As the Pittsburgh Steelers head into the 2015 season, it would seem to me that they are better equipped on the offensive side of the ball than they have been some time when it comes to having the ability to create matchup problems for the defense, which is something that offensive coordinator Todd Haley has shown greater interest in than his predecessor.
An example of this came last season, following the breakout debut game for wide receiver Martavis Bryant. After that contest, Haley was much less universal in terms of how he used his wide receivers, using a lot of mixing and matching and varying playing time.
Bu this was true even before then. Back when Justin Brown was actually still in favor, Haley liked to use his 6’2” frame all over the field: outside the numbers, tight against the line, in the slot, going in motion.
This year, the Steelers are set to have an intriguing assortment of body types within their wide receiver group, for which purposes I am including Dri Archer in this discussion. With the 5’8” Archer, 5’10” Antonio Brown, and 5’11” Markus Wheaton, they have a variety of options when it comes to the slight, elusive skill set (more on that on the Wheaton front in a bit).
This year, they also figure to match that with size, as they are likely to carry three wide receivers who come in at 6’1” or above, led by the 6’4” Bryant. 6’1” rookie Sammie Coates and veteran 6’2” receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey are the most likely candidates to round out the wide receiver group on the 53-man roster this year.
Even if Heyward-Bey somehow fails to make the roster, the vast majority of the other candidates on the 90-man roster fall within the 6’2”-6’4” range.
With this variety of heights and strengths, Haley can get creative on a drive-to-drive, or even play-to-play basis to force defenses to counter with the personnel appropriate for what they have to line up against.
There has recently been some discussion about Wheaton and his ability to cause havoc after the catch, and his 3.1 YAC figure certainly does him no favors. However, I would suggest that his low YAC number is more a byproduct of what happens before the catch.
Oftentimes last season, I’ve found that a good percentage of Wheaton’s targets came outside the numbers. As we looked at recently, his reception chart shows that to be the case. This means that a good chunk of his receptions came toward the sidelines, where he was led out of bounds with minimal YAC opportunity.
The fact that Wheaton and Ben Roethlisberger had a period of struggles getting on the same page also resulted in a number of instances in which he was in a position where he had to leave his feet or lunge to secure a pass, preventing an opportunity to run with the ball after the fact.
In other words, I don’t believe what needs working necessarily is what he is able to do with the ball in his hands. Rather, he needs to get to the ball in a way that sets him up to be productive after the catch in the first place. There’s more wiggle in his game than the YAC number suggests.