The Pittsburgh Steelers, a team that many expected to field one of the NFL's most prolific receiving units, has not yet found a suitable No. 2 receiver to replace Martavis Bryant, who will not play against until 2017 due to a season-long suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy.
The results of Pittsburgh's audition for the No. 2 role opposite All-Pro Antonio Brown have been mixed.
Sammie Coates, for example, is coming off another impressive performance. Against the Chiefs he hauled in 6 passes for 79 yards, one of which was a 47-yard bomb to start the game. Markus Wheaton, the man who was projected to assume the No. 2 duties, dropped three passes in his first game action of the season in a 34-3 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, and added just one catch in Week 4. Eli Rogers didn't play against Kansas City due to a toe injury, and will be missing Week 5 as well. Darrius Heyward-Bey has only played a handful of snaps this season, and is now suffering from a shoulder injury.
"Right now, I think it's just really good competition," Steelers offense coordinator Todd Haley told reporters on Thursday when asked about the teams receiving hierarchy. "To be in season and have guys competing for playing time, I think it's a positive for us and for them."
Wheaton's Week 3 performance was particularly troubling, as the fourth-year receiver dropped just two balls during the entire 2015 season.
"We have great confidence in [Wheaton]. Ben (Roethlisberger) has confidence in him," said Haley. "He just has to work hard on the field on make plays."
Earning Roethlisberger's trust is critical in Pittsburgh's offense, although winning the No. 2 receiver job is far from assurance of second-most targeted status.
That honor may go to a running back.
Le'Veon Bell returned to Pittsburgh's starting lineup Sunday night, and the multi-talented back who caught 83 passes in 2014 to finish second on the team (and in the league, among running backs) in that category, along with 854 receiving yards. Last season, Bell caught 24 passes in a suspension- and injury-shortened season that saw him appear in just six games. In his first game back, he hauled in 5 receptions for 34 yards.
"Some guys are just natural catchers," Haley said of Bell. "He's always asking me to let him play wide receiver and all kinds of stuff."
That might not be a bad idea, especially since Bell's insertion into the starting line-up will force DeAngelo Williams, the league's seventh-leading rusher, to the bench.
"We will find ways to try and get them both on the field at the same time," Haley said in regards to a potential timeshare between Bell and Williams.
Pittsburgh's passing attack passed possibly it's toughest test of the season Sunday, as Kansas City ranked first in the league in turnovers and 11th in passing yards allowed. Perhaps the most telling indicator Kansas City's early-season dominance is the fact that they've held opposing quarterbacks to a combined 51.2 quarterback rating.
In other words, the game Ben Roethlisberger and his wide receivers had was truly outstanding, and should bode well for the unit moving forward.