Steelers Today - A Pittsburgh Steelers blog


Steelers position-by-position review: wide receivers

February 19, 2012 By: Admin Category: Uncategorized

This is part 5 in our position-by-position review of the 2011 Pittsburgh Steelers.  If you haven’t read the previous installments, please click below:

If you haven’t read Part 1 (offensive tackles), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 2 (guards), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 3 (centers), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 4 (tight ends), click here.

Today we will be looking at the Steelers’ wide receivers.

The wide receivers emerged as arguably the Steelers’ greatest strength in 2011.  The Steelers have always been known for having great linebackers, but the current crop of wide receivers may actually outshine the linebackers.  In fact, they may be the most talented group of wide receivers in the NFL.

What other team can boast two 1,000 yard receivers, a future Hall-of-Famer, another young wide receiver who has the potential to be a 1,000 yard receiver, and a veteran receiver who would start on some NFL teams?  That’s exactly what the Steelers have on their wide receiving corps.

Let’s take a look at them individually, starting with…….

Mike Wallace

Going into the year, we knew that Mike Wallace was going to have a great season.  He had already established himself as one of the fastest wide receivers in the NFL, and he was building great chemistry with Ben Roethlisberger.  By the end of the 2010 season, Wallace had already become Big Ben’s favorite target.

Wallace had another 1,000 yard season in 2011, and he is a player who should play a significant role in the Steelers’ future.  The only problem is that Wallace is a restricted free agent this season.  Because of his incredible speed, Wallace will draw a lot of attention as a free agent.  The Steelers have said that signing him to a long-term contract is one of their highest priorities.  However, doing so is going to be expensive, and the Steelers are already over the salary cap.

The Steelers could slap the franchise tag on Wallace, but that will cost them almost $14 million.  So that’s not a very appealing option.  So the team has to hope that they can get even more veteran players to restructure their contracts.  LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons have already restructured theirs.  But the team will need to find far more money than that.

Antonio Brown

Antonio Brown came into training camp as the #4 receiver on the depth chart.  Hines Ward and Mike Wallace were established veteran starters, and Emmanuel Sanders had performed better than him during the previous season and was #3 on the depth chart.  But injuries among the wide receivers made Antonio Brown the primary wide receiver during the preseason.

By mid-season, Brown had supplanted Mike Wallace as Big Ben’s favorite target.  In fact, for long stretches it seemed like Roethlisberger had forgotten that Mike Wallace was even on the team.  That speaks volumes about how much talent Brown has.

WR Antonio Brown

Brown is probably the Steelers’ most talented receiver when it comes to gaining yards after the catch.  It’s those running skills that also made Brown a Pro Bowl kick returner.

Did I mention that Brown’s teammates voted him the team’s MVP?  Pretty impressive for a young guy.  I think this kid has a future with the team.

Hines Ward

Hines Ward is clearly one of the all-time Pittsburgh Steelers.  He holds just about every receiving record, and he’s basically been the face of the franchise since Jerome  Bettis retired.  Ward’s place is Steelers lore is assured.

However, Ward is no longer the most talented receiver on the Steelers’ roster.  After a brilliant career 14 year career, Ward will be 36 years old during the 2012 season.  By NFL standards, that’s ancient.  Moreover, Ward ended the 2011 season as the #5 wide receiver on the depth chart.  Even Jericho Cotchery had surpassed Ward.

Ward’s current contract pays him too much money to be a #5 wide receiver.  Moreover, a #5 wide receiver would have to play special teams, and it would be insulting to Ward to ask him to do that.

Ward has said that he wants to play another season for the Steelers, and that he’s willing to play for the league minimum for veterans.  But frankly, I don’t want to see Ward do that.  I love and respect Hines too much to see him sitting the bench behind younger, faster, wide receivers.

Emmanuel Sanders

2011 was basically a lost season for Emmanuel Sanders.  He struggled with injuries, and was only a shadow of the player that we saw in 2010.  Unlike Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown, Sanders isn’t a speedster.  He’s more quick than fast.  He specializes on finding gaps in the defense.  That makes him an ideal slot receiver.

Sanders’ future is going to depend largely on how successful he can be at remaining healthy.  But if he can put the foot injuries behind him, then he will be a part of one of the most dynamic receiving trios in Steelers history.

Jericho Cotchery

Cotchery ended the 2011 season as the #4 wide receiver on the Steelers’ depth chart.  Cotchery is an unrestricted free agent, and I would assume that he’d like to be a starter.  That’s just not going to happen with the Steelers.

