Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said yesterday that second-year wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders will be out for a couple of weeks now after having minor knee surgery that involved getting his knee scoped. While veteran Hines Ward seems to be on track to play Sunday against the Bengals after suffering a concussion or concussion-like symptoms as they called it Sunday night, it is easy to speculate that Jerricho Cotchery will have an even larger role this week in four wide receiver sets and perhaps even in 2 and 3 wide sets depending on the situation.
The Cotchery signing prior to the season starting was deemed a Ward and Sanders insurance policy and this Sunday we could see the Steelers make a bigger claim on it. Cotchery filled in nicely Sunday against the Ravens after Ward left the game and showed incredible concentration as he snagged 2 of his 3 catches after the ball was tipped. In total Cotchery saw 52 snaps this past week after registering just 33 coming into the game.
While Antonio Brown certainly has exploded this year, he is a much better weapon when used out wide and not required to do some of the chores like blocking in the slot. Cotchery may not be as good as Ward is when it comes to blocking, but he is accomplished in that part of his game just the same. Much like Ward, he is great underneath receiver and very adept at finding the soft areas of the field. You could almost call him “Hines Ward lite” if you will.
The start of the 2011 season got off to a rough start for the ex-Jet as he suffered a hamstring during his first preseason action with the Steelers and it continued to linger well into the season. Up until a few weeks ago his reps with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger have likely been few and far between, but with Ward sitting out against the Patriots and Sanders missing the Sunday game against the Ravens, his work with the first team is almost certainly to have increased.
Like other defenses the Steelers have faced this season, the Bengals will almost certainly focus on taking away Mike Wallace deep while keeping a close check on Brown, both Ward and Cotchery should see some favorable match-ups versus a nickel corner, or even a linebacker as they are likely to keep their safeties deep. With the Bengals defense playing so well against the run this year, the Steelers will likely continue their heavy pass offense, and with Ward coming off multi-dings, the Steelers will be best advised to limit his snaps and get him to the bye week for some much needed rest.
Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert has taken a ton of heat in the first part of the season due to the personnel moves that included the release of tackle Max Starks and the retaining of oft-injured of late defensive end Aaron Smith at his high price tag. Starks was smartly re-signed after week 4 and the move to sign Cotchery prior to the start of the season could end up being another great move down the stretch should he end up playing a key role over the next few weeks like I think he will.