2016 South Side Questions: How Does Offense Fill Slot If Rogers Misses Time?

The regular season is here, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are taking their practices at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, formerly known and still referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility of Heinz Field. While the real work is now upon us, there is plenty left to be done.

And there are plenty of questions left unanswered as well. The offseason is just really the beginning phase of the answer-seeking process, which is lasts all the way through the Super Bowl for teams fortunate enough to reach that far.

You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the regular season and beyond looking for the answers as we look to evaluate the makeup of the Steelers as they wade through a regular season in which they are, at least supposed to be, among the favorites to win the Super Bowl.

Question: What should the Steelers do moving forward if slot receiver Eli Rogers is out for an extended period of time?

I first want to start out by pointing out that the fact that this is a question being asked right now shows how far second-year wide receiver Rogers has come over the course of the past few months, in which he has seemed to already establish himself as the team’s slot receiver, whereat his absence will cause a change in the way the Steelers conduct their offense.

Rogers may have had only two receptions during Sunday’s game against the Eagles—though one was for 32 yards—but through three games, he has been the team’s primary third receiver, and has been almost exclusively the player that they opt to line up in the slot in such situations.

On Sunday, however, he left the game in the middle of the third quarter after suffering a toe injury, and, at least for the moment, it is unclear how much time, if any, he might miss. But it is a question that warrants asking, especially if you take into consideration the fact that he has already dealt with foot issues in his career.

When he did leave, Markus Wheaton, who had been spending a lot of time on the sideline after dealing with drops, seemed to be used predominantly in Rogers’ role throughout the rest of the game, but he was not the only player that the Steelers mixed and matched in the slot. Antonio Brown also saw his time there, though that is not out of the ordinary, but so did Darrius Heyward-Bey.

Surprisingly, the Steelers even ran a lot of 01 personnel packages thereafter with four wide receivers on the field, though by that point they were already trailing by multiple possession.

There was at least a snap or two upon initial review in which Sammie Coates also saw time in the slot, including on the Steelers’ final sack, but the bulk of those slot snaps seemed to go to Wheaton and Heyward-Bey—often both when they used four wide receivers.

It wasn’t the plan for Wheaton to be back in the slot, but in-game circumstances forced their hand. With a week to prepare in case Rogers must miss time, I would expect that the Steelers offense would have the opportunity to explore their options more clearly.

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