With the Pittsburgh Steelers coming off their bye week and little to talk about in the interim outside of returning players, now would be as good a time as any to take a look back on what’s transpired this season and give out some mid-year player evaluations.
The team as a whole has suffered its ups and downs throughout the season, particularly the bi-polar offense that prefers the comforts of home. Even with all the road struggles, however, the Steelers are ranked seventh in the league in scoring, averaging 26.2 points per game.
On the flip side, the defense has struggled not only with youth and inexperience but also with injuries, en route to posting the 19th-best defense in points allowed, giving up 23.9 points per game, with hopes to start changing that down the home stretch.
Player: Markus Wheaton, WR
When the Steelers elected to enter the 2014 season with Wheaton in the starting lineup, there were certainly many questions surrounding the young wide receiver and what he would be able to contribute.
He spent most of his rookie season buried on the wide receiver depth chart whenever he wasn’t dealing with a pair of finger injuries that kept him out of several games. He was limited to just six receptions for 64 yards in 12 games.
He bettered that in the season opener this year, catching six passes for 97 yards, averaging 16.2 yards per reception. He had some key catches in that game, including two receptions on the final drive that enabled the Steelers to kick the game-winning field goal.
He hasn’t been able to match that performance since, however. He has only caught five passes in two other games since then, and has topped out at 62 yards. On the year, he now has 36 receptions for 442 yards, averaging 12.3 yards per.
He caught his first career touchdown pass in Week Eight, an 18-yard pass in the red zone, and followed it up by hauling in a long bomb from Ben Roethlisberger the following week for a career-long 47-yard touchdown pass.
Wheaton’s playing time has taken a dip over the course of the past five games since the Steelers have begun integrating rookie wide receiver Martavis Bryant into the offense. He began the season playing nearly every snap, but that has decreased to between two third and three quarters of the offensive snaps.
Wheaton experienced a major dip in his production in the middle of the season during a period in which he and Roethlisberger struggled to get on the same page. The two rarely seemed to know what the other was thinking, and it resulted in a startling number of incompletions.
The accuracy has improved somewhat since then, and the pair of touchdowns seemed to give the young receiver’s confidence a boost, but I believe it’s safe to say that Wheaton is still not fully tuned into Roethlisberger and this offense. After catching 19 of his first 25 targets, he has only caught 15 of his last 36.