Fresh off a victory over Cincinnati on Monday night at Heinz Field, Coach Mike Tomlin took time during his weekly news conference at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex today to explain some of the strategy employed vs. the Bengals.
Chief among the wrinkles was the Steelers' utilization of the wildcat formation that had quarterback Mason Rudolph split wide of the formation and Jaylen Samuels in position to take the direct snap from center. Samuels ended up with 10 carries for 26 yards and a 2-yard touchdown, and he also was 3-for-3 passing (mostly shovel-type exchanges to players coming across the formation) for another 31 yards.
"It was important that the running backs were heavy contributors in the running game and in the passing game, and really for obvious reasons. We're lacking depth at some other positions," said Tomlin. "Like I mentioned after the game, being without our top two tight ends was challenging going into the game. We were able to pick up Nick Vannett via a trade, but this was unsettling not having a complete week of work with him. The other guy at the tight end position, Zach Gentry, is a rookie, and so we just wanted to get guys on the field who we felt were capable varsity playmakers, guys who have been here. And that's why we moved in the direction we moved in, as far as utilizing James (Conner) and Jaylen (Samuels)."
Conner turned in his most productive game of the season, with 125 total yards from scrimmage (83 receiving on eight catches that came mostly on shovel passes in the wildcat) and 42 yards rushing on 10 carries. Conner also scored a touchdown on a 21-yard catch-and-run on a pass from Mason Rudolph.
"It levels the playing field and limited Mason Rudolph's exposure to the defense," said Tomlin about the amount of playing time allotted for Conner (38 offensive snaps) and Samuels (27 offensive snaps). "When you have a young quarterback, sometimes you can assist him by turning a 70-play game into a 50-play game. Sometimes a bunch of exposure isn't good exposure, and so I thought it was helpful to him to chew up some of those snaps, to limit some of his exposure to the defense while putting the ball into the hands of some capable men and being able to produce some plays."
TOMLIN'S INJURY UPDATE
"From an injury standpoint, there's not a lot of clarity from last night's game. The guys who were evaluated after Monday night's game are still being evaluated. Both guys are downstairs (in the training room). James Conner injured his ankle, but he was able to go back into the game. Cam Heyward injured his quad, but he was able to go back into the game. But these guys may be limited some this week, and so we'll let practice participation and the quality of it be our guide in terms of their game availability.
"I think the same can be said for some others who are working their way back to participation, those guys being Vince Williams (hamstring), Vance McDonald (shoulder), and Anthony Chickillo (foot). Those are guys who are hopeful, and we'll see what their participation looks like. Probably less so with (fullback) Rosie Nix as he continues to work his way back with his knee (injury), but those other ones probably have a pretty good chance. We won't speculate. We'll see what their practice participation is like and kind of go from there."