The Pittsburgh Steelers had a backup quarterback throwing to mostly backup wide receivers playing behind an inexperienced offensive line in a new offense. Things did not go entirely well for them on the day, though it’s hardly surprising when you look at it in those terms. That’s no excuse, however, for the performance.
The team lost veteran wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster fairly early in the season, going down with a shoulder injury as he tried to run through contact with a safety. That put him on the Reserve/Injured List and possibly assured that he played his last game in the black and gold.
But also absent for this game was Chase Claypool, who has dealt with nicks and bumps all season. He is currently out due to a reported toe injury that he suffered late in last week’s Monday night game against the Chicago Bears, and it’s fair to say that his absence was apparent.
“Yeah, we could’ve used Chase, another weapon, big-time guy we need”, fellow wide receiver Diontae Johnson told reporters after the game when he was asked about how the offense was impacted without Claypool. “Hopefully he comes back this week. We did what we can do with the guys we have, and we’re just gonna keep working at the end of the day”.
With no Smith-Schuster and no Claypool, Johnson and James Washington were the team’s most established wide receivers, yet it was Ray-Ray McCloud, their return man, who caught the most passes. While he didn’t have any major mistakes, and did have a couple of significant plays, he’s not a player you run your offense through.
Neither Cody White nor Steven Sims, the latter elevated from the practice squad for the day’s game, were even targeted a single time throughout the contest, though at least the former got on the field and was a contributor as a blocker. He has been on the 53-man roster since Smith-Schuster’s injury.
In seven games this season, Claypool contributed 29 receptions for 433 yards and one touchdown, in addition to six rushes for another 51 yards. He hadn’t clearly established that he was taking that major ‘second-year jump’ yet, but he was certainly a positive contributor, and would have been an obvious aid to the Steelers’ efforts yesterday.
As for what did happen, Johnson did catch seven passes for 83 yards. That included a 36-yard catch-and-run in overtime, but it unfortunately ended with him having the ball stripped out of his grasp and recovered by the defense.
Washington looked like he was going to be a factor early, but ultimately finished the game with just two receptions on six targets for 15 yards. One of those two receptions was a touchdown, though, and he also drew a 29-yard pass interference penalty.