Second-year running back Jaylen Samuels hadn’t run the Wildcat since his senior season at N.C. State, but he was all-in upon learning the Steelers planned to incorporate direct snaps to someone other than quarterback Mason Rudolph against the Bengals.
“They trusted me back there, the ball-handling, either keeping it or giving it to (running back) James (Conner),” Samuels explained. “I was just making sure I made it go so they could keep it in.
“On Wednesday we put it in, and after that, throughout the week, we just got better at it and you could see it was just thriving, the Wildcat was just thriving. And they felt good about it going into the game.”
Samuels wound up putting his signature on the Wildcat in the Steelers’ 27-3 Monday Night Football victory over Cincinnati.
He finished with four direct-snap carries for 15 yards and a touchdown, and went 3-for-3 passing (forward flips to Conner crossing the back of the formation in motion) for 31 more yards.
“I liked it, I thought it kept (the Bengals) honest, getting the edge and then running down hill,” guard David DeCastro said of the Wildcat. “It was a good plan and obviously we executed it well, which is ultimately at the end of the day what matters. Jaylen and James were pretty confident back there.
“Just keep them honest, attack the edge and go downhill, hit it forward. It wasn’t that complicated but enough to keep them on their toes.”
Samuels accounted for 26 yards rushing, 31 passing and 57 receiving with eight catches on eight targets on the night.
BOUNCE-BACK EFFORT: Offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner had attributed Rudolph’s inability to consistently drive the ball down the filed in San Francisco, in part, to shots not taken.
“You gotta throw it,” Fichtner had maintained last Friday. “You gotta attempt to throw it there.”
Rudolph said he appreciated the critique after going 24-for-28 for 229 yards, with two touchdowns and no interceptions against the Bengals, the second NFL start of his career and his first at Heinz Field.
Rudolph took advantage of forward flips off jet-sweep motion on occasion, but he also hit wide receiver Diontae Johnson for a 43-yard touchdown.
“Learning experiences, man,” Rudolph said. “You learn and you understand that hey, you gotta let it fly a lot of times when guys are neck-and-neck and trust your guy to win.
“I wanna be coached hard. (Fichtner’s) a great guy, good friend, but also a very smart guy. Obviously, when he brings something up like that, you listen. Looking forward to continue to do that.”
Rudolph’s 24-for-28 night passing plus Samuels’ 3-for-3 effort combined to set a franchise record (87.1 percent of passes completed in a game, besting the 85.7 percent the Steelers completed on Nov. 26, 2007 against Miami).
Game action photos from the Steelers' Week 4 game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field
SPLASH AND SMASH: The defense registered eight sacks for the first time since Nov. 20, 2016 (eight at Cleveland). The Steelers also finished with 12 quarterback hits, nine tackles for a loss, an interception (inside linebacker Mark Barron), a fumble recovery (outside linebacker T.J. Watt after a strip-sack by outside linebacker Bud Dupree) and six passes defensed.
Cincinnati was held to 175 total net yards and averaged 2.7 yards on 64 offensive plays.
“Man, that was fun,” Watt said. “It’s great to get back to winning football and just be able to fly around. You see No. 55 (inside linebacker Devin Bush) and No. 2-6 in there flyin’ around, No. 28 (slot cornerback Mike Hilton) thrown in there on the blitzes and No. 39 (free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick), we’re just having fun.
“The guys up front were running games, running straight rushes and playing winning football.”
Defensive tackle Cam Heyward led the parade to the passer with two-and-a-half sacks, three quarterback hits and a forced fumble.
Watt had one-and-a-half sacks and three quarterback hits to go with his fumble recovery.
Bush had nine tackles, three tackles for a loss, his first career sack and a pass defensed.
“Playing super fast, just having fun,” Bush said. “I can’t express how much fun we had out there today getting our first win, a divisional win, and on Monday Night Football.
“We’re starting to have fun, I think that’s the biggest thing. We’re just starting to have fun.”