The Path to 500 series continues this week as we take another look at the Pittsburgh passing game. Our last session in this series addressed the quick passing game of the Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger's rhythm with his wide receivers to make short quick passes that were fast enough to break down defenses.
Arguably the biggest story of the Pittsburgh Steelers' offseason came from the season-long suspension of Martavis Bryant. Bryant has become a wide receiver that is nationally recognized both for his speed and his ability to win jump ball battles in his first two NFL seasons. Getting behind defensive backs became a more regular occurrence for Bryant each passing week and his talents made for another threat that defenses had to consider when facing the Steelers' offense, opening up more opportunities for Antonio Brown and other receiving options.
Despite the loss of Bryant for the season, Pittsburgh still will have players it can test defenses on deep passes and open up their aerial attack to keep defenses on their heels. This film room takes a look back at moments from 2015 that showed just that.
Weeks ago ESPN analysts looked t the top speeds of each of Pittsburgh's receivers and showed that Heyward-Bey clocked in as the fastest of Pittsburgh's receivers. Though he lacks the height of Bryant, Heyward-Bey still has wheels on him to get past defenders.
Straight-line speed and explosiveness are necessary as a deep threat for an offense and Heyward-Bey has that in his tools. When a player as that one their side and is not the first or second option for an offense, it becomes a better threat for quarterbacks like Roethlisberger to use because they will not be facing the better defenders in a defense. Facing a third string cornerback who might not be able to blanket a receiver gives more chances for plays like this to happen as Heyward-Bey blows past his man.
Beating tight coverage
One thing that Bryant presented as a factor that defensive backs had to respect was his ability to beat tight coverage situations when defenders tried to jam or slow him down at the line of scrimmage. Bryant's size and arm reach were real assets that aren't present for Heyward-Bey or Wheaton.
But if the success of Antonio Brown has proven anything, it's that hard work beats size any day. Wheaton has steadily improved his skills in his first three seasons in the NFL, which gives credence to the notion that he could be even better in 2016 than he was in 2016.
On this play, Wheaton engages with the cornerback and fights towards the outside position necessary to make this play work. The perfect pass is thrown by Roethlisberger up the field and in a place where only Wheaton could get to the ball. Winning one-on-one battles is key when attention is focused on Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell, so opportunities like these must be taken advantage of when they are presented.
Roethlisberger's knack for keeping plays alive and striking anywhere on the field
This play was one of my personal favorites to watch from 2015 despite coming in a losing effort against the Seattle Seahawks. Roethlisberger moved around in the pocket and bought just enough time to launch a deep ball while on the run that was perfectly thrown to Wheaton who was speeding past the talented Seattle secondary.
Roethlisberger is the axis of success and failure
While the Steelers' wide receivers have proven the are credible threats for the deep ball, it will be up to Roethlisberger to both read the defenses and make the big throws. Not just any receiver can get open, but enough of the Steelers' players outside of Bryant have shown their ability to get behind defenses and get open for big plays. Between Wheaton, Heyward-Bey, Brown and the potential in both Sammie Coates and LaDarius Green, there could still be plenty of bombs in 2016 for Pittsburgh.