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Steelers Receiving Targets Concentrated On A Core Four

It’s no surprise that wide receiver Antonio Brown has brought in the lion’s share of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns through the first quarter of the 2014 season.

He is, after all, an All-Pro wide receiver coming off a 110-reception, 1499-yard, eight-touchdown performance a year ago, and he just last Sunday became the first player in NFL history to catch at least five passes for at least 50 yards for 20 consecutive games.

Including two passes not thrown by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger—one of which was thrown by himself—Brown’s season totals account for approximately 30 percent of the team’s completions, 37 percent of total passing yardage, and 83 percent of all touchdown passes.

The team’s total completion percentage when targeting receivers other than Brown is just under 70 percent—which is actually still very good—but Roethlisberger completes nearly three quarters of his passes targeted to his All-Pro target.

So what have the rest of the Steelers’ targets been up to this year behind Brown, then?

It may not be surprising to learn that the bulk of activity has been concentrated on three other targets—running back Le’Veon Bell, tight end Heath Miller, and fellow starting wide receiver Markus Wheaton. Together, they make up 79 receptions for 626 yards and one touchdown.

After his career-high 10-reception game last week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Miller comes in second on the team with 21 receptions, behind Brown’s 29. He also has the team’s lone touchdown pass not thrown to Brown, while catching just under 78 percent of his targets for 197 yards.

Bell, meanwhile, is on pace to shatter the team record for receptions by a running back in a season. He already has 19 receptions for 192 yards and leads all players on the team with double-digit targets with a completion percentage of nearly 83.

Wheaton, in his first season as a starter, has been sneakily productive, as he is not far behind a pace that would lead him to a 1000-yard season. His 19 receptions have produced 237 yards thus far, second-most behind Brown’s 427, and he had one touchdown taken away already this year. More to the point, he is catching over 73 percent of his targets as well.

Beyond those four players, the Steelers have accumulated only 10 receptions for 97 yards, and that includes a 25-yard reception by Antwon Blake on a fake punt.

Seven of those receptions have gone to Justin Brown for 59 yards on his 199 snaps this season. Lance Moore, the veteran free agent signing who missed the first two games, has caught one pass on one target for 12 yards on his 15 or so snaps.

Rookie Dri Archer has one reception, which went for one yard. Will Johnson and LeGarrette Blount have yet to catch a pass—at least one that isn’t negated by penalty. Matt Spaeth has yet to be targeted once this season.

To be quite honest, I don’t know that I see this distribution expanding much over the course of the season. Roethlisberger has arguably his most productive pairing of receivers in his career, in terms of receptions per route. Add in a running back that is also a deadly weapon in the passing game, and the security blanket that is Miller at tight end, and there’s not much reason to expand much further beyond those targets.

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