Over the course of the past three games, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has thrown an exceptional 14 touchdown passes. Six apiece came in the last two games for the best two-game scoring stretch by a quarterback in league history.
But perhaps the most significant fact about that stretch is that exactly half of those touchdown passes have gone to the combination of Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant, neither of whom had ever scored a touchdown prior to the seventh game of this season.
Of course, the headliner of the pair is the rookie Bryant, who spent the first six games of this season on the inactive list as he healed from a shoulder injury and slowly, but surely, began digesting the offense in bite-sized bits.
He made his NFL debut in that Week Seven game, which his first catch coming in the form of a 35-yard touchdown strike. He followed that up with two red zone touchdowns inside the five-yard line a week ago, including a beautiful high-point of the ball on a fade route.
And then last night, Roethlisberger found the 6’4” rookie twice more inside the red zone, from 19 and 18 yards out, respectively.
With Bryant’s help, the Steelers have completely turned around a dismal red zone offense that ranked dead last in the league heading into this three-game homestand. In the past three games, however, Pittsburgh has converted 10 of its 12 trips inside the red zone into touchdowns.
Wheaton, meanwhile, has started to come on after fading heavily over a few game stretch in the middle of this season. He has seven catches in the last two games for 118 yards and two touchdowns, including an 18-yarder last week and a 47-yard bomb last night.
Wheaton started this season with only six more receptions than did Bryant as a second-year player who battled injuries and a crowded depth chart to emerge in the starting lineup this year. Through nine games, he has 31 receptions for 395 yards and two touchdowns, and frankly, he’s still got plenty of room to grow.
Lest we forget, the veteran free agent signing, Lance Moore, who has struggled to find playing time, has eight receptions for 118 yards and two touchdowns on the year as well.
But they’re all merely complementary pieces to Antonio Brown, who is either the best or second-best player on the team. He is on pace to break his own franchise records that he set last year, as well as some others that he didn’t get around to a year ago.
And that is the way Todd Haley has been deploying these receivers—as complementary pieces. The Steelers have been rotating and varying their receiver sets with frequency ever since they started getting Bryant involved three games ago, and it’s produced excellent results. It’s a formula that works best for now, even if Haley would eventually like one to establish himself as the true second option, which is currently running back Le’Veon Bell.