It had been over 11 months prior to tonight since Eli Rogers last took the field for the Pittsburgh Steelers, having suffered a torn ACL in the team’s postseason loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in January. They waited until the start of training camp to re-sign him, and he spent that time until yesterday on the Physically Unable to Perform List.
But the Steelers activated him on Saturday and played him immediately, starting on the first snap of the game. He was targeted quickly, catching a short pass on third down for a conversion that was part of an excellent opening drive that ended with a red-zone touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Vance McDonald.
Pittsburgh had all six wide receivers active for the game and they clearly had designs for that, making pretty heavy use of 01 personnel, and Rogers was clearly a part of that. By the end of the first half, his four targets was the third-most on the team behind only Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster. He caught all four targets for 20 yards.
But—strangely, as had often been the case in his relatively young career—the Steelers and Roethlisberger never looked his way again in the second half. He had just the four targets in the game, all in the first half, all of them receptions of varied importance.
He was playing significant snaps early on, but initial impressions suggest that they started to favor James Washington and Ryan Switzer more in the number three role during the second half. Washington obviously finally cracked the deep pass code that he has been trying to decipher all season.
But with Rogers getting his feet wet, we know now that he can be a part of the offense if the Steelers need him. He really didn’t look any worse for wear out there during his somewhat brief playing time, and perhaps that was even by design in order to pace him back into action in his first game since January.
I will be interested to see how the team approaches the wide receiver position over the final two games of the season as they cycle through Washington, Switzer, and now Rogers. Rogers has the most experience and rapport with Roethlisberger and the offense, since he’s been around the team for years, but he’s just getting back.
Washington is the guy that they want to play, and he finally had a ‘big’ game, but is he ready when there are other viable options? And Switzer hasn’t done anything to indicate that he should play less often. But he was dealing with a minor injury that had him questionable coming into the game.
After the Steelers lost Justin Hunter, they got Rogers back and he was able to make a small but immediate impact. How much will he contribute over the final two weeks?