While the Pittsburgh Steelers may have nominally moved wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey into the starting lineup during the bye week, the Steelers opened yesterday’s game with three tight ends on the field, with Antonio Brown as the line wide receiver, so, technically, he did not start. And now it’s not clear if he will ever get that opportunity to start for the Steelers after he suffered what Head Coach Mike Tomlin described as a mid-foot injury in his post-game press conference with reporters.
To be fair, when the Steelers moved to a 12 look on their second play, with two tight ends and two wide receivers on the field, it was Brown with Heyward-Bey out there, so, at least in the early stages of the game, he was working at the team’s number two wide receiver.
Yet he did go without a reception during the game on two targets, though both of them were deep targets, and neither of them were all that catchable. The first one, in fact, was nearly intercepted by the safety coming over for it on a play on which Ben Roethlisberger was under pressure, taking a hit from the outside linebacker.
Later in the game, but still early, a few minutes into the second quarter, Roethlisberger looked down the field again for his tall, speedy target, getting the ball well down the field. In fact, he even managed to overthrow Heyward-Bey a bit, but the veteran wide receiver showed off his exceptional speed simply to even be able to catch up to the ball and get a futile outstretched hand on it.
Unfortunately, this was the play on which he suffered the foot injury that potentially puts the rest of his season in jeopardy, as foot injuries are notoriously fickle, and especially troublesome for a position such as wide receiver—and it is even worse for a player who relies so heavily on his ability to take the top off of a defense.
To be clear, I don’t know what this injury means for Heyward-Bey and the Steelers as far as the rest of the season goes. The team probably doesn’t really know exactly what happened to him just yet, and that evaluation will come over the course of the week. Injury news may not even be overly forthcoming during Tomlin’s press conference in the middle of the week.
I do know that there is a pattern in Heyward-Bey’s targets, however, as both of the plays came on third down—though one was of manageable distance, the other a desperation heave needing 18 yards. Roethlisberger connected with Heyward-Bey on a few third-down targets last season for big plays. Earlier this year, his 31-yard touchdown came on third and nine.
The deep ball has been out of the Steelers’ arsenal more or less for the past several weeks, and that is due in no small part to injuries for their primary deep targets. Heyward-Bey became one of those primary deep targets, and his injury further complicates the issues facing the deep passing game.