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Following their disappointing end to the season, the Pittsburgh Steelers now turn their focus to the free agency, the draft, and, ultimately, next season.
Given their salary cap constraints, the team will look very different next year. The 2020 rookie class will still be in black and gold, though. It was a solid year for the rookies, led by none other than Chase Claypool.
With JuJu Smith-Schuster almost certain to be playing elsewhere in 2021, Claypool will be in for a much bigger role. Based on what we saw in 2020, he’s probably ready for the challenge.
Claypool’s Stat Line: 109 targets, 62 receptions, 873 receiving yards, 11 total touchdowns
Statistically, it was an impressive rookie campaign for Claypool, but it could have been much more. There were some games where Claypool frustratingly didn’t see a high number of targets.
Early in the season, when things were going well, Claypool was one of the biggest reasons for offensive success. The team made it a point to get him the ball, and good things usually happened. But during Pittsburgh’s three-game losing streak following their 11-0 start, Claypool had just 18 total targets and eight receptions. Without that down stretch, “Mapletron” would’ve had an even more impressive rookie campaign.
At his season-ending media briefing, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said, “I’m not going to maintain the status quo and hope the outcome changes. That’s the definition of insanity.”
Less than a week later, Tomlin slipped on a straitjacket and is hoping no one notices.
Replacing Randy Fichtner with Matt Canada as offensive coordinator is a matter of same thing, different bobo.
Fichtner took over for Todd Haley in 2018 because Fichtner was the quarterbacks coach, Cheap Ben Roethlisberger Jersey was comfortable with him and he would do what Roethlisberger wanted. Roethlisberger was the real coordinator. Fichtner was his bobo. Fichtner had input, but Roethlisberger had final say. Like when he drew up plays in the dirt.
But, after collapsing at season’s end a third straight time, the Steelers needed to put somebody’s head on a pike to placate the citizens. Fichtner was already a popular scapegoat. Firing Tomlin wasn’t an option because the Steelers don’t do that.
So Fichtner took the fall. Now Canada will be Roethlisberger’s new bobo. The Steelers didn’t even interview anybody else.
Canada is marginally qualified at best. He’s never been a coordinator at the NFL level. In fact, this past season was his first coaching in the pros.
But he’s very qualified to be Roethlisberger’s bobo. As evidenced by the bells and whistles Canada wanted to implement in this season’s attack — pre-snap movement, jet motion, etc. — mostly disappearing after seeing use early.
Roethlisberger’s resume dictates he gets a lot of say to go along with a lot of respect.
But after the Steelers went from 11-0 to losing five of their last six and exiting in the first round of the playoffs in humiliating fashion thanks largely to Roethlisberger throwing four interceptions, an appointment like this should be somebody else’s to make.
Canada will maintain the status quo. It will be said that he won’t and for a while, he won’t. But ultimately, he will.
Tomlin will hope the outcome changes. He must be insane.
Roethlisberger also reportedly wants the Steelers to keep Cheap JuJu Smith-Schuster Jersey. That’s highly unlikely because of the Steelers’ cap situation, Smith-Schuster’s price tag, and his desire to take his nickel-dime TikTok-level branding to a bigger market.
But here’s betting that Roethlisberger’s OGs who may be on the cusp of retirement — like Cheap Maurkice Pouncey Jersey and Cheap David DeCastro Jersey — are persuaded to come back for one last historic effort. The history in question being Tomlin’s first-ever losing season.
Get everybody fitted for a straitjacket.
The Steelers often use the offensive coordinator as a sacrificial lamb, a way station used to divert blame from its proper destination by way of satiating the marks’ bloodlust.
The Steelers said Bruce Arians “retired” after the 2011 season. Now, as Tampa Bay’s head coach, he has the Buccaneers one win away from the Super Bowl. (Tom Brady has helped.)
Watch other NFL playoff teams execute their offense. They’re playing chess. The Steelers play checkers. Simple can be good. With the Steelers’ offense, it isn’t. The Steelers ran less play-action than any team in the league. Roethlisberger averaged 3 air yards per completion. Dead people fall forward farther.
But if you prefer old school, the quarterback sneak was on prominent display in the Divisional Round. The Steelers have a 6-foot-5 QB who gains 2 yards by merely leaning north, but won’t try a sneak at gunpoint.
So much was wrong with the Steelers offense. So much of it was self-inflicted.
You hear the Steelers don’t run the ball because they can’t. But for their first six games, they could. They averaged 130 rushing yards per game on 31 carries per.
Then they stopped running the ball. They topped 100 yards on the ground just once more. They never topped 27 carries in a game. They rushed 18 times or less in five games. They finished dead last in the NFL in rushing.
The Steelers stopped running. Then they stopped winning.
Canada will solve all that. Just like Arians “retired.” What a crock.
When evaluating rookies, though, statistics are not the end all be all. Claypool’s flashes of excellence are what make him exciting for 2021 and beyond. His versatility is perhaps his best asset. There are things he needs to work on. He has a full offseason to do that, though, something he didn’t have entering his rookie year.
The first thing that should excite fans about Claypool is his deep threat ability. Of course, a quarterback who can consistently throw the ball deep would help with this, too.
In 2020, Claypool’s average depth of his targets was 13.2 yards downfield, the highest on the team. He led all Steelers wide receivers in both yards before and after the catch per reception, 8.8 and 5.3, respectively. Something else that doesn’t show up in the stat sheet is the yardage that Claypool drew from defensive pass interference calls.
His combination of speed and size make him a real nightmare for cornerbacks deep down the field; many times, their only chance is to interfere to prevent a completion.
Another area in which Claypool surprised was his route running. His 2.5 average yards of separation won’t blow anyone away, but that’s the same number as guys like Michael Thomas and Amari Cooper.
Coming out of college, Claypool’s straight-line speed was well-respected, but scouts weren’t as high on his ability to change directions. For the most part, he ran crisp routes in 2020. His size and strength help him beat press coverage of undersized corners. Further, he has surprisingly quick feet for a guy his size. He gets out of his cuts well.
Those traits should excite fans, too, perhaps more than his home run play ability. When the deep ball isn’t there, Claypool can still be depended upon to get open. It will be especially critical next year if Ben Roethlisberger’s deep ball doesn’t improve.
Something Claypool will be working on in the offseason is his consistency on 50-50 balls. Sometimes, he puts his big frame to good use and overpowers corners to win jump balls. Other times, he gets good position but doesn’t fully extend his arms to highpoint the ball, resulting in incompletions that should be catches.
If the offense isn’t throwing deep again next year, Claypool will be thrown to a lot in traffic. Whether it’s a jump ball along the sideline or in the corner of the end zone, he will need to make the plays more consistently. Claypool will never be covered by a guy as big as him. He uses his body well in those situations but just needs to be more dependable at completing the catch. That will likely be a major point of emphasis this offseason.
The success of using Claypool in the run game early in the season faded as the year went on. With Matt Canada being promoted to offensive coordinator, jet sweeps and the like will likely be a staple in 2021. It’s an effective way to put Claypool’s open-field speed and physicality to good use. Canada will likely try to build off of the motions and sweeps, and Claypool will play an important role in that aspect.
All things considered, 2020 was a promising start to Claypool’s career. Coaching and quarterback play held him back at times. In 2021, there will be no “rookie wall” potentially holding him back. He’ll have a full offseason to really adapt to NFL life and build chemistry with his offensive teammates.
It’s hard to predict what next year will look like for the Steelers. “Prepare for the worst but hope for the best” is probably the best approach for fans. But whatever happens, Cheap Chase Claypool Jersey will play an important role. That’s for sure.