I’m not sure that anybody was expecting to see second-year wide receiver Sammie Coates find as much success as he had through the first five games of the year, after he hardly played at all during his rookie season, limited to just one catch in the regular season, and three receptions all told including the playoffs, in limited playing time.
Through five games, however, Coates was able to rack up 19 receptions—including 12 over the span of his last two games leading into last week—for 421 yards and two touchdowns, averaging a league-best 22.2 yards per reception. His yardage total was in the top 10 in the league at that time.
But he came out of last week’s game with the same stat line that he had going into it—19 receptions for 421 yards and two touchdowns—because he was unable to come up with a single reception on the afternoon, though he was targeted four times, even if none of them were actually dropped passes—of which he had three the week before. One of those four passes was an interception.
Why the start contrast between the first five weeks and last week? That is actually an easy question to answer.
As readers of this site are already aware, Coates suffered a laceration late in the second quarter on his hand during the Week Five game in which he put up career numbers. He received stitches at halftime and his hand was numbed for the second half, which no doubt contributed to the two passes he could have had to start the third quarter. But he did catch his final four targets, including another touchdown.
Why was last week different if he was able to catch four passes in the same game in which he cut his hand? Well, for one thing, his hand was numb, so it wasn’t hurting him every time a ball would hit his hand. But more importantly, he had to deal with swelling in his hand over the course of the week. Perhaps he is still dealing with some swelling.
But for the most part, right now it is mostly a matter of pain management for him, and that is going to play an important role in whether or not he can get back on track and continue where he left off on his strong start to the season.
Due to the limitations presented by his hand, it should be pointed out that Coates only even managed to play roughly a dozen or so snaps last week, and a lot of them came after Roethlisberger was already injured and his accuracy was impaired as a result of that.
The biggest change in terms of the pain management factor from last week to this week might simply be his ability to log a higher number of snaps than he was able to manage a week ago. A couple of early targets might be in order to ease him back into being a productive contributor.