2021 South Side Questions: Why Won’t Steelers Get James Washington On Field More?

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2021 season is underway, and they are hoping for a better outcome in comparison to last season. After starting out 11-0, they finished the year 1-4 in the regular season, and then lost in the Wildcard Round to the Cleveland Browns, ignited by a 0-28 first quarter.

They have lost a large number of key players in the offseason, like Maurkice Pouncey, Bud Dupree, Alejandro Villanueva, David DeCastro, Mike Hilton, and Steven Nelson, but they’ve also made significant additions as the months have gone on, notably Trai Turner, Melvin Ingram, Joe Schobert, and Ahkello Witherspoon. They also added Najee Harris, Pat Freiermuth, Kendrick Green, and Dan Moore Jr., all of whom are starting.

There isn’t much left to do but to play the games at this point. Even if they play them poorly. They still have a lot to figure out, though, such as what Matt Canada’s offense is going to look like in any given week, or how the new-look secondary and offensive line is going to play.

These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked. There is rarely a concrete answer, but this is your venue for exploring the topics we present through all their uncertainty.

Question: Why won’t the Steelers get James Washington on the field more?

There are only five games this season in which James Washington has logged 50 percent of the team’s offensive snaps or more, and in the majority of cases, it involved a starting wide receiver missing a short period of time. And yet, even with JuJu Smith-Schuster having been out for most of the season, it hasn’t much affected his playing time.

Instead, it’s Ray-Ray McCloud receiving that playing time, who has logged at least 50 percent of the team’s offensive snaps in a game in eight games this season, particularly over the past month and a half. He has played 435 offensive snaps, though Washington has still played more overall at 465, due to low-volume work for McCloud at the start of the season.

Obviously, position has something to do with it. Washington is much more an outside guy—but so are Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson. Yet, can’t they figure out a way to get all three of them on the field at the same time more frequently?

We always hear about how much the Steelers stress position flexibility among their wide receivers on offense, yet we rarely see it, or so it seems. So what exactly are we supposed to take away from the fact that McCloud is playing more than Washington?

Do they simply think that McCloud is the best available slot receiver, and that Johnson and Claypool are the two best outside receivers, with Washington merely losing out in the numbers game? Do they not think any of the three outside receivers can competently play inside? Do they really think their offense is better with McCloud on the field over Washington?

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