The Pittsburgh Steelers have played five of 16 games so far during the 2020 season. The offense has produced 164 targeted passes to date. Of those 164, six different players have been on the receiving end on at least 15 of them, or roughly 10 percent of the total number of targets, with James Conner being on the low end.
The top five target-getters on the team—JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, James Washington, Chase Claypool, and Eric Ebron—have all seen between 24 and 28 targets on the season so far, ranging from 16 to 23 receptions. All of them have put up at least 147 receiving yards, and all of them have scored as well.
Last Sunday, head coach Mike Tomlin trotted out a new aphorism in referring to the collective strength of his team’s receiving options, saying that “the strength of the pack is the pack”, meaning that they have an abundance of talented players who can crop up and contribute at any time.
In the opener, Smith-Schuster caught six passes for 69 yards and two touchdowns, for example. A week later, it was Diontae Johnson catching eight passes for 92 yards and a score. Against the Texans, Eric Ebron caught five passes for 52 yards and an impressive touchdown. Of course, the Eagles game belonged to Chase Claypool, with 110 yards on seven receptions for three receiving touchdowns and a rushing touchdown. On Sunday, James Washington caught four passes for 68 yards and a touchdown.
Washington was asked earlier this week if they felt pressure to make sure that they step up and make something happen every time the ball comes their way because of this. “Ben spreads the ball around a lot, I feel like. He always just says, if you make a mistake, just come back the next play and be there for me”, he said. “I really don’t see that happening”.
Over the course of his career, Ben Roethlisberger has generally efforted to ‘spread the ball around’, though that became difficult—and certainly in some seasons less efficient—when Antonio Brown became a superstar. He and Smith-Schuster absorbed a substantial proportion of the passing game in 2018 when they both made the postseason.
Outside of perhaps Claypool, however, nobody individually is trending toward big numbers this year, and yet they are 5-0 and have the fifth-highest-scoring offense in the NFL. Instead of standout, All-Pro numbers, you have a bunch of guys pinching in when called upon.
Speaking of Claypool, for the moment, he is on pace to catch 54 passes this season for 1072 yards and 13 touchdowns, with four receiving touchdowns in five games. Considering his numbers have been trending up, it wouldn’t be surprising if he betters at least the receiving yardage total by the end of December.