When the Pittsburgh Steelers’ ‘first-team’ offense took the field for the first time this year, it may have been taking as a troubling sign for Sammie Coates, the second-year wide receiver who was drafted in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft, and played very sparsely his rookie season.
The first-team unit played a total of 19 snaps, 17 of which were run out of the 11 personnel package, which includes three wide receivers. On all 17 occasions, the three wide receivers on the field were Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, and second-year former undrafted free agent Eli Rogers, who was on injured reserve last year.
Even when Brown checked out of the game thereafter, he was replaced instead by Darrius Heyward-Bey. Coates did not check into the game until late in the first half, on the Steelers’ final full drive excluding a one-play drive that consisted of just a kneel down to end the half.
Rogers stayed in working in the slot alongside Heyward-Bey and now Coates, though the offensive focus turned to the running back, both taking to the ground and through the air. In fact, the former third-round draft pick got very little usage out of this game, it must be said.
But all three of his targets he was able to make count, as they all resulted in positive play for the offense. The first of his targets came at the tail end of the first drive in which he entered the game, and it proved to be a long one, consisting of 11 plays. The Steelers reached goal-to-go when Landry Jones targeted and found Coates at the back of the end zone for eight yards and a touchdown.
It wasn’t long until he made his second-half splash either. After a quick first drive, with Jones in the game, the fourth-year quarterback looked Coates’ way on a deep throw down the right side of the field. He caught the ball more than 30 yards down the field and ran past trailing defenders for another 27 yards for a total of a 58-yard play.
Still in the game fairly early in the fourth quarter, Jones looked to repeat his success on a deep shot to Coates down the right sideline while he was under pressure in the pocket. This time, the trailing defensive back elected to interfere with the receiver rather than risk allowing a catch, which resulted in a pass interference penalty worth 19 yards.
Those were the only three targets accumulated by Coates in about 40 snaps of play, but, of course, due to a lot of second- and third-string special teams play, a lot of passes in such situations end up going to the running backs and tight ends. 19 of the team’s 31 completed passes went to backs and tight ends.
It may have been a bit of a blow to come into the game so late, but Coates delivered when called upon in his few opportunities. He certainly still has some growing to do, but you know he is going to get his opportunities as a big-play threat in this offense.