Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Markus Wheaton has been at his most productive since the bye week in comparison to the rest of his career. In each game, he has caught at least three passes for at least 50 yards, and has scored a touchdown in three of the four games.
He was similarly productive against the Broncos on Sunday, as he was the recipient of one of Ben Roethlisberger’s three touchdown passes. He now has four touchdowns on the season after having just two last year, and none as a rookie.
Early in the game, the Steelers quickly found themselves on a third-and-four situation. Roethlisberger went to Wheaton for the conversion. Lined bunched behind Antonio Brown on the left, the third-year receiver did an excellent job of carrying his route to the stem before breaking sharply to the sideline to create separation. Not only did he convert the first down, he was able to shake the tackle attempt to pick up an extra six yards after the catch, which was an area of concern for him last year.
Later in the quarter, he picked up eight yards on a first-down throw, using pre-snap motion to draw off the slot cornerback. Motioning back to the left of the line before the snap, he broke sharply right on a drag route, able to outrace the inside linebacker to win the corner and set up a second and two.
At the close of that same drive, however, Roethlisberger threw his first interception of the game targeting Wheaton. The pass was too high and overshot the target due to being under pressure, but the receiver did a phenomenal jog of hustling to make the tackle following the turnover, which is a little detail that too many players leave out of their skill set.
Midway through the second quarter, Roethlisberger was looking for Wheaton in the shallow corner of the end zone on a similar play that produced a touchdown earlier this month, with the receiver isolated outside the numbers on the right side. This time, the cornerback did an excellent job of getting in front of the route, but the pass was thrown inside instead, and leads me to believe that is where it was meant to be thrown.
Late in the first half, as the Steelers looked to climb back into the game, Wheaton came up with a significant 14-yard grab in the middle of the field, extending vertically in order to snare the high pass, which but the team into field goal range. They only gained five more yards before kicking three plays later.
Wheaton capped off his day by starting off the fourth quarter with the game-tying touchdown reception. This time, he was lined up in the slot, taking a short pass and spinning out of the initial tackle attempt, jogging the last five yards into the end zone.
The more Wheaton gets on tape heading into the playoffs, the better, because it will only make defenses pay more attention to him. The Steelers are fortunate to have three talented wide receivers, and you can only pay so much attention to each.