For Markus Wheaton, there was no hiding from the fact of his struggles in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ last game against the Cleveland Browns. That is because quarterback Ben Roethlisberger refused to shy away from him, targeting him a career-high 11 times, finishing up with only four catches for 33 yards.
The Roethlisberger-to-Wheaton ‘connection’ failed to deliver on three consecutive third down plays in the first half of that game. The two were also out of sync on two plays in the red zone in the fourth quarter, resulting in a turnover on downs.
It doesn’t even need to be said that this offense needs more from that from Wheaton, though it hasn’t all been on him. Roethlisberger was the first to admit that he missed some of his throws, and that the two need to be of like mind.
The first of those failures to communicate may have been the biggest. It came early in the second quarter, with the Steelers leading 3-0 and inside the red zone, facing a third and three situation.
Wheaton lined up in the slot on the left side in a three-receiver set. He began to make his turn for the ball when he hit the 10-yard line, getting his head turned at the eight, but by then, the ball had already been delivered, and he could only take a stab at it.
The Browns didn’t take long to turn that misfortune into a touchdown, and just three minutes later, the Steelers once again found themselves in a third down situation. Once again, Roethlisberger looked Wheaton’s way, and once again, it fell incomplete.
The Steelers went five wide for the play, with Wheaton far left on the strong side of the formation. He ran 10 yards down the field before stopping short and turning, but the cornerback stayed right with him and was there to break up the pass as it was delivered. It didn’t help that Roethlisberger stared him down the entire play.
Late in the first half, Wheaton ran right up the middle of the field before stopping and turning in front of the defensive back. Wheaton broke play right, while Roethlisberger expected him to break the opposite direction. You can guess what happened, or you can just see it for yourself in the capture above.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Roethlisberger missed a wide open Wheaton in the back of the end zone when he put a bit too much zip on his ball, not allowing his receiver to run underneath it, on second and goal.
Two plays later, on fourth and goal, Roethlisberger went back to Wheaton, and you see what happened above. The quarterback was clearly expecting something very different. He was set to release the ball with Wheaton on the three-yard line, but he didn’t turn around until he hit the goal line—and he turned the opposite direction. The ball sailed well to the right.