If yesterday’s tidbit from ESPN’s Bob Holtzman is to be believed, then the Pittsburgh Steelers are in serious trouble. With DeAngelo Williams’ status already in doubt and Ben Roethlisberger having suffered a separated shoulder, the reporter has said that a team source told him it is not looking good for Antonio Brown to clear the concussion protocol by Sunday in order to play against the Denver Broncos in the Divisional round of the playoffs.
And it should go without saying that losing a player who caught 136 passes for 1834 yards and 10 touchdowns during the regular season does much to potentially suck the life out of any offense, let alone one that could be down their top two running backs and with their franchise quarterback physically compromised.
In order to secure not just one, but a second victory against statistically the best secondary in the league this season, the Steelers will obviously need major contributions from the rest of the wide receiver room, starting, obviously, with Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant, the latter of whom does have two touchdown receptions in two career playoff games.
Bryant caught five passes during the Saturday victory over the Bengals, though just for 29 yards, with his longest pass being the acrobatic 10-yard touchdown pass that he pinned to the back of his thigh while somersaulting out of bounds in an effort to maintain possession. He also had a key 44-yard run on an end around that led to one of Pittsburgh’s four field goals.
As for Wheaton, he caught only two passes for 23 yards, but that included an impressive 24-yard snare with less than a minute to play in the first half, after which he took a vicious shot to the head as a defenseless receiver that drew an unnecessary roughness penalty.
Wheaton’s other reception came on a poorly executed screen, on which he fumbled and lost the football after avoiding the first defender and attempting to use his possession arm to gain his balance in an attempt to advance upfield.
The third-year receiver finished the regular season strong, however, catching 28 passes for close to 500 yards and four touchdowns over the span of the final six games, with at least three catches and 40 yards in each of them, his first true taste of consistency in his career.
Vital to the Steelers’ efforts barring Brown’s inability to play Sunday, of course, will be Darrius Heyward-Bey, whose role has waxed and waned according to Bryant’s ability and availability over the course of the season. During the first five games, he proved to be a key asset to the offense, and has been mixed in more frequently toward the end of the year, though he did not record a catch Saturday on two difficult or uncatchable targets.
Not to be underestimated will be the potential role of Fitzgerald Toussaint out of the backfield, who caught four passes in Cincinnati for 60 yards, showing some nifty moves and sound hands in the process. Jordan Todman, if given the opportunity, will also have to contribute to making up for Brown’s lost 119 yards by being sound in the short-area passing game.