While the Pittsburgh Steelers have already demonstrated a couple of times over the course of the first four weeks that they have the potential to be a very explosive and efficient offense—they have scored over 35 points twice—the reality is that the offensive side of the ball is still a group that is in adjustment mode.
They have been getting important pieces back in drips and drabs, while other pieces have to be shuffled out and replaced temporarily due to injuries. Last week they got Le’Veon Bell back at running back. The week before we saw the return of Markus Wheaton.
And in the midst of these, we have been watching the emergence of second-year wide receiver Sammie Coates, who leads the league in 40-plus-yard receptions, but who is also showing signs of rounding out his game into a more complete wide receiver, though that process is ongoing.
Even in spite of injuries at the wide receiver position, this has presented an interesting situation that offensive coordinator Todd Haley referred to a short time ago, talking about how there is a legitimate competition in-season at the position for playing time and snaps, which may particularly pit Wheaton and Coates against each other.
Something that I have noticed since Wheaton’s return is that Haley and the offense have not really seen fit to get the two young wide receivers on the field together. Both were getting some decent work early on against the Eagles until Wheaton had his drops and was benched for a while, but the two did not play a single snap together until Eli Rogers was injured.
Last week, of the Steelers’ first 29 offensive snaps of the game, only one featured both Wheaton and Coates on the field together. Coates had played 12 snaps, and Wheaton 17. Darrius Heyward-Bey was serving as the third receiver much of that time.
After that came four snaps in which they were on the field together, but it was not until Heyward-Bey left the game with a shoulder injury that they began to regularly work together over the course of the remainder of the game.
That leaves me to wonder how the Steelers will handle the pair today, and whether or not there has been any rhyme or reason behind not using them more as a pair. Heyward-Bey, while a solid contributor, would not seem to be a major hurdle toward playing time.
Wheaton, of course, had his struggles, but two weeks back into the fold, perhaps he will begin to take on a bigger role in the offense this week after seeing only 23 snaps last week, and 29 the week before, that snap count being dictated more by the fact that the Steelers were trailing all game.
So if you are looking for something to monitor on the offensive side of the ball, perhaps it would be beneficial to track how Wheaton and Coates are used on the field today, and how many snaps they might play together.