Ray-Ray McCloud played a career-high 61 snaps for the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, with the team absent JuJu Smith-Schuster and Chase Claypool at the wide receiver position. He saw career highs in targets (12), receptions (nine), and receiving yards (63); he did come up just short of his NFL touchdown.
The absences of notable receivers wasn’t the only significant variable in the game; the day before, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger tested positive for COVID-19, and his backup, Mason Rudolph, had to start. As a player lower on the depth chart, McCloud has obviously gotten more work with Rudolph; however, he doesn’t believe that’s why he had such a large role in the offense.
“I don’t think it’s that. I think it’s just opportunities; the defense ran certain things that where I’m at made me open”, he told reporters yesterday when he was asked if his work with Rudolph in the past was the reason for his high number of targets. “But we definitely, even last year when I was doing scout team a lot, when I first got here, Mason was at quarterback, so I used to go with him a lot”.
“Even this year, sometimes I’m on scout just to work on different things in my game, and I go with him. We kind of built a chemistry, I would say”, he acknowledged, “but I don’t think that had anything to do with me having extra targets. It was just more of that’s how the game came, and that’s how we took it”.
Indeed, having two of your top wide receivers out of the game is probably a bigger factor than having a different quarterback, especially one who does actually get first-team reps basically every week, meaning that he’s getting work with the guys he would be throwing to under normal circumstances.
Having a quarterback with whom you’ve worked doesn’t hurt, either, of course. But outside of Diontae Johnson, who did receive a game-high in targets, playing with a bunch of other wide receivers who are not high-volume guys or who are not being expected to contribute—James Washington, Cody White, and Steven Sims—is going to help your target count.
And to his credit, McCloud did make a few significant plays during the game, even if he made some notable mistakes as well—I’ll be looking at one of them a bit later in the day, which you may have already seen by the time you make it back to this article.
Depending upon Claypool’s toe, McCloud may continue to be a high-volume player, but unless the Steelers have a devastating rash of injuries, this will probably never happen again. Let’s not forget that the Steelers threw 50 passes during the game, which is not going to happen every week. Roethlisberger has only had one game over 40 attempts so far this year.