Cordarrelle Patterson and Aaron Jones both caught three touchdown passes in a game last season. That is far from the norm. It was the first time since the 1992 season in which multiple running backs did that in the same year. Prior to last season, it hadn’t been done since 2015, and there were only two instances between 1993 and 2003.
The last time the Pittsburgh Steelers allowed a running back to score three receiving touchdowns against them was all the way back in 1977 when the Cleveland Browns’ Larry Poole managed the feat, albeit in a 35-31 loss. Ollie Matson lost his game with the 1952 Chicago Cardinals achieving the same feat.
Not so for Samaje Perine and the Cincinnati Bengals yesterday. Pittsburgh dropped this one 37-30, yet again for the third time to a divisional foe, albeit across different eras. And defensive tackle Cameron Heyward struggled to make sense of it after the game.
“Three touchdowns to the running back, mind-boggling, receiving out of the backfield,” he said in stilted speech from his locker room as he tried to make sense of how things got away from his unit, via the team’s website. “But we didn’t hit home enough.”
The last line is of course taking accountability for the front line’s lack of pressure that they provided. But he knows it was inexcusable that they allowed the same thing to continue happening, with a backup running back, over and over.
“When you’re dealing with the pass rush, you’ve got to be able to have something to accommodate that or counter that,” Heyward said about his unit’s failure to adapt to how the Bengals were using Perine in the red zone. “We have to be a defense that adjusts. If they do one thing, they can’t keep going back to the well, and we did not clean that up today on defense.”
Perine had one touchdown this season before yesterday’s game. He had eight touchdowns in total in his six-year career, never more than three in a single season. And he only had one career multi-touchdown game, coming against the Houston Texans in 2020, both on the ground.
“I mean, it’s just your progression. I’m the checkdown and fortunate to have some space when he checks down to make something happen other than that I’m just the next guy up,” the veteran back said of his part, via transcript.
The Steelers weren’t making any excuses for the adjustment to starting back Joe Mixon exiting the game with a head injury. “We know what he brings to the table and we just didn’t execute tonight,” T.J. Watt said about the defense allowing Perine to slip past them time and time again.
It wasn’t a matter of surprise or being caught off guard. They just performed below the line in those instances, and you can see for yourself in what ways they failed in the clips of each touchdown I’ve littered this article with.