Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin introduces new phrases and aphorisms into his lexicon every year. Some of them stick around for posterity, while others don’t. Obviously. But I have a feeling that one of his latest inventions will endure, and that is the manner in which he describes his receiving corps in 2020.
With four high-pedigreed wide receivers and a Pro Bowl tight end, the Steelers have had a different pass catcher step up every week this year. It was JuJu Smith-Schuster in the opener, then Diontae Johnson, followed by Eric Ebron, Chase Claypool, and most recently, James Washington.
Of course, there are games in which multiple targets make an impact—Claypool, for example, both last week and in week two—but by and large, there has clearly been a different player making the largest impact each week, and Washington’s two big plays, including a 28-yard touchdown, were the highlight of the receiving game against the Cleveland Browns last week, in his third season.
“The beginning to where he is now is an interesting discussion, because this is a guy that has worked hard, and really worked at developing his body, and thus his game”, head coach Mike Tomlin said of Washington on his show last night. “He’s much more highly-conditioned than he was when he got to us. He has a professional body now”.
“But beyond that, he’s just another guy that’s ready and able when called upon, and like I mentioned the last several weeks, we desire to have balance and have a lot of capable men, and oftentimes let those we compete against determine who the quote-unquote ‘hot guy’ is”, he added.
Tomlin continued to go on about the abundance of options that they have and that they would prefer for the defense to dictate who would be making plays rather than trying to force the issue upon the defense, because whatever they allow will be the point of least resistance.
“We’re striking the type of balance that we desire, that makes us a tough team to beat, and makes us a tough team to slow down in terms of identifying pieces that are capable of being significant components of the attack”, he said, “and that’s what we desire to be. We’ve got a long way to go, obviously, but I like some of the foundational things that are developing”.
The Steelers have five different players with at least 15 receptions for 147 yards and one receiving touchdown through five games. They have three players with multiple receiving touchdowns as well. Five different players have been targeted between 24 and 28 times.
Put simply, the Steelers have a receiving unit that is dangerous for any defense in the league to attempt to cover, because they have a system and a quarterback who is comfortable in throwing to anybody on the field and confident in their ability to make a play. And by and large, they have been making them thus far.