While the Pittsburgh Steelers offense has been very good this season and is within reach of setting a new franchise record for points scored, one of the things that it has lacked throughout the year has been a consistent presence as the number three receiver.
There’s obviously Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster, but the slow maturation of James Washington threw a wrench into the team’s immediate plans, and Justin Hunter was never going to be the viable alternative. Ryan Switzer has made his contributions, but is not being used consistently.
Enter Eli Rogers, a player who has actually been in that number three role before for the offense and done so effectively. A day after being activated from the Physically Unable to Perform List, he was a key component in the team’s offense during the first 20 minutes of the game in a win over the New England Patriots, though mysteriously vanished after that.
His contributions were felt early, including the third play of the game. Facing an early third and three, Ben Roethlisberger looked for him on the far side of a bunch set. The pass came at him fast and he had to make a contested catch, almost with one hand, while trying to work off of Stephon Gilmore. It was four yards, but it extended a drive early on that ended in seven points.
As the possession advanced down inside the Patriots’ 30, Roethlisberger took a shot deep to Brown that was a bit long. It was on a free play due to a defensive offside penalty, but had it not been for that, perhaps he looks to Rogers again, who pulled a great double move to get open in the middle of the field, faking an outside stem at the top of his route before cutting hard on a post.
He didn’t have any reception longer than six yards on the day—totaling four catches for 20 yards—but they helped move the chains or to stay ahead of them, as on this example early in the second quarter. Working in the slot against the nickel corner on first and 10, he used a pick from Smith-Schuster to flash open over the middle and tucked the ball away quickly as the defender came over the top.
Following another six-yard completion a few plays layer, Roethlisberger went back to him immediately on a vertical shot, drawing a pass interference penalty, albeit one that could be fairly questioned. Still, it’s worth pointing out that Rogers had 11 explosive plays back in 2016, eight of them on deep targets.
Considering this was his first game action in close to a year, he looked pretty good, showing no obvious signs of rust, and he should only continue to pick up from here.