I really liked what I saw from Cotchery last year.  He didn’t really get much playing time until the second half of the season.  But once he did, he showed that he could be a reliable target for Big Ben.

I’d love to see Cotchery return to the Steelers in 2012.  However, I doubt that’s going to happen.

Is it Hines’ time?

October 20, 2011 By: Admin Category: Players

The Pittsburgh Steelers have wrestled with the question of age for several seasons.  The majority of the starting players on their defensive front 7 are over 30 years old.

Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel, James Farrior, and James Harrison are all closer to the end of their careers than either fans, or apparently the Steelers’ coaches, seem to want to admit.  The same is true for Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark.  And key backup players like Chris Hoke and Larry Foote, aren’t spring chickens either.

We’ve all heard the cries for more youth on the defense.  But what I haven’t heard very much is cries for youth on the offense.  Specifically at wide receiver.

The Steelers have a talented group of young wide receivers who have given fans reason to believe that the team’s future at the position is bright.

Mike Wallace is already the team’s top receiver, and he’s also emerged as one of the most dangerous receiving threats in the NFL.  Wallace will lead the Steelers’ receiving corps for years to come.

Second year receivers Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders are dynamic playmakers.  They both have speed to burn, and are proving to coaches that they deserve more playing time.

Antonio Brown has caught 18 passes for 262 yards through 6 games.  He’s averaging 14.6 yards per catch.  Emmanuel Sanders has caught 8 passes for 127 yards, and is averaging 15.9 yards per catch.

Hines Ward is the veteran of the receiving corp.  He’s 35 years old, and in his 14th season in the NFL.  More importantly, Ward is the Steelers’ all-time receptions leader, and he’s one of the most beloved players in Steelers’ history.

And therein lies the problem.  Fans love Hines.  Coaches love Hines.  Players love Hines.  Nobody want to be the one to disrespect Hines.

But at this point in his career, Hines Ward is no longer the player he once was.  Ward was never a fast player.  But at 35 years old, Hines is just plain slow.  He still has great hands, but he can’t really get separation from defenders.

Ward is still targeted routinely by Big Ben.  In fact, only Mike Wallace has more receptions than Ward.  However, Ward has the lowest yards per catch of the 4 primary wide receivers.  Antonio Brown has fewer catches than Ward, but he has more yards.  And Emmanuel Sanders is averaging over 5 yards more per catch than Ward.  Do you know how much 5 extra yards per catch would help the Steelers?

Sanders excels as a possession receiver, just like Ward.  The difference is that he’s much faster.  So he can get to the spot faster than Ward.  The same is true for Antonio Brown.  If the Steelers played Wallace, Brown, and Sanders, they’d have a trio of speedy receivers who could blow the top off of any defense.  That would open up things for the running game, and it would allow Heath Miller to run free underneath.  Or it would simply allow Big Ben to pick his target as he launches bomb after bomb over the top of the defense.

None of that can happen with Ward in the lineup.  But I believe that both coaches and fans are willing to accept the status quo out of respect for Ward, and in appreciation for the contribution that he’s made over the years.

It’s hard to say goodbye to star players.  Just think about when Jerome Bettis was no longer good enough to start.  Or Franco Harris.  Or John Stallworth.  or Louis Lipps.  Nobody wanted to see them go.  But for the good of the team, we knew that the time had come.

I love Hines Ward.  He’s still probably the best blocking receiver in the NFL.  But he’s no longer an elite wide receiver in the NFL.  Moreover, he’s not going to be able to hold Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders off for much longer.

Respect keep Hines on the field for now.  But pretty soon, the raw talent of Brown and Sanders is going to trump respect.  And that’s going to be a hard day for fans and coaches alike.  But that day is coming.  And it’s coming soon.

Maybe it’s already here.

Steelers win, but lose Leftwich

August 28, 2011 By: Admin Category: Post-Game Reports

There’s a line in the movie “White Men Can’t Jump” that says “Sometimes when you win, you really lose”.  Well, that’s what happened to the Steelers last night.  They won the preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons by a score of 34-16, but they lost backup quarterback Byron Leftwich for the season.

Leftwich had been scheduled to be the #2 quarterback on the Steelers’ roster this year.  He was having a good preseason, and the only question the Steelers had at quarterback was whether Dennis Dixon or Charlie Batch would win the #3 quarterback position.  But that question became moot when Leftwich broke his arm when he fell awkwardly on it last night.

