One of the questions that the Pittsburgh Steelers should be looking at on offense down the stretch is just what is their best alignment at wide receiver right now. It goes without saying that Antonio Brown is going to be out there, and mostly on the outside. But with JuJu Smith-Schuster’s flexibility, there are options.
Smith-Schuster has become a great slot receiver, leading the league in fact in yardage from the slot, as well as yards after the catch. But he is also a capable outside receiver, as he showed last week. Seven of his eight catches for nearly 100 yards came while he lined up outside, and he made big catches against top cornerbacks.
The Steelers saw a matchup that they liked to get Smith-Schuster on the outside. In order to do that, they replaced rookie James Washington with Ryan Switzer, the latter of whom plays almost exclusively inside. Washington has taken a few snaps inside, but remains limited, and has been given few opportunities to seriously contribute.
The question that I left with from the last game was whether that was exclusively a situational decision or if it would carry into future games after seeing how well it worked out. While Washington is a rookie, Switzer was only acquired just before the season started. It’s only natural to assume that he would be prepared for a bigger role as the season goes on.
And to that end, he does have eight receptions for 80 yards over the past three weeks, including some key conversions on third down. He offers a different presence from the slot, though frankly it’s one that anyone may not match up well this week against the Denver Broncos’ Chris Harris, who sees most of his time in the slot.
So would you rather have Smith-Schuster in the slot against Harris with Washington lined up outside against Tramaine Brock, or would you like Switzer to deal with Harris and open the door for Smith-Schuster to go up against Brock on the outside?
I would like to see the Steelers use a greater rotation at wide receiver between Washington and Switzer. As we head into the home stretch of the season, this is the time that we would be likely to start seeing that, if it happens at all.
We got a glimpse of what that might look like in the fourth quarter last week, but, again, was that a one-off, situational decision that they don’t intend to influence future plans? We will probably learn the truth today.