I can only presume that second-year wide receiver Ryan Switzer will serve as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ primary number three wide receiver for tonight’s game against the Los Angeles Chargers. It is a role that he has more informally held since the fourth quarter of the Jacksonville Jaguars game, but this figures to be the first time in which it seems more set in stone.
After all, it really feels like the only good option. He had his best game of the season last week working often against Pro Bowler Chris Harris, catching six passes for 67 yards. In the meantime, rookie James Washington has continued to have great difficulty contributing, and there has been hesitation over whether or not he would even dress for tonight’s game.
If Washington does not dress, that would mean Justin Hunter would, but given that they have been comfortable almost all season leaving him as a healthy scratch, it would be fair to say that they wouldn’t be throwing him into that primary number three role, even if he does see some playing time.
In other words, this could potentially be Switzer’s biggest opportunity yet to carve out a niche for himself during his young career. He failed to ever latch onto a meaningful, let alone consistent role during his rookie season with the Dallas Cowboys, and obviously things didn’t work out with him in Oakland, which resulted in the Raiders trading him to the Steelers.
While the Chargers certainly have some good defensive backs, none of their slot defenders will be at the same level as Harris, and Switzer certainly had some good reps against him, so I find myself excited to see what he could potentially offer when the offense is fully committed to having him in that slot role for a full game without question or hesitation.
Los Angeles’ primary slot defender this season has been the young Desmond King, who has had some very good games during the year but has struggled more recently. While he has only given up one touchdown on the season and intercepted three passes, he has allowed 11 receptions on 11 throws into his coverage over the past three weeks, based on Pro Football Focus’ charting data, and has allowed receptions on over 80 percent of his targets on the year now.
The most important thing for Switzer is that he has seemed to be gaining the trust of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger as the weeks go by. He was impressed in particular in the wide receiver’s showing in the last game, calling him a “tough little booger” who “makes a lot of plays”.
He probably wasn’t thought of much initially in terms of being a player who would make a difference on offense this season, but for the moment he seems to their best option in between Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster, and this game should be the first full, unabated opportunity to see how that looks.