Byron Leftwich injures arm.

Despite the loss of Leftwich, the Steelers turned in a very good performance last night.

The sign outside of Heinz Field didn’t say “Welcome to the Antonio Brown Show”, but it probably should have.  Brown, a second year receiver, probably solidified his position as the Steelers’ #3 wide receiver with another solid preseason performance.  He caught 4 passes for 137 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Last season, fellow rookie receiver Emmanuel Sanders outperformed Brown, and secured the #3 receiver position, while Brown was relegated to being the #4 receiver.   But Sanders has been out of action this preseason nursing a foot injury, and Brown has taken full advantage of Sander’s injury.

Several other Steelers turned in solid performances in last night’s game as well.  Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had another outstanding performance.  He completed 11 of 16 passes for 214 yards and 2 touchdowns.  He also finished with a QB rating of 151.0.

Cornerback Crezdon Butler also had a solid game.  He came into the game after Keenan Lewis left with a knee injury.  Butler took advantage of the opportunity when he intercepted a Falcons pass and returned it 95 yards for a touchdown.  Butler also had 2 passes defensed, and was the Steelers’ leading tackler in the game with 9 tackles.

Linebacker Lawrence Timmons showed why the Steelers signed him to a new contract.  He intercepted a pass and returned it 44 yards.  He almost scored on the play, but he was caught from behind just short of the goal line.

Despite the win, the Steelers still have a few areas of concern.  The Falcons attempted to take advantage of the Steelers’ cornerbacks, just like teams did last season.  Matt Ryan attempted 42 passes, and passed for 220 yards and 1 touchdown in just 2 quarters of play.  He would have had a second TD, but one of his receivers dropped a pass in the endzone.  Starting cornerbacks William Gay and Keenan Lewis didn’t look particularly impressive as Ryan picked them apart.

The Steelers’ offensive line also has room for improvement.  They allowed Big Ben to be sacked twice, and they didn’t dominate the line of scrimmage.

But overall, the Steelers have to be happy with their performance.  They came away with a win over a very good Falcons team that had a 13-3 record last season.

Despite the loss of Leftwich, the Steelers look good heading into their final preseason game.

(If you enjoyed this article, please consider leaving a comment by clicking on the square at the top right of this article. Also, please subscribe to our blog by pressing the orange button below. You can also follow us on Twitter by clicking the bird doohicky below. Also consider following us on Facebook. Thanks.)

Subscribe in a reader

Top                NFL Fan Sites


Steelers draft Antonio Brown in 6th round

April 24, 2010 By: Admin Category: Draft/Free Agency

With the 26th pick in the sixth round (#195 overall) of the 2010 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers select Antonio Brown , WR from Central Michigan.

Though he played at a smaller school, Brown was extremely productive in college.  He averaged 100 catches per season in his 3 years at Central Michigan.  That’s impressive, regardless of what school you went to.

Like the Steelers’ earlier pick Emmanuel Sanders, Antonio Brown is a smallish receiver who excelled in the slot, and who can contribute as both a punt and kick returner

WR Antonio Brown

He was considered to be a bit of a “diva” wide receiver, and that probably scared some teams away.  But he will quickly learn that he is not a star at the next level, and the attitude should go away.

He will need to get bigger.  He is also going to have to learn to block better if he wants to play for the Steelers.  But despite those shortcomings, nobody can deny that this kid makes plays.

Brown brings basically the same skills as Emmanuel Sanders, only he is not as quick.  Because of that, he probably won’t make the team.  However, because of his productivity in college, he was a good player to take a risk on with a 6th round pick.

To read about the Steelers’ other picks, click the name below:

Maurkice Pouncey - C, Florida

Jason Worilds - DE, VA Tech

Emmanuel Sanders - WR, SMU

Thaddeus Gibson - DE, Ohio State

Chris Scott - OT, Tennessee

Crezdon Butler - CB, Clemson

Stevenson Sylvester - LB, Utah

Jonathan Dwyer - RB, Georgia Tech

Antonio Brown - WR, Central Michigan

Doug Worthington - DT, Ohio State


(If you enjoyed this article, please consider leaving a comment below. Also, please subscribe to our blog by pressing the orange button below. You can also follow us on Facebook or Twitter by clicking the doohickies at the bottom of the right column of this page.  Thanks.)

Subscribe in a reader

Top               NFL Fan Sites