2018 South Side Questions: Why Was Washington’s Playing Time Sharply Cut Sunday?

The Pittsburgh Steelers are out of Latrobe and back at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, also referred to as the South Side Facility. We are already into the regular season, where everything is magnified and, you know, actually counts. The team is working through the highs and lows and dramas that go through a typical Steelers season.

How are the rookies performing? What about the players that the team signed in free agency? Who is missing time with injuries, and when are they going to be back? What are the coaches saying about what they are going to do this season that might be different from how it was a year ago?

These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.

Question: Why did James Washington see a dramatically reduced role on Sunday?

James Washington only played 11 snaps in the season opener. For a rookie, that isn’t exactly much of a surprise. But he went on to play 66 snaps the following week. Beyond that, he seemed to fall into a groove of playing somewhere between 35 and 45 snaps per game, between half and two thirds of the team’s playing time.

On Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals, however, he was far more of an afterthought, logging only 16 total snaps. He didn’t even see the field for the first time in the game until about six minutes in, the team’s 11th snap, and the final play of their second possession.

He played a whopping two snaps in the offense’s first 18. Through the 34 offensive plays run over the course of the first half, Washington was o the field for eight of them, or just 23.5 percent of the time. And it wasn’t about running a script to start the game, because he waited until the team’s 13th play of the second half to see a snap.

He would then play eight of the team’s next 14 snaps, but that was it. The Steelers played another 14 snaps after that, and he was not involved in any of them. Thanks in part to Darrius Heyward-Bey’s injury, Justin Hunter got to dress and they used him as the number three receiver down the stretch instead.

I can understand that a rookie is not necessarily going to be highly productive right away. What I don’t fully understand is why he ended up playing such a minor role in the final game before the bye week (just 21.6 percent of the snaps) after he had logged 190 of the team’s 276 snaps over the course of the previous four games. How do you go from 69 percent to barely one in every five snaps?

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