The Pittsburgh Steelers have had a plethora of problems on offense this year. Here’s how the wide receivers are starting to put things all together.
The Steelers have had their share of problems on the offensive side of the ball this year. They haven’t scored more than 27 points in a game this sesaon, and they are still just 19th in the NFL in points per game. Even when Ben Roethlisberger was at the helm in week one, Pittsburgh managed to put up just 3 points in New England.
Fans and analysts alike were wondering how the loss of Antonio Brown would affect the Steelers this year, and when Ben Roethlisberger landed on injured reserve, it didn’t seem like their offense stood a shot to bounce back.
Second-year quarterback, Mason Rudolph, was forced to take the reigns halfway through Pittsburgh’s second game of the season against Seattle. With one of the youngest receiving cores in the league, many fans were skeptical about how they might perform this year.
Pittsburgh brought former Jaguars and Colts receiver, Donte Moncrief, this offseason to add a veteran presence to the receiver room. However, Moncrief has offered the team very little so far. Instead, the Steelers turned to young receivers like Diontae Johnson and James Washington.
While they are still going through growing pains, we are starting to see the light. JuJu Smith-Schuster hasn’t been nearly as productive this season as he was a year ago, but against the Dolphins, he was out to prove why he is a number one receiver in this league. JuJu hauled in 5 catches for 103 yards and a touchdown on 9 targets against Miami.
While we pretty much know what Smith-Schuster is capable of at this point, there was a lot we needed to see from the other young receivers. Diontae Johnson is a player who has fans excited – and for good reason. The third-round rookie wide receiver had quite possibly the best performance of his young career as he managed to catch 5 of 7 balls for 84 yards and a touchdown.
Johnson’s performance was perhaps more impressive than JuJu’s. While Smith-Schuster was able to come down with some incredible contested grabs, he failed to create much separation. Johnson’s game more closely resembles that of Emmanuel Sanders. He is quick in and out of his breaks, and can create very good separation at the top of his routes. He has tremendous upside as an ‘X’ receiver for the Steelers, and he is starting to put things all together.
James Washington wasn’t quite as impressive against Miami. On paper, Washington was underwhelming – catching just 1 of 6 passes thrown in direction. However, that’s why context is important. Though he did miss an opportunity on a ball that hit his hands, Rudolph had some wild passes thrown his way, and many of them were uncatchable.
Where he did impress, however, was in the blocking game. Washington could be seen giving extra effort at the end of nearly every play. He did his best Hines Ward impersonation as he lit up Dolphins defensive back, Nik Needham, at the end of Dionte Johnson’s 45-yard touchdown catch.
It’s important to remember that the receivers’ best performance came against one of the worst teams in football. Still, seeing these improvements is a step towards getting this offense back on track after a rough start to the season.
The Steelers invested a good bit of draft capital between Smith-Schuster, Washington, and Johnson. Both JuJu and Washington were second-round picks, and Diontae Johnson was a third-rounder. It looks like their investments are finally starting to pay off.