James Washington was targeted six times by his former college teammate, Mason Rudolph, in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ game on Monday night, a victory over the Miami Dolphins. That produced just one catch, for 21 yards. While several of his other targets were off-line and uncatchable, he did have a drop on a jump ball that nearly resulted in an interception.
And yet he still had his highlights in the game against the Dolphins, most especially the block that he threw toward the end of the first half on Diontae Johnson’s 45-yard touchdown that pulled the Steelers back to within 14-10 shortly before halftime.
The Steelers are in a third-and-20 situation at the time, and Rudolph had audibled to that play for Johnson after diagnosing an all-out blitz on Miami’s part. Leaving three to cover three receivers, it turned into a punt once Johnson fielded the ball on a slant pattern.
His catch-and-run ability and vision took him all the way to the left sideline, with Washington leading the way, and he drove a defender into the end zone on his back as the rookie wide receiver walked in soon later.
“Honestly, I was just in the moment”, Washington recounted of that block to Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “I just saw an opportunity, and I hit him”. He also threw another significant block during James Conner’s touchdown run of nine yards in the second half.
“It’s part of the game”, he said. “Somebody’s got to do it”. And Washington has shown that he is more than happy to do it. After he was drafted by the Steelers in the second round in 2018, he talked about how he embraces the physicality of the position. While he was talking more about winning in combat catch situations, it can also apply to the requirements he must meet in the blocking department as well.
He acknowledged that he didn’t have to do that all too much while he was in college, but that can be largely attributed to the fact that he was the one doing the catching, so he would have had others blocking for him instead. Washington was Rudolph’s number one target there, though now he is essentially the number three target.
“Not being a number one guy, you’ve got to find something else to help separate you and add value to yourself for this team”, Adamski quoted him as saying. “I feel like blocking, getting guys downfield…blocking on the perimeter is key for us to” establishing the run.
Washington also told reporters after the game that Johnson’s touchdown, and his block that played a key role in it, was significant as the Steelers entered halftime, as it fired the whole team up, and they came out in the second half to shut the Dolphins out 17-0.
He’s still finding his footing—and his hands—halfway through his second season, but Washington is wisely finding other ways in which he can make a difference.