The Pittsburgh Steelers left Sunday’s game with two touchdowns scored on offense on two trips inside the red zone, and third-year tight end Jesse James was responsible for producing both of them. They were the fifth and sixth touchdowns of his career, but it was the first time in that span in which he recorded more than one in a game.
So, does that mean anything, at least as it pertains to predicting future trends? No. not yet, anyway. But it is something to bear in mind heading into Sunday. How will the Steelers continue to use James, especially when they are near the goal line? Is he going to be a frequent target?
The Penn State product had a challenging summer, during which the entire tight end group performed at such a disappointing level that the front office and coaching staff felt compelled to make a trade for an additional tight end who should at least theoretically be able to challenge James for his starting job, which he was given by default in the first place.
A former fifth-round draft pick, he was not even active for the first half of his rookie season, but eventually earned some work as a third tight end and played bigger roles in games in which there were injuries. Last year, however, due to injuries, he essentially became their starting tight end due to a lack of alternatives, and he performed as somebody in that circumstance might be expected to.
This year, the job is supposed to be his for the taking. After nearing seeing it slip away courtesy of the newcomer, Vance McDonald, he is said to have ‘stepped’ up with his two-touchdown performance. On one later reception, he even caused a defender to miss a tackle attempt, which I believe he had never done (on purpose) before.
All told, he came away with six receptions for 41 yards on eight targets. The two incomplete passes included one glorified throwaway out of the back of the end zone and a pass that was defensed by the safety in coverage in front of James.
He averaged 4.3 yards after the catch per reception, though if you exclude his two touchdowns, neither of which earned him any yards after the catch because they were thrown at or across the goal line, he actually averaged 6.5 yards after the catch per reception on which they were available.
Of course, one of those included a 19-yard reception on which he was inexplicably left wide open on what was presumably a blown coverage, and that accounted for 10 of his 26 total yards after the catch, though he did, as I said, make a defender miss on another catch.
What will the second game of the season have in store for James? He was the team’s second-most-targeted player on the field this week. Will we continue to see that on Sunday?