Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
Chase Claypool showed all of the tools to be the Steelers top receiver and a top receiver in the league
Welcome to the Chase Claypool era. Claypool was getting hyped in the offseason, he caught a big pass in each of the first two games, but in Week 5, his fourth game as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Claypool broke the 100 yard mark and scored 4 touchdowns. The most touchdowns, and most points, scored by a Steeler in a single game since Chuck Noll took over as head coach in 1969.
Chase Claypool accounted for 31.6% of the Steelers yards gained, and 63.2% of points scored, and today, we’re looking at how he pulled that off.
1st quarter, 1:04. Chase Claypool (11) is the wingback to the bottom of the screen.
First off, I love this play, double wingback formation with Trey Edmunds as the wingback to the top of the screen. The Eagles, like most of the Steelers opponents so far this season were not respecting the jet sweep motion and the Steelers made them pay, getting the TD despite the Eagles dominating the Steelers run game to that point, holding the Steelers to 13 yards on 11 rushes before this touchdown.
Notice the linebackers not moving at all with the motion, but relying on the cornerback that was chasing Chase Claypool to keep him in check. Eric Ebron throws a good fake block at the defensive end before joining Trey Edmunds blocking on the outside. Claypool reads the situation well and cuts inside for the touchdown.
2nd quarter, 14:21. Chase Claypool is the receiver to the top of the screen.
This is where the Steelers have been using Chase Claypool the most, outside of the slot receiver on the strong side of the play. This is where Martevis Bryant and Mike Wallace played as rookies. The defense respects Claypool’s speed enough that they hand him an easy stop route for a big third down conversion.
2nd quarter, 11:49. Chase Claypool is the receiver to the bottom of the screen.
With Diontae Johnson out for the game, the Steelers line up Claypool outside of Eric Ebron, away from the slot receiver. The importance of that spacing can be seen in the alignment of the middle linebacker and strong safety for the defense. As soon as Eric Ebron’s out route pulls the outside linebacker away from the middle, the lane to throw the slant is open, and with the Strong side safety up to help with the 3 receivers to the top of the screen, the free safety is back deeper and in no position to attack the throw.
The Steelers like elite change of direction guys in that spot, players like Antonio Brown and Diontae Johnson, but that may change going forward, because Chase Claypool did his best work from that alignment.
2nd quarter, 3:19. Chase Claypool is the receiver to the top of the screen.
Claypool is back on the strong side of the screen, and you can see how the different alignment of defenders, with the cornerback giving a bigger cushion and the strong safety playing up farther force a tougher throw from Ben Roethlisberger, even as Eric Ebron draws three defenders toward him.
3rd quarter, 15:00. Chase Claypool is the receiver to the top of the screen.
Claypool can make sharp cuts, and with the defense showing enormous respect for his deep routes, Claypool grabs 5 yards on first down and the cornerback has to make a great tackle to prevent more.
3rd quarter, 14:25. Chase Claypool is the receiver to the top of the screen.
The play design works great here. The linebackers come up on the play action and the free safety crashes hard on the pump fake to JuJu Smith-Schuster behind the linebackers, leaving Chase Claypool alone with a corner he has already run past. Ben Roethlisberger is either expecting a back-shoulder route from Claypool or he just misses badly, but with the corner playing trail and falling behind, a good throw leading Claypool up-field likely results in a touchdown.
The number one thing that stood out to me in this game is that as good as Chase Claypool’s day was, it should have been even better, because he was beating coverage all day.
3rd quarter, 13:01. Chase Claypool is the receiver to the back of the Hypo-Cycloid bunch to the top of the screen.
Claypool again shows he can read the flow of the defense and blockers and find yards. He’s a playmaker in any role on the offense.
4th quarter, 8:50. Chase Claypool is the receiver to the top of the screen.
A key 3rd and 4, and the Steelers go back to the Ebron out, Claypool slant combo and it’s another first down. Claypool makes the play here against tough coverage.
His release wins him the inside route, his strong hand fighting creates just enough separation and he brings in the ball and protects the catch with his body. This is a Hines Ward/Santonio Holmes/JuJu Smith-Schuster style route, earning tough yards with technique, physicality and reliable hands. But it’s a rookie that is a fantastic deep threat doing it. Chase Claypool is showing that he is already a receiver that can carry an offense in any situation.
4th quarter, 7:15. Chase Claypool is the receiver to the top of the screen.
Here’s that back shoulder throw, and it is catches like this that make a defensive back’s life a nightmare. If you trail Claypool you are unlikely to be able to stay with him, if you play off of him you are giving up easy yards, and even if you are able to survive his release and are in good position to run with him he can stop on a dime and beat you with a back shoulder catch. Claypool gets a flag here, apparently for excessively embarrassing a defender whose parents are likely watching, and it takes a touchdown off the board. A few plays later Eric Ebron would fumble. Like I said earlier, as impressive as Claypool’s day was, it should have been better.
4th quarter, 2:59. Chase Claypool is the third receiver from the bottom of the screen.
Here’s a new alignment for Chase Claypool, and it has him matched up with a linebacker. Jonathan Vilma on the television broadcast stated that you should expect a sticks route (run to the first down line, turn and look for the ball) here from Claypool since the linebacker is overmatched. Jonathan Vilma was an NFL linebacker, and the Eagles linebacker thinks similarly. Claypool sells that linebacker an inside move, slowing a bit and taking an inside step. The linebacker is positioned to deny Claypool that inside route when Claypool accelerates into the open field for an easy touchdown.
The real work on this play was done pre-snap, by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Emmanuel Acho does a fantastic job breaking it down in this Twitter video:
Ben Roethlisberger is a hall of famer for stuff like this! He beat the #Eagles singlehandedly on this final TD. It wasn’t Jim Schwartz fault.
Here’s what actually happened: @LesBowen @EliotShorrParks @KNegandhiESPN @Jeff_McLane pic.twitter.com/IzWYk2zSQZ
— Emmanuel Acho (@EmmanuelAcho) October 12, 2020
A great reminder that as good as any receiver is, having a great quarterback is the #1 recipe for success.
Claypool earns easy yards on short routes when the defense is playing off him, worried about his speed. He burns them deep when they play tight to try to take away those shorter routes. He is deadly on back-shoulder throws when they have good coverage on him. Chase Claypool can beat tight coverage on possession downs running the exact route you expect him to run. And he can fake running a possession route and burn you for yet another touchdown.
Chase Claypool is a star receiver, a true #1 receiver. He can create space with his releases, hand fighting, route running and his speed. He makes plays when he gets separation, but he also makes plays against tight coverage. He can go up and high point a ball, he can make a catch in traffic using his frame to protect the catch. He is a threat to break a big play anytime he touches the football. He has earned the trust of his quarterback, and the team is finding effective ways to pair his routes with Eric Ebron, another tough matchup for defenses.
The Chase Claypool hype train has gone from pure speculation based on football in shorts, to excitement based on flashes, to now seeing a young and immensely talented player putting it all together in front of our eyes. This young man is special, and this is just the beginning. The Steelers should play him as the primary X receiver (away from the slot with more space to operate) and run the offense through him more. Teams will have to adjust and send more defenders Claypool’s way, and that will open up the rest of the field and help the entire offense.