It’s pretty remarkable to think about not only how quickly but how frequently the Pittsburgh Steelers have been able to have varying degrees of success in terms of restocking the wide receiver position around their core player. That was Hines Ward for years, and now it’s Antonio Brown.
Brown is the only wide receiver on the roster other than Darrius Heyward-Bey who has even been on the team prior to 2017. When he first emerged, he was flanked by Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery. Then there was Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant. Now it’s JuJu Smith-Schuster and, as of this writing, the emerging third appears to by Ryan Switzer, who has only been here since August.
The second-year wide receiver has been making plays at a higher volume in recent weeks, made possible by an increase in opportunities at the expense of rookie James Washington, who obviously is in the plans to become a much bigger contributor in the future. But for the time being, Switzer is becoming that third player.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was asked about what he has shown in recent weeks that has had him coming back to his newest target over and over again, the pair connecting on 14 passes over the past four games.
“Just be dependable”, he said of what Switzer has shown him since getting into Pittsburgh. “Be a guy that is where he’s supposed to be. Tough little booger. Makes a lot of plays. Gets hit a lot. Just doesn’t make a lot of the same mistakes twice”.
Switzer caught six passes on Sunday for a career-high 67 yards, and that included a 24-yard completion, the longest reception he has recorded to date. Over the past four games, he has 14 receptions for 147 yards, averaging over 10 yards per reception, showing that he has been able to create more after the catch, and has also been getting more targets getting down the field. Despite that elevation, his average yards per catch is still just 7.9.
But that is largely dictated not only by how he has been used in the offense—which is generally very short passes as an extension of the running game and in short-yardage situations—but also in where he is at a comfort and understanding level with the offense and with his teammates.
“He hasn’t been here very long”, Roethlisberger reminded. “I think you see what guys can do when they’ve been here for a year, two years. You saw it with Vance a little bit last year and you’ve seen the growth. So I think he could—we could keep getting better together as I learn more about him and he learns more about me, but in terms of knowing the offense, I mean, he knows it fairly well”.