A Breakdown of the Chase Claypool First Down Play

(USA Today)

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Last night, the Pittsburgh Steelers faced off against the Minnesota Vikings in a game that generated a lot of buzz, for several reasons.  The result was a 36-28 loss that didn't see the Steelers score until the end of the third quarter.  Yet, the poor play through the first three quarters isn't the only thing everyone is buzzing about today.  

On the final drive, with 36 seconds remaining and no timeouts left, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger completed a nine-yard pass over the middle to receiver Chase Claypool.  After making the catch and gaining the first down, Claypool got up and celebrated by doing the patented first-down signal.  All the while, time was continuing to run off the clock with the Steelers still 34 yards away from the end zone.  The apparent lack of focus and total absence of game awareness had  Steeler fans, and all of social media, losing their minds.  With so many people discussing this play, it's important to break it down in total.

Breaking Down the Play

The first place to start is with Claypool himself.  I'm not breaking any news by saying this, but the celebration was clearly idiotic given the situation of the game.  The point of a hurry-up offense is to hurry up.  After making a catch and getting tackled inbounds, you run the ball back to the spot in the middle of the field or at least quickly hand the ball to a referee.  Then the offense can quickly line up for the impending spike or next play.  The celebration wastes precious seconds off the clock that cannot be afforded with the game on the line.

Claypool, instead catches the ball with 38 seconds left, poses at 36 seconds, and does not even stand up until the 35 second mark.  At which point, he is neither running toward the line, nor has he handed the ball to a referee at this point.  He appears to be walking toward a referee out of the TV screen.




Guard Trai Turner, a veteran of the league, was aware of the circumstances and hurried over to Claypool to try and get the ball off of him.  A wise play but one that cost the team even more time, all things considered.  By the time the lineman was able to get up to him, a Vikings linebacker also converged on the two Steelers.  In the photo below, Turner is behind Claypool trying to grab the ball and rush it to a referee.  The Vikings player, No. 54, is seen with his left arm between the two Steelers with his hand on the ball.




If you break down the frame-by-frame footage of the play, you see the linebacker, Eric Kendricks, step in as Turner is reaching for the ball from Claypool and grab it.  In an act of "gamesmanship,"  Kendricks throws it behind his back, circled in red above, and allows more time to run off of the clock.  Then, below, you can see the Steelers all lined up, ready for the next play, with the ball rolling 5-7 yards away.  The play should have resulted in a delay of game by the Vikings, 32 seconds on the game clock, and the flag would have stopped the clock and allowed for a huddle.


Once Roethlisberger was finally able to spike the ball, Claypool yells at Turner for taking the ball off of him, something that seems ridiculous given the circumstances.  The Steelers would continue to drive down the field, and the game ended with an incomplete pass to tight end Pat Freiermuth in the end zone.  Without the Claypool pointing debacle, the Steelers would have had an additional play to try and send the game into overtime, and overcome a 29-point deficit.  At this point of the season, every win is crucial.  So to see the team drop a 6-6-1 record because of something so silly is extremely disappointing.

Claypool was later asked about the series of events in his post-game interview.  He acknowledged his mistake and took some ownership for it, but also mentioned that he was aware of what was going on and knowing that he was right next to the hashmark, was about to turn around and set it down right after his celebration.  In saying this, he essentially throws Turner under the bus, saying that there was no reason for him to intervene and that he only added to the mess.


Summary

Claypool has played very well over his first two years with the team but he is slowly starting to lose fans with his antics.  Last week, he commented that playing music at practice may loosen up the team and increase their performance, to which coach Mike Tomlin responded that it's his job to manage the team and their practices, and that Claypool should just worry about his play. 

Then in last night's game, Claypool received an unsportsmanlike penalty on the opening drive that pushed the team back and led to missed 49-yard field goal by kicker Chris Boswell.  He followed that up with a fumble on the next drive, that was fortunately overturned after video review determined his shin was down just before he extended the ball, diving for a first down.  He was benched briefly after these two errors, only to return and commit the costliest error of them all at the end of the game.  

His comments in his post-game interview don't help his case either.  Without explicitly saying it, he comes off as trying to take a jab at Turner for his attempt to get the ball off of him, while downplaying the magnitude of his mistake.  Had Claypool gotten up and ran the ball to a referee, Kendricks would have never had the opportunity to swat the ball away, even if it should have been a flag.  

If it had only been one error committed by Claypool during the game, that's one thing.  But committing so many over the course of the game is inexcusable.  There were a lot of other factors that led to the Steelers trailing at the end of last night's game, but plays like the Claypool first down point, and his actions following it, just cannot happen in the National Football League this late in the season with so much on the line.



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