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Steelers Film Room: Ever expanding role of the tight ends continues vs. the Bengals

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In a Week 1 victory vs the Redskins, the Steelers TE’s contributed in the run game. Against the Bengals, the group stepped up in the passing game.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

Another Pittsburgh Steelers game, another major contribution from the tight ends. Although we’re never going to say “Heath who?,” the play of Jesse James, David Johnson, and Xavier Grimble in the first two games has eased some fans’ anxieties over the loss of such a stalwart in their offense.

The first play we’ll take a look at is a second-and-9 play from the Bengals 20-yard line. The Steelers got within striking distance and Grimble would deliver with the first catch of his career resulting in a TD:

Note how the motion of Jesse James moves the safety out of the middle. The Steelers had a call with Grimble running a “skinny post;” a perfect call against that particular defensive look. Grimble does a good job of stemming his route to the outside initially to prevent Iloka from taking away the inside. Ben zipped the ball in there, and Grimble made a nice catch, as well as showing incredible athleticism to get in the endzone. Attention to detail in his route running, however, made the play possible.

The next time the Steelers got into scoring range, they went to Jesse James. A 53-yard pass to Sammie Coates brought the Steelers to the Bengals 9-yard line. They wasted no time as Ben found The Outlaw for a TD on the next play:

Although it’s not clear which receiver messed up on their route, the Steelers end up with 3 players in extremely close proximity to each other. James said after the game that their was “an adjustment” on the route. He was likely supposed to keep his route flat across the field. James took his route over the LB’s as he was bracketed between the two of them. Ben smartly put the ball high and a bit behind James in the only spot where he could get it. When asked afterward if he knew there was a lot of bodies around him, James responded, “Well, I knew Ben put it high for a reason.”

The leap and high point by James reveals a good amount of athleticism. The last play we’re going to look at is another example of that. Although no points were produced on this drive, I want to show it because I’ve read a good amount of criticism on James’ “lack of athleticism.”:

James is certainly not the primary target here. As the play extends, he turns his route up the field. Ben intentionally throws the ball behind James to keep it away from the defenders. Not only does he do a great job of adjusting to the ball, but Jesse displays coordination to keep his feet inbounds as he comes down along the sideline.

Not shown here was a superb catch by Grimble of a low pass by Ben to convert a third down. The first down play that followed was the 53 yarder to Coates that set up James’ TD. The total numbers for the game had James with 3 rec, 29 yds, 1 TD, Grimble with 2 rec, 26 yds, 1 TD, and David Johnson with 1 rec for 5 yds.

During the week Todd Haley stressed that the TE’s had to step up against the Bengals. Honestly, I took that to mean they had to block well against the lengthy DE’s. Although that was part of their assignment, the group showed they could contribute as receivers as well.

I realize we’re only 2 games into the season. The TE’s have thus far shown, however, that they can at least be solid contributors to a winning effort. Against the Bengals they were difference makers. We didn’t expect them to replace Heath Miller. But X-man, DJ, and the Outlaw do have some saying, “Ladarius who?” Yep, the kids are alright.