Head coach Mike Tomlin spoke to the Pittsburgh media on Wednesday before the team headed into their bye week. After addressing injury updates and the quarterback situation, Coach Tomlin then took several questions. Tomlin was asked how important it is for the Steelers to establish a number two receiver to complement JuJu Smith-Schuster.
“It’s important for those guys to make plays when called upon,” Tomlin answered. “Who you designate as number two, number three, number four, all of those guys are ones in their mind. They need to be. This is professional football. There’s a fine line between being a Pro Bowler and the special teamer. From a mentality standpoint, I want all those guys to be ready when called upon. Really, that’s what’s important. How you choose to identify them is less important.”
Although it can be tied to the unfortunate but necessary switching when it comes to the quarterback position, the Steelers receiving numbers for 2019 are a fraction of what they were last season. JuJu Smith-Schuster currently leads the Steelers in receiving with 340 yards which puts him on pace for just over 900 yards on the season. In 2018, Smith-Schuster was leading the team in receiving through six games with 561 yards.
Another troubling statistic compared to last season is the player who is second on the team in receiving yards: James Conner. Through six games, Conner has almost identical receiving yards to last season with just 26 more at this point last season. But in 2018 he ranked fifth on the Steelers through the team’s first six games as compared to second in 2019.
With Conner being the second biggest receiving threat so far for the Steelers in 2019, many are looking for someone else to step up to complement Smith-Schuster down the stretch. Coach Tomlin was asked if JuJu and Diontae Johnson could be the Steelers’ next generation of a solid wide receiver tandem.
“They need to be,” Tomlin replied. “And others. We don’t care where the plays come to be quite honest with you. Again, we’re not in style-point mode. We’re not even in personality mode. We just need to do what’s required to move the chains, to ring up the scoreboard, to score one more point than our opponent in an effort to win football games.”
When the Steelers come off of their bye after Week 7 of the NFL season, they will be looking to find a stable identity for 2019. Mason Rudolph will be in line to start his fourth game at quarterback after missing Week 6 with a concussion. As the young QB gains more experience, the desired outcome is more of a connection with his young wide receivers.
While better receiving numbers is a desirable statistic, it all comes secondary to putting tallies in the win column. Yes, a greater output from the Steelers receiving corps can help lead to more victories. Whether it’s through the air, on the ground, or with a stifling defense, ultimately the Steelers need to start stacking wins any way they can get them.