The Pittsburgh Steelers were hoping that the return of wide receiver Markus Wheaton would help round their offense into form a bit more after averaging 31 points per game through the first two weeks. Not only did the offense struggle as a whole, however, but Wheaton also proved to be an unreliable target in his first game back.
Wheaton was targeted five times during the game and managed to come up with just one pass for two yards on a second-and-five play late in the game. At least two of his targets resulted in dropped passes with no defensive influence, while a third incompletion was aided by defensive contact, yet I expect most will mark the pass as a drop all the same, as it was certainly a catchable ball.
The first pass, however, was the worst of all, and it really served to set the tone on what proved to be a terrible, no good, very bad day for not just the offense, but the entire team as a whole. It came on the opening drive and resulted in a hard momentum swing away from Pittsburgh.
The Steelers converted twice on third down prior to getting into the red zone. While they faced a third-and-13 in that situation from the Eagles’ 18-yard line, Ben Roethlisberger did an excellent job of throwing across his body to the left side of the end zone for Wheaton, but the pass went off his chest, falling incomplete.
Pittsburgh looked to jump on the board early with a field goal, but the attempt was blocked, and the Eagles took over at the 26, driving down the field on the ensuing drive for a field goal of their own, which was just the start of the cavalcade of offensive output for Philadelphia against a defense that had allowed just 32 points in two games.
Roethlisberger looked for Wheaton again on the next drive on a second-down play with five yards to go. Wheaton was heading upfield when the pass arrived, just a bit off-target and wide, but very catchable, and he again let the ball drop to the ground. An incomplete pass on the next play forced the Steelers to punt.
The fourth-year wide receiver spent much of the rest of the game on the sidelines after that second drop until injuries forced him back into the lineup. His third target came late in the third quarter on first and 15. Wheaton elevated to try to bring the ball in, but once the defender made contact with him in the air, he lost all hope of trying to reel in the ball.
Roethlisberger fired incomplete deep on the start of the Steelers’ drive midway through the fourth quarter that was out of range, and it was three plays later, with 5:58 remaining in the game, when Wheaton finally got his first catch of the season, for two yards.
Clearly, this was not the return game that Wheaton was looking for, and it certainly seems as though all of the time missed off the practice field over the course of the past several months is affecting him. We will see if the Steelers can get him going to some degree next week, but right now he may struggle to get into the lineup unless Eli Rogers misses time.
Markus Wheaton on one-catch, 2-yard game: “It’s frustrating coming back to the team in this fashion…Started the game off on wrong foot”
— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) September 26, 2016