Remember way back in the beginning of the season when everything looked rosy on the offensive side of the ball for the Pittsburgh Steelers? Other than an odd blip against the Eagles on the road, the offense was just crushing the scoreboard, scoring at least 30 points in three of their first five games. Sunday was the first game they scored at least 30 during their six-game win streak, by the way.
By near-season’s end, the Steelers are just 12 in the league in averaging 24.8 points per game, after averaging almost 28 in the first five games.
And the most obvious difference between the first five games and the rest of the season is the fact that they basically have not had wide receiver Sammie Coates since then. The second-year wide receiver was quickly becoming an integral part of the offense right up through that fifth game, when he suffered a “busted hand” that has basically sabotaged his season.
It’s easy to do the ‘what if’ exercise of what could have been. Perhaps by the time the playoff starts Coates will be at least somewhere close to what he was doing at the start of the year. But they clearly have been missing the dimension that he brought to the offense, which is probably partly why they have turned to focusing on the ground game.
Through the first five games of the season, Coates caught 19 passes for 421 yards and two touchdowns. He was coming off the best game of his career in which he caught two touchdowns—one for 72 yards and 139 total yards on six receptions. But he broke two fingers on his hand, and he hasn’t been the same since.
Nearly matching Antonio Brown’s production, Coates and the veteran became just the second pair of wide receivers in team history to have at least 400 receiving yards over the course of the Steelers’ first five games. John Stallworth and Louis Lipps also managed to do so back in 1984.
The mind tends to wander and think of what could have been. Had Coates kept up that pace, even disregarding the fact that he was on an upward trajectory at the time of his injury, he would have caught 61 passes for 1347 yards and six to seven touchdowns in 2016. Do you think the offense could have used some of that production somewhere down the road?
Incredibly, nobody in the NFL has more than six catches of 40 yards or more this year, and Coates did all of that in his first five games. There are five players who have caught up with his number, but none have passed it with one game left to play.
You can certainly argue that Coates’ absence has also have an adverse effect on Brown’s productivity this year, which has been a ‘down’ year for him, though his numbers are still very impressive. But there is no doubt that the offense has been missing the dimension that he brought, and that early-season statistic, I think, helps illustrate that, looking back.