Not Ben Roethlisberger.
Not JuJu Smith-Schuster, or Antonio Brown at the time.
No, it was Jaylen Samuels.
With James Conner out nursing a high ankle sprain, rookie Jaylen Samuels led the Steelers with 19 rushes for 142 yards and 30 yards receiving on two reception. The performance alone was dominant in every sense of the word, and with the Steelers preparing for the Patriots again in Week 1 of 2019, many are wondering if Samuels could be the X-Factor again?
During his weekly Wednesday media session, Ben Roethlisberger spoke about Samuels’ performance last year, and if the team might deploy a similar look in 2019.
“I think it was a little bit — James [Conner] didnt’ play in that game and it was Jaylen [Samuels]. I don’t think they really knew what we were going to do in terms of not having your number one running back in there, either. They always do a good job of combo-ing your top two guys. Whether that is a receiver, a running back, a tight end, whatever they deem as your top two, they are going to double. That is what we anticipate this year. The key is going to be early on figuring out who they deem as your top two.”
The follow up question was whether this philosophy resulted in the running game being more open than usual?
“I think the way they had DBs on the field, they wanted to stop the passing game. You add extra DBs, you go dime and nickel packages that makes smaller guys in for coverage, not necessarily stopping the run game. That is why you try to take advantage of those situations on who is on the field defensively.”
So, did the Steelers surprise the Patriots last season by their utilization of Samuels?
“I thought Jaylen played a great game. he did a little bit of everything. You are not going to surprise the Patriots twice, I promise you that.”
Will this mean the Steelers won’t be using Samuels as much in 2019?
“We will see. Like I said, you are not going to get over on the Patriots twice. That coaching staff is pretty good. Their players are pretty darn good, too. We will have to figure some new things out.”
Leave it to Roethlisberger to follow Mike Tomlin’s lead in not divulging any information New England might use for ammunition on Sunday Night Football, but you have to wonder if Samuels is the Steelers’ ace in the hole in this matchup. With the team keeping just 5 wide receivers, Samuels’ versatility can be a matchup nightmare for defenses.
Take away JuJu Smith-Schuster and any other receiver, and if Samuels moves to the slot it is likely going to be a matchup with a linebacker. That is a matchup the Steelers would likely take all day and twice on Sundays.
This could be just a glimpse of how versatile, and open, the Steelers’ offense can be in 2019, and Ben Roethlisberger has to be absolutely ecstatic to take the reigns of this squad.
Check out Roethlisberger’s complete media session below, and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black-and-gold leading into Week 1.