For this Film room session I’m going to look at a touchy subject for many Steelers fans. Ryan Switzer.
There main not be a more trigger causing subject for fans when you mention his name or the wide receiver position. The venom and vitriol begin to fly and I understand to an extent. Maybe our expectations of him are too high.
Recency bias is something of which we can all be guilty. We generate our opinion based on recent events rather than over the full body of work. Switzer had a forgettable 2019 season. I know that, you know that and I’m sure he feels the same way. His 2018 season wasn’t that bad when you break it down.
In a season that was dominated by Antonio Brown and Juju Smith-Schuster garnering 334 targets and 215 receptions Switzer finished as the number 3 WR and fifth overall player on the team in receptions. Remember this was his first year on the team and it takes time to earn your role and the trust of the quarterback and the coaches. If you split the season in half you’ll see it too some time to get acclimated but once he did he had solid numbers.
The numbers in the second half show how he became more effective within the offense nearly doubling his yards and big increases in yards per reception and yards per target.
I decided to look at his best four game stretch of 2018 which was games 8 through 11 to try to dispel some of the myths about Switzer and also shine a light on the positives. He had 14 receptions on 17 targets for 147 yards over that span. That’s an average of 10.5 yards per receptions and the average target distance was 8.65. So what are some of the negative things we hear about Switzer?
Can’t Get Open – There are a lot of factors that go into this including coverage and play design but if you look at the 2018 separation statistics at Next Gen Stats you don’t have to look very far down the list to see his name. He was tied for 7th in the NFL in average separation distance at 3.5 yards. Compared to other receivers that’s the same as Cooper Kupp and just behind another slot receiver Adam Humphries (3.6) and ahead of guys like Tyler Locket, Jarvis Landry and Julian Edelman at 3.3.
Vs Jacksonville, the play is designed to look to the right first. There is nothing there and Ben comes back to Switzer. Watch he’s stutter step he uses to put the slot DB back on his heels and open up space.
He Runs Short Routes and Catches Short Passes – Well yes and no. The average targeted air yards which measures the yards downfield at the time of all passing attempts that the receiver is the target was only 3.2. In that 4 game stretch, he averaged 10.5 YPC. Of his 14 receptions 8 went for at least 10 yards with a long of 24. So he is capable of gaining yardage. Over all he averaged 4.1 yards after the catch per receptions. The same as Michael Thomas. Additionally, 8 of those 14 catches went for first downs.
Vs Denver, from the tight slot on the left he’ll run a deep in and work around the linebacker to make the catch in traffic.
Here are a few positives I’ll bring to the table.
Reliability for Ben – From all accounts it looks like they have a good relationship and Roethlisberger seems to trust him. While watching these games it became more evident to me why there is trust. Again, 2018 was all about Smith-Schuster and Brown so there wasn’t a lot of go to plays to Switzer. But when the big two were covered, when there was a blitz coming or the play broke down Ben would often look to Switzer. There were several instances where the first two options were covered and the QB would come backside to the safety valve. Switzer’s a smart player and knows when he’s the hot read and does a nice job of finding space against Zone defense or in the scramble drill. The loss of Ben in part was a factor in Switzer’s lack of production last year. The younger QB’s weren’t adept at finding the 3rd or 4th option in the play.
Vs Carolina, the linebackers show blitz and Switzer in the right slot is the hot read and runs a quick slant behind the dropping DE.
Adjust to the Ball – The quarterback isn’t always going to put the ball in the right spot whether he’s in the pocket or while scrambling Switzer seem to more time than not have to adjust to the ball behind him and he did it well. He’s not a big target but he makes every effort on errant throws.
Vs Jacksonville, he’ll run the shallow cross from the right slot. The throw is low and behind and he adjusts nicely to make the catch, quickly get up and add 5 after the catch.
He’s Tough – He’s 5’8” and 185 and is a fighter. Need him to go over the middle? He’ll do it and get popped by the safety. He’ll fight for the extra yard twisting away from or ducking under a defender. He doesn’t break many tackle but he makes a heck of effort to avoid him.
Vs Denver, from the right slot he’ll jab inside to help him get over the top of defender and gets a perfect throw from Ben and absorbs the big hit from the safety.
I think, maybe, our expectations were too high. From a production stand point we were probably hoping for the next Edelman but that’s really unfair to Switzer. To this point he hasn’t done that and maybe he never will and that’s okay. Instead of bashing him for what he isn’t, give him credit for what he is.
Look at it this way; barring any major injury to the receiving corps at best you’d expect Switzer to be the number four or five WR on the team statistically. Over the past four years the number 4 WR on the team has been James Washington, Eli Rogers, Cobi Hamilton and Darrius Heyward-Bay. They have averaged 18 receptions and 228.5 yards. This is where the expectations should be.
The depth at the position is the best it has been in a while. Therefore, we don’t need to expect a lot out of him. He came back this year in the best shape he’s probably ever been. He is the epitome of the blue collar player. This is someone this fan base should love but it’s just not there. I say we give it a try this year.