We already knew that the Pittsburgh Steelers offense is still one that relies upon big plays in order to get into scoring position, as well as to actually score from distance. That they have had mixed success when it comes to scoring once they get into the red zone is another matter.
But they actually had more breakaway plays, which they consider to be over 20 yards, from their wide receivers during the 2016 season than any other team, according to the numbers that Pro Football Focus tracked. And it is worth pointing out that this includes only wide receivers, as Ladarius Green had a number of breakaway plays on his own from the tight end position.
The Steelers recorded 34 receptions of more than 20 yards last season among their wide receivers, which, according to their data was two more than the next-closest team, the Colts. Washington was the only other team with at least 30. The Seahawks and Bears placed fourth and fifth with 27 and 26 such plays from their wide receivers, respectively.
These were your best big play receiving corps last year pic.twitter.com/tmNWM3jsTY
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) July 17, 2017
Sammie Coates contributed seven of them by himself over the course of the first five weeks of the season, and even Markus Wheaton had one, as did Demarcus Ayers. It may surprise you to learn that Eli Rogers actually caught 11 passes of 20 or more yards, ranging from 20 yards to 39 yards. Nine of them were greater than 20.
And to the great shock of all, Antonio Brown had 18 receptions on his own that went for more than 20 yards. It is no small figure to note that eight of those receptions were touchdowns. Nobody had more scores on breakaway receptions than did Brown last season. And yet it was his shortest touchdown of the year that was the most impressive, but I digress.
With Brown accounting for nearly half of the Steelers’ figure all by himself, it goes without saying that he is an integral part of the team’s vertical offense. But it is all the more impressive that they were still able to lead the league in this category without the presence of a consistent deep threat.
Coates excelled in serving that role early in the season, as I noted above, coming up with seven receptions that went for at least 22 yards, the majority of them over 40 yards, but he became a virtual non-factor after suffering a hand injury.
They were obviously without the services of Martavis Bryant as well, who was their primary deep threat over the course of the previous two seasons. He proved to be able to create plays both on vertical throws and on short throws with his surprising short-area quickness.
Rogers’ ability to create separation in his routes also allowed him to work in space over the middle to turn in some big plays, showcasing the fact that the Steelers can get to you in chunks in a number of ways. They figure to only add to their repertoire in 2017.