PITTSBURGH — When the Steelers drafted Jaylen Samuels out of NC State in the 2018 NFL Draft, the thing that they liked the most about him was his versatility.
With Wolfpack, Samuels lined up just about everywhere on offense, from tight end to H-back, flanker, running back, fullback and even Wildcat quarterback.
In 2019, the Steelers reached back into Raleigh once more, when they added running backs coach Eddie Faulkner to their coaching staff.
Monday night, in a crucial matchup of AFC North teams that started the season 0-3, the Steelers had Faulkner and Samuels back to some of their old tricks.
During the week of practice leading up to Monday night’s showdown with the Bengals, the Steelers added a Wildcat package that paid huge dividends in gettin the team’s running game moving along for the first time this season.
Like he was at NC State, Samuels was the team’s Wildcat quarterback, and he worked the formation to significant success.
Samuels was credited with three passes for 31 yards to James Conner on pop passes out of the direct-snap formation, and he also ran for 26 yards on 10 carries himself, some from traditional handoffs from quarterback Mason Rudolph and others as keepers out of the Wildcat.
That’s how he scored his first career rushing touchdown early in the third quarter to give the Steelers a two-score lead. It wasn’t exactly the same play call that the Wolfpack ran in 2017, but the skills that the Steelers scouting staff saw in Samuels’ tape came out at the NFL level.
In total, the Steelers ran out of the formation seven times for 46 yards and a touchdown for a nearly 7 yards per carry average.
“We put something in this week and we just came out here and just executed,” Samuels said. “Me and James, we did a good job of executing the snap-count cadence, just controlling the offense. We made it go. Five yard runs turned into 10 yard runs. We just kept running it. We kept executing it. They couldn’t stop it.”
Samuels said his experience in running it at NC State made for a smooth transition.
“I did a lot, especially third-down, red-zone situations in college. I was very used to it. It wasn’t anything new to me, just different plays.”
After unveiling the Wildcat in the first half, the Steelers went back to a more traditional running game for the first drive of the second half. Conner took a shotgun handoff for 21 yards. Samuels took one up the middle for five and then took a short dump-off up the middle for 14. Even with the Bengals stacking the box with eight men, the Steelers were able to run the ball.
Samuels credited the Wildcat.
“It opened up the play-action,” he said. “We did a couple other things that wasn’t Wildcat with me in the game and James in the game. We did a lot of different things to keep the defense off their feet.”