After getting off to a promising start in his career as a starting wide receiver in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2014 season opener, Markus Wheaton spent much of the rest of the year struggling to find consistency—consistency in his performance, consistency in his snap count, consistency in his relationship with his quarterback.
His six receptions and 97 yards in that opening game remained career-highs for the second-year receiver. In fact, statistically, his next-best game may have been the Wildcard round loss to the Baltimore Ravens, in which he snagged five passes for 66 yards, which happens to be an identical stat line from the game in Atlanta as well.
Of course, Wheaton’s debut season as a starter didn’t necessarily go as planned. After the first six games of the season, the Steelers activated rookie Martavis Bryant, and the second-year wideout’s playing time was gradually curtailed, to the point that in some late games in the season, Bryant received more playing time.
While not the breakout success some may have predicted, however, Wheaton showed promise, catching 53 passes for 644 yards and two touchdowns in the regular season, and finishing off the year with a fine performance in the playoffs, even if it was in a losing effort.
With the Steelers receiving the ball to start the game, they quickly found themselves in a third and four situation. They bunched two receivers, including Wheaton, behind Heath Miller on the left side close to the line, with Antonio Brown alone on the opposite side, with the other receiver motioning right prior to the snap.
At the snap, Wheaton came around behind the line, playing through the contact of Elvis Dumervil. As Dumervil released to go after the quarterback, Wheaton made himself available and caught the pass, taking it 11 yards for the first down. This is a play that he has executed before, but it was good to see him play through the contact.
A few plays later, Roethlisberger looked for Wheaton down the field as the play broke down, but his pass was too hot for the receiver to run under. Wheaton fought his way to the sideline and then turned upfield when Roethlisberger released the ball, but there was too much on the pass.
Late in the first half, with the Steelers trying to score, Wheaton played the lone receiver wide to the left, crossing the middle of the field for an easy pitch and catch, but his alluding Lardarius Webb to reach the sticks was a nice touch at the end of the play.
Late, midway through the fourth quarter, facing a third and 12, the Steelers got a free play on an offsides call, and Wheaton was able to break free in the slot to complete the pass in front of the slot corner from 15 yards. He took a big shot late in the game after another reception that he bounced up from, displaying his toughness.