portions of the field was key in his breakout game, and Claypool succeeding between the numbers is something that could continue depending on the scheme they’re going up against.
“They were doing middle of the field open a lot, split safeties, and so they were working to minimize our guys outside, [George] Pickens and Diontae [Johnson], and that created matchup opportunities for him inside,” Tomlin said on the Mike Tomlin Show via the team’s YouTube channel. “The key is that we’re strong in all areas. Guys like Chase [Claypool] dominate the interior portions of the field, it’ll be good to have Muth back this week, he’s another guy that really tries to dominate the interior portions of the field.”
Pittsburgh targeting the middle of the field is a change from what it was doing earlier in the season, and it’s led to a much better passing attack. Getting Claypool involved in the slot on some underneath routes and routes in the middle of the field where he can utilize his speed and strength to pick up yards after the catch instead of just throwing him deep routes (where, let’s be honest, his 50/50 ball ability isn’t quite there right now) will help this offense out immensely. That’s what happened last week, and it allowed Claypool to have one of the best games of his career.
As Tomlin noted, with tight end Pat Freiermuth returning this week, the Steelers have another receiving option in the middle of the field. With George Pickens and Diontae Johnson working on the outside, Pittsburgh can utilize them in conjunction with Claypool and Freiermuth over the middle of the field. Having as many weapons as possible available is never a bad thing, and Claypool showed last week he can be a positive contributor for this team. They just have to look and target the middle of the field, something that they completely avoided earlier this season.
Obviously, teams can scheme to take away the middle of the field, too, and it really becomes a week-to-week gameplan on where the ball is going. Against Buffalo, Pickens made the most of his opportunities and led the team in receiving by making plays outside the numbers, while this week it was Claypool inside the numbers who was able to lead the team and come through when they needed him to. Regardless, the Steelers have to utilize the whole field, and Sunday was really the first time they did so effectively this season. Hopefully, that’s something that will continue in the weeks ahead, because the more well-rounded Pittsburgh is, the better it is.