Steelers OC Matt Canada calls underused James Washington: ‘A guy we freaking love’

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It’s no secret that the Pittsburgh Steelers are struggling offensively. We all expected the team to turn things around with a fresh-eyed creative, innovative offensive coordinator.

Only it never happened. Perhaps that’s what the Steelers will use their bye week for?

When asked about wide receiver James Washington, who’s been buried on the depth chart for who knows why, offensive coordinator Matt Canada has this to say:

“James is certainly a guy we freaking love and know he can do a great job. He will continue to be a big part of our offense.”

That statement is bull in so many ways. When I have something I “freaking love,” you bet it’s being used; it becomes part of my routine.

And to continue to be a “big part” of something means that you already were. That simply has not been the case for James Washington. And there’s really no rhyme or reason why.

Too Many Cooks?

Are there too many cooks in the Steelers receiver kitchen? Maybe. Considering rookies Najee Harris and Pat Freiermuth, there are a lot of options. But they’re short-staffed now with JuJu Smith-Schuster gone and Washington has proved to have more talent than Ray-Ray McCloud — the guy Ben Roethlisberger came out and said will pick up the slack.

McCloud sauntered into Pittsburgh and was anointed a featured guy without batting an eyelash. He’s no more than a glorified returner where Washington is, as Steelers Wire’s own Curt Popejoy wrote, “practically a physical clone of Smith-Schuster, excels at the same routes and offers much more in terms of a complete receiver and blocker.”

Why Not?

Washington was drafted here and paid his dues in the organization and deserves a fair shot at being a featured receiver. It’s perplexing as to why he isn’t.

Is it politics — because of his much-publicized pleas for a trade in the offseason? Certainly, we didn’t blame usually-quiet Washington then and it’s even more evident now why he did ask for a trade. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin denied it never even happened, by the way.

Maybe Pittsburgh doesn’t want to risk him getting injured in a contract year (some teams with a shred of decency do that). But it doesn’t explain his lack of usage for the bulk of his career in Pittsburgh. Washington was a second-round draft pick and has never been used as such.

2019 was a career season for Washington with 735 yards on 56 targets. That, of course, was the year Mason Rudolph attempted to fill in for the ailing Roethlisberger. Rudolph and Washington were a dynamic duo at Oklahoma State and the two did their best to recreate it in Pittsburgh (they didn’t even come close, though).

Per Pro Football Reference, in 51 games, Washington started half for an average snap percentage of 53. He’s been targeted a paltry 188 times for 1,452 yards (100 receptions) and nine touchdowns.

Let’s hope the Steelers use the bye week to figure out a way to involve James Washington more. They’d be silly not to.

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