Chris Rainey made his NFL debut Sunday night and left much to be desired but I certainly don’t blame him or anyone else for that matter.
The Steelers gave him the ball on a traditional running play and another where misdirection was the key and resulted in a seven yard gain. His only reception was on a poorly developed screen where Rainey was simply swallowed up by the tall trees. I thought the play design on the counter was very good and I couldn’t help but imagine DeCastro being involved on a pull there but I digress.
The screen just wasn’t there and this shouldn’t surprise anyone simply because this offensive line is still not fundamentally sound in those skills yet because Bruce Arians rarely ran them. This will get better as the season moves on. The other issue that Todd Haley faces with Rainey is having him on the field period. He’s going to draw the attention of the defense immediately so Haley must find formations and plays for him where he really isn’t anything but a decoy. Rainey cannot be inserted and immediately be given the ball with everyone knowing that it’s coming either.
One particular area that I believe Rainey must be used is in the passing game. He needs to be in the slot or be brought in motion so he can run some crossing routes or delays. Allow him to get the ball in open space and do his thing. Giving him the ball in a traditional hand-off situation doesn’t do a whole lot for me especially with our OL injuries. Sure, he could hit just the right hole and be on his way, but how often does that happen with even the biggest and best backs in the league?
As far as his use in the return game, you shouldn’t be overly surprised to have seen Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders returning punts and kicks last week. Mike Tomlin did the same thing when Brown was in his first season by putting a more experienced person back on punts especially when backed up to his own 10 yard line or so. I suspect this will continue with brief, periodic showings by Rainey until he has Tomlin’s confidence.
My guess is that we really haven’t even touched the surface as far as how Rainey will ultimately be used, but I hope the creativity starts soon. Rainey’s speed is too valuable of an asset to just have him used exclusively as a decoy. Look for Rainey to gradually see more touches as the season progresses.