Second-year wide receiver Markus Wheaton made his first appearance as a starter for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the team’s season-opening victory over the Cleveland Browns, and as we detailed yesterday, he had a lot to do with securing that victory, even if he didn’t put any of those points up himself.
With the Steelers facing a third and seven on an early drive, and the game still tied at just three points apiece, Wheaton attacked the Browns’ first-round rookie cornerback, Justin Gilbert, on a go route, and Ben Roethlisberger was able to find him down the right sideline. The pair hooked up for a 40-yard reception thanks to the receiver’s excellent awareness and footwork to pull in the pass inbounds and drag his feet.
On second and eight in the red zone, Roethlisberger found Wheaton again for seven yards. On third and one from the seven-yard line, Wheaton and Justin Brown were out in front blocking for running back LeGarrette Blount. The receivers’ efforts against the Browns’ secondary enabled Blount to get into the end zone nearly untouched, with Wheaton sealing off safety Donte Whitner and allowing the back to run inside him.
Wheaton played the role of blocker once again midway through the second quarter, this time for Le’Veon Bell’s 38-yard touchdown run. Playing on the outside on the left side, Wheaton was able to get into Tashaun Gipson’s pads, actually driving him back into Gilbert, essentially blocking two defenders on the play. Bell was able to cut back upfield as a result and took the right sideline into the end zone.
Toward the end of the first half, facing a 2nd and 10 at their own 41, Wheaton had to come back a bit to catch a pass. Instead of running out of bounds, he kept fighting until he got the first down, knowing that the Steelers still had two timeouts to use. Although Roethlisberger chose to clock it rather than use a timeout, the drive eventually led to a field goal.
Where Wheaton really stepped up, however, was late in the game, with under 30 seconds to play. On second and eight, he did his quarterback a favor by hauling in this first pass that seemed to be thrown a bit wide, based on where he stopped his route.
On the following play, Roethlisberger found the second-year receiver again, this time down the middle of the field, for a 20-yard gain. The catch put the Steelers in field goal range and led directly to the team’s victory.