To put it plainly, the Pittsburgh Steelers offense quite simply has not been the same since it lost second-year wide receiver Sammie Coates as a core weekly contributor to their efforts. In spite of the fact that he logged a heavy number of snaps and even saw five targets on Sunday—one of which was a drop in the end zone on a deep throw—I still can’t help but feel that they have not taken the right strategy in getting him reintegrated into the offense.
In the two games prior to his injury—and that includes the game in which he was injured, to be clear—the former third-round draft pick caught a total of 12 passes for 218 yards and two touchdowns. In the three games that have followed—in spite of games in which he had few snaps—he has caught just one pass for four yards.
He had receptions of 72 and 47 yards in those two games leading up to suffering a fractured finger, but his production was becoming more varied and nuanced as he was becoming an increasing integral component of the Steelers’ offensive success.
Against the Chiefs, he caught two passes just outside or within the red zone that set up a touchdown pass on the following play. He also came up with a key 18-yard reception on a third-down play with five yards needed on the third play of a drive that eventually ended in a touchdown. That reception came on a short throw.
Against the Jets, in the game in which he was injured, he has issues with drops, to be sure, but he also came up with a 19-yard reception, again on a short pass, from New York’s 22-yard line that set up another touchdown.
He converted a third-and-three play with a 22-yard reception on a deep target that also drew a defensive pass interference penalty. Later, he has receptions of eight and 13 yards on second-down plays on a drive that he ended with a five-yard touchdown reception.
Between those two games, Coates saw nearly 20 total targets in the passing game, and they came from a healthy mix of short, intermediate, and deep targets. Since then, the bulk of his targets have been down the field, and that was particularly the case in the last game, in which all five of his targets were deep down the field.
That is not the strategy to re-integrate a wide receiver into the offense, especially a young wide receiver whose skills and confidence are still in a developmental period. The Steelers need to give Coates high-percentage throws to help him re-establish an offensive identity and rhythm.
If not simply for the fact that success breeds confidence, and failure the opposite—he has caught one of 11 targets in his past three games—defenses are going to focus on taking away the deep route if that is all that Pittsburgh is going to ask him to do. Get him involved underneath to open things up underneath and rebuild his confidence in his ability to come down with those passes.