Even though Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Markus Wheaton has only played three years in the league the former third round draft pick out of Oregon State already knows that his quarterback Ben Roethlisberger loves to do certain things on particular down and distances. During a recent interview with John Clayton of ESPN, Wheaton revealed one of things and it shouldn’t come as surprise if you’ve been following the team closely over the years.
“When I got in, it’s always been 3rd and 2 throw the ball deep,” said Wheaton, who is entering the final year of rookie contract this season. “Ben loves the deep ball obviously on 3rd and short when the defense is least expecting [it]. I’m sure that they expect it from us now, but it’s something that we’ve continually connected on, and that’s been a a huge part of our game. 3rd and 2, picking up a chunk is kind of demeaning for the defense. It hurts the defense when you go deep on 3rd and 2, so it’s been a big part of our game and I know Ben loves it.”
The stats certainly back up Wheaton’s comments. During the last three seasons, no quarterback in the league has thrown deep down the field more than Roethlisberger as he has attempted a total of 20 passes of more than 15 yards when faced with 3rd downs of 3 yards or less. Roethlisberger connected on 11 of those 20 pass attempts for a total of 453 yards and 2 touchdowns.
With Steelers wide receiver Martavis Bryant suspended for the 2016 season it will be up to Wheaton, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Sammie Coates to help replace his deep-threat play making ability and especially when it comes to those 3rd and short deep shots that Roethlisberger likes to take during games. Wheaton, by the way, was Roethlisberger’s intended target on 4 of those 20 deep 3rd and short passes over the course of the last three seasons and he caught 2 of them.
“I think we connect a lot down the field, which makes it easy on everybody offensively,” Wheaton told Clayton. “When we can drop back and throw a deep ball and you can pick up chunks, I think us picking up chunks offensively has been the best thing we’ve had going.”