Despite JuJu Smith-Schuster out for the season and the Steelers throwing the ball 40 times in Sunday’s win over the Seahawks, James Washington played just eight snaps. Targeted just once, he had one reception for nine yards. Coming off a groin injury, the snap count implied that Washington wasn’t 100%. But Mike Tomlin said Tuesday Washington was fully healthy and his limited participation was related to matchups, not injury.
“It’s just matchup related,” Tomlin said about Washington’s eight snaps.
All eight of Washington’s snaps came within the first 21 minutes of play. Six of them came in the first quarter among the team’s first 15 plays, suggesting he was part of the team’s gameplan and opening script. If Tomlin is taken at his word, then Seattle presented a different way of covering and matching up in the secondary, leading the team to adjust off their script. Washington played just two snaps the rest of the way, the last coming mid-way through the second quarter.
He didn’t log a single snap in the second half or overtime. Those chances went to Ray-Ray McCloud, who played 69% of the offense’s snaps, 52 of them, catching two passes for 18 yards. McCloud served as the primary slot receiver, keeping Claypool on the outside and Washington on the bench.
Offensive coordinator Matt Canada didn’t provide much additional clarity on Washington’s lack of role, hinting the injury was more of a factor than what Tomlin said but not citing that as the central reason.
“James was out the week before and coming off some bumps and bruises,” he said in audio via the team. “And obviously we know how talented he is. Just as the way the game played out and where we were at with all our situations, that’s how it worked…James is certainly a guy we frickin’ love. Know he can do a great job and he will continue to be a big part of our offense.”
Of course, to “continue to be a big part of the offense” implies that it’s already happening. For Washington, it hasn’t. His playing time has come only when there’s been injury and last week, he continued to be sidelined even with Smith-Schuster done for the year. He’s on pace to catch 34 passes for 367 yards and has yet to find the end zone this season.
Gameplans will ebb and flow and Washington likely won’t be playing just eight snaps every week. ABut he’s probably wishing Pittsburgh would’ve traded him like he reportedly asked for this summer. At the end of his rookie deal, he’ll likely be playing elsewhere in 2022.