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James Washington Continues Stepping Up Big When Steelers Need Him Most

The Pittsburgh Steelers have missed JuJu Smith-Schuster over the course of the past two weeks, who was injured against the Cleveland Browns, suffering both a concussion and a knee injury on the same play. But have they really been missing him?

One could say that they haven’t, at least all that much, thanks to the second-year James Washington stepping up in a major way. The 2018 60th-overall pick seems to be putting up career games week after week, with today’s win over the Browns being no different.

In fact, it marked the first 100-yard game of his career, just a week after putting up 98—oh so titillatingly close to that three-digit mark—against the Cincinnati Bengals. That came included a 79-yard catch-and-run touchdown that featured a nifty stiff-arm.

This one was highlighted by a fantastic concentration catch, a 30-yard touchdown on a floater over the defender at the goal line after he was interfered with not once, but twice. It would have been an otherwise easy score, most likely, without the interference.

That was one of four receptions on the day for him on just four targets (Devlin Hodges only attempted 21 total passes), going for 111 yards overall, coming out to an average of almost 28 yards per reception.

His longest catch was a 44-yarder, but he also opened things up with a 31-yard reception on a free play in the middle of the second quarter, which was really the first sign of life from the offense all day. He is the first Steeler to have three receptions of 30 or more yards in a single game this year.

He already had four such receptions on the season heading into today’s game, tied for the most on the team with both Smith-Schuster and Diontae Johnson, but now he’s created a great distance between them and himself, up to seven 30-plus-yard receptions on the year.

What’s especially notable is that in the two games Smith-Schuster has missed, Washington has now caught seven passes on 11 targets for 209 yards and two touchdowns. Prior to those two games, he only had two career touchdowns and never had 100 yards in a game. He had only had more than 69 yards in a single game once prior to that.

But he has really been coming on in recent weeks, and that has been vital to what little offense the Steelers have been able to muster. Over the last five games, he now has 20 receptions for 417 yards and three touchdowns. During his rookie season over 14 games, he caught 16 passes for 2017 yards and one touchdown.

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