Right now, he’s not a top five player on this Pittsburgh Steelers’ team. Or ten. Or fifteen. But if they want to end the year with a Lombardi, Sammie Coates is the key.
Don’t conflate what I’m saying. The Steelers can still have measures of success without him. They can still win the AFC North. They can win a playoff game. They can be a threat.
But a Lombardi? Probably not.
Over the last month, at his best, Coates has been invisible. At his worst, actively harmful. All for an understandable reason, still recovering from two broken fingers, but still, not helpful to the team.
This ugly stretch makes it easy to forget just how well he played at the beginning of the season. His big-play ability has always been evident and he even started to get a handle on the nuances of the position, something I talked about after the Kansas City Chiefs’ game.
He isn’t trying to capture just potential. It’s recapturing an output he’s shown before for yes, only a brief moment, but he’s not chasing glowing training camp reports. That makes me more hopeful.
Once Coates’ got hurt and tanked, the Steelers’ offense followed. It’s gotten back on track, to a degree, but those were contests over the Cleveland Browns and Indianapolis Colts. The playoffs will predictably pose a much tougher challenge.
The blueprint of this team is to have their success run through their offense. The defense is not what they lean on. It’s their understudy, their backup, the Robin to the offense’s Batman. Throughout the year, that’s been maintained. The offense hasn’t always been dominant but it’s certainly capable, something the defense simply can’t do. And the biggest issue with the offense right now, I think we’d universally agree, is the lack of a #2 receiver.
It was supposed to be Martavis Bryant. Then Markus Wheaton. Then Sammie Coates.
Right now, it’s Le’Veon Bell. As good as he is, it’s an obvious problem, something unanticipated, and you don’t need me to drone on and on about it.
The only player on the roster who has a chance to reclaim that role is Coates. Not Darrius Heyward-Bey. He’s a valuable player, but who knows when he’ll be healthy and won’t emerge as anything more as a role player. Wheaton’s season ended before it ever really got started. Cobi Hamilton? God help us.
It probably won’t even be Ladarius Green. He can be an asset, he already showed that Thursday night, but it’s rare for a tight end to transform an offense to the level the Steelers would need. Only a couple can. Rob Gronkowski, Jordan Reed, Greg Olsen. Green won’t become that this year, even assuming he will get better with more reps. He’s a compliment, not a substitute for a true #2.
The role will go to Coates or no one. He is the vertical perimeter threat that really makes this offense go. The guy who literally averages over 20 yards a catch. Even over the past month, marred with his struggles, he’s shown the isolated traits that make him a vertical threat. His release off the line. The ability to stack cornerbacks, get on top of them, and force them to play through you.
That’s how he’s made his name since he was probably playing on the JV team. Run straight. Run fast. Make big plays. It’s in his nature. That’s who he is. Maybe all he’ll be. Right now, good enough for me.
Against good defenses like the Steelers would face on a Super Bowl run, and probably teams on the road, you’re not going to be able to consistently churn out ten play drives. Being able to win with that two play, 50 yard bomb, is the extra layer to turn a good offense into a Super Bowl winning one.
If I had to guess, Ben Roethlisberger realizes it too. He’s the one who has fought for him, convinced the coaching staff not to bench him, and basically been his Mickey from Rocky; the guy in his corner, giving him some tough love, pushing him to tap into that potential.
There’s no telling if Coates becomes that guy. It’s a coinflip. He needs to get healed up, which is still going to take time, and then regain the confidence and trust in himself to go make the plays he was earlier in the season. They’re uncontrollable variables.
Without him, this team can be good. Competitive. A threat. But only with him can they be a complete, Super Bowl champion.