Deon Cain was on the Indianapolis Colts’ practice squad a couple of weeks ago. A couple of days ago, he was the Pittsburgh Steelers’ second-leading receiver in a 16-10 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. While he didn’t blow things up—in actuality, he caught just one pass on one official target—the fact that he contributed at all, and Johnny Holton did not, is quite an interesting development.
Cain was signed a week and a half ago following the Cleveland Browns game after both JuJu Smith-Schuster and Diontae Johnson left that contest with concussions. Smith-Schuster also had a knee injury. He did not play on Sunday against the Bengals, though Johnson was able to return.
The bulk of the passing game was in the hands, then, of Johnson and James Washington, but Cain essentially slipped into that number three receiver role ahead of Tevin Jones and Holton. Well…sort of. Jones actually played significantly more snaps, and Holton played a few more than Cain’s 10 snaps as well, but the newcomer played the biggest role.
He caught one pass on one target, as mentioned, a big 35-yard catch that saw him leap over a defender to bring it in. He also drew a key defensive pass interference call against B.W. Webb that put the Steelers on the 35-yard line and led to the go-ahead field goal.
A lot of the big plays of the game came against Webb, including Washington’s 79-yard touchdown, but Cain says that wasn’t by design. Webb is only starting because Dre Kirkpatrick is on the Reserve/Injured List, but they still respected the former Steeler’s game.
“We were just running our offense, pretty much”, he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about that after the game. “It wasn’t like we were just targeting somebody. We just wanted to call our stuff and just execute”.
Will Cain be a part of the stuff that gets called next week? Will he even be active? He did play the fewest number of snaps among the wide receivers who dressed. If Smith-Schuster returns for the Browns game, will he still be on the field?
He wasn’t focusing on that. He got his chance and he made the most of it. “The biggest thing we talked about”, he said, was “first play, whenever you get your chance, just make the best of it”. He did that, but it’s not a guarantee that he immediately gets another shot.
Holton has a key special teams role, so he would be a surprise inactive. Jones logged nearly 40 snaps, about three times as many as Holton did. Can the Steelers be comfortable enough in Cain with just one extra week? Or will the lack of urgency for a number four receiver with Smith-Schuster’s return make them more comfortable in Cain being that guy over Jones?