James Washington had a very quiet game against the Baltimore Ravens, recording a total of one target that fell incomplete for the game. You might not even remember him being on the field, and I don’t blame you if you didn’t notice him.
James Washington played 10 snaps in Baltimore. That’s the lowest snap count for Washington in any game he was active for his entire career. Week 1 of 2018, the first week of his rookie year, Washington played 11 snaps, and he played more than that in every game that he was active following that game, until week 8 of the 2020 season.
His stat line, 1 target, 0 receptions and 0 yards is the exact same line Washington put up against the Titans in week 7, the first time James Washington has been active in back to back weeks without a reception since weeks 5 and 6 of his rookie season. He was targeted 3 times in those two games.
This is the least productive two-game stretch of James Washington’s career, and in week 8 he was less involved in the game plan than at any point in his career. Now this could change, he could bounce back and get snaps and targets next week against Dallas, or this could be a sign that Washington doesn’t fit the direction the Steelers offense wants to go right now. The Steelers were determined to run the ball in this game, and yet their best blocking receiver spent the vast majority of the game on the bench.
Washington wasn’t the only rotation player to fall out of the offense in week 8, Benny Snell played zero snaps on offense, but he played 67% of special teams snaps. Meanwhile Jaylen Samuels got almost all of the backup running back snaps, was targeted twice with 0 receptions. Anthony McFarland Jr. played one snap, ran the ball and slipped in the rain when he had room to run. The lack of running back rotation didn’t coincide with James Conner being on the field more though, as Conner only played 58% of offensive snaps, with the Steelers frequently foregoing any running backs in the second half.
The running backs loss of snaps was the gain of all receivers not named James Washington, as the Steelers averaged a season high 2.9 wide receivers per snap. JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool all received an equal share, with 41 snaps each. Eric Ebron continues to increase his share of the offense as his blocking continues to be above the line and his chemistry with Ben keeps improving.
Minkah Fitzpatrick continues his 100% of snaps streak, while Steven Nelson missed 8 snaps. The Steelers pulled Nelson for Sean Davis in goal line defense, which is interesting considering Nelson’s coverage has traditionally been great in the red zone. Cameron Sutton unsurprisingly played a larger percentage of snaps with the absence of Mike Hilton, while Terrell Edmunds snap count surprisingly dropped to 74% in a game where his sideline to sideline speed and strength covering tight ends seemed to be more valuable. While I haven’t gone over the film too much yet, I can say teams have been focusing on getting a tight end on Edmunds in the run game now that Bush is out, that may be affecting his value.
The Steelers used their outside linebackers a lot in this game, with Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt playing all but a combined 5 snaps, and Alex Highsmith playing 25. Using Dupree or Watt as an extra inside linebacker seems like a pretty good strategy for dealing with Lamar Jackson. Alex Highsmith found a way to raise his high level of play in Tennessee even higher with a phenomenal game against the Ravens, including an interception that drastically changed the momentum, and the outcome of the game. The inside linebackers split snaps evenly, with Robert Spillane and Vince Williams both playing 71 snaps, with Marcus Allen making his debut as the dime linebacker, with 11 snaps in the game.
The impact of losing Tyson Alualu can be seen in the snap counts of the other defensive lineman, with both Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward crossing the 90% mark in a game where the defense was on the field for 60% of the non-special teams snaps. Little surprise that Cameron Heyward struggled with cramps in throughout the game, when you consider the physicality of the game and the volume of reps he played. Isaiah Buggs played 34 snaps, the most in his career and double his previous high of 17 snaps from week 1 of this season. Similarly, Henry Mondeaux followed a 6 snap NFL debut in week 7 with 19 snaps in week 8.
Talk about baptism by fire, imagine making your NFL debut in a battle of 5-0 teams facing the best running back in he NFL and following that up by going to Baltimore, in the toughest rivalry in sports, to face the Ravens run game in your second game. Mondeaux struggled, but I think you would be hard pressed to find anyone really doing well in their first NFL action in those situations.