The Pittsburgh Steelers have invested heavy resources into their pass-catching groups in recent years, spending four draft picks within the 49th and 66th picks on the wide receiver position over the past four years. They’ve also invested in tight ends, most recently with Eric Ebron brought in during free agency.
The result has been the team seeing a different player step up the most on a weekly basis so far. They have five players with at least 15 receptions, 147 yards, and one receiving touchdown through five games. Nobody is really on pace to put up huge numbers, but they are putting up points and winning, and making the plays that matter.
That’s what they’re all invested in this year. At least that is the message the team has been consistently promoting from players and coaches. And for what it’s worth, it does seem that they are genuinely buying into the group concept. Take what JuJu Smith-Schuster told reporters yesterday.
“We just know that every week, we have guys that are ready to go”, he said. “Diontae, he just adds to our collective, points, yards, everything. It’s nothing new. This week it was James, last week it was Chase, the first week it was me. It just varies. But at the end of the day, when it’s time to make plays, I know our guys are gonna make the plays”.
With Johnson returning to practice yesterday and hopefully trending toward playing on Sunday, perhaps it will be his turn to come back around. He has missed the majority of the past three games, exiting due to a concussion in the second quarter in week three and then suffering a back injury in week five, which caused him to miss the last game.
But he was targeted 23 times in the first two games of the season, coming up with 14 receptions for 149 yards. He caught eight passes for 92 yards and a 28-yard touchdown in the team’s week two victory over the Denver Broncos, but has only been on the field for 25 snaps since then.
That has just left more opportunities for others to step up, including Chase Claypool’s big four-touchdown game against the Philadelphia Eagles, and with James Washington coming up with a couple of big plays this past week. Eric Ebron had his day against the Houston Texans as well.
So far, the strategy of spreading the ball has been working. The Steelers might not have the most efficient offense in the league per play, but they rank 15th in the percentage of drives that have ended in scores, and ninth in points per drive, while allowing the third-fewest defensive points per drive. As long as this keeps up, nobody will be worrying about who is on the receiving end of any given pass, as long as it’s making a play for the unit and contributing to a winning effort.