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Thread: Big Test and Opportunity for the Pittsburgh Steelers' Young Wide Receivers

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    Default Big Test and Opportunity for the Pittsburgh Steelers' Young Wide Receivers

    A Big Test and Opportunity for the Pittsburgh Steelers' Young Wide Receivers

    by Michael Bean on Dec 4, 2010 2:29 AM EST

    Happy Friday you all. Hope your weeks have been enjoyable and productive. Just a quick post to start the weekend about the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday night tilt with the Baltimore Ravens.

    I wouldn't feel comfortable 'predicting' who will win this week. Not with Ben Roethlisberger's health a question mark, and more importantly, because it's the Steelers and Ravens. You know it's going to be close. I think there's a number of different ways that both teams can emerge victorious. Both teams can put up points in a hurry in the passing game; both can win in an grind-it-out slug fest; and both teams have play-makers on defense that can turn a game in their team's favor.

    However, this year's Steelers squad is missing the one player that Baltimore has the most difficult time containing. Santonio Holmes. Make no mistake about it, the Steelers and their fans (myself included) have moved on from Holmes. I don't think anybody in Steeler Nation has any real ill-will towards Holmes, but true Steelers want to be here, and conduct themselves on and off the field accordingly. (If you immediately just thought to yourself, 'what about Big Ben?' Well, he's a $100+ million dollar man, so he gets an extra get-out-of-jail-free card(s) than everybody else, but it's safe to say that he's on his last chance). More importantly, there's Mike Wallace filling his shoes tremendously this season. The second-year WR out of Ole Miss is having a Pro Bowl caliber season, and he's quieted any doubts about whether he would be able to slide into a No. 2 type role.

    However, Wallace has yet to prove that he's capable of producing against the Steelers' most important opponent - the Ravens. That's not a knock on Wallace necessarily. Not yet at least.In the teams' Week 4 meeting, Wallace caught two passes for 2 receptions for 24 yards. Charlie Batch was under center though. In his one game against the Ravens that Roethlisberger played, Week 16 last year, Wallace had three catches for 83 yards. Not bad at all.

    But Holmes left huge shoes to fill when it comes to his productivity against Baltimore. Here are Holmes' career totals against the Ravens:

    Game Receptions Yards TDs
    2006 Week 12 3 31 0
    2006 Week 16 5 90 0
    2007 Week 9 4 110 2
    2007 Week 17 4 98 1
    2008 Week 4 3 61 1
    2008 Week 15 3 21 1
    2008 AFCCG 2 70 1
    2009 Week 12 6 74 1
    2009 Week 16 5 86 1

    Totals 35 641 8


    We'll see how Wallace performs. But I'd contend it's equally, if not more important that the Steelers get contributions in the passing game from either Emmanuel Sanders or Antonio Brown...or both, though I doubt both will be active this week. It might make sense however to deactivate Antwaan Randle El this week in favor of Brown. If he makes a mistake, so be it. The Ravens secondary can be attacked with speedy receivers that are good after the catch.

    I happen to believe that Randle El has legitimate value to this team - as an occasional 3rd down possession receiver, and because of his ability to make defenses prepare for and account for him and his gadget-play ability. Against the Ravens though, I'd rather have more speed out there. I can't see Randle El breaking any tackles and picking up big yardage after the catch against Baltimore. Sanders and Brown might be a different story.

    I've been wondering though how much upside Sanders has after the catch. I love what he's shown as a rookie. Let me make that claer. He's clearly got 'it' as a competitor - not satisfied by his accomplishments, and not too hard on himself when he inevitably fails. He had a big drop last week against the Bills, but I don't see that sticking with him this week.

    However, I don't think Sanders is strong enough yet to break tackles. Only 32 of his 179 receiving yards have come after the catch, or roughly 16 percent. By contrast, 169 of Holmes' 491 receiving yards this season have been after the catch. That's about 30 percent, an exceptional ratio. Even Wallace, who's having an amazing season, is only at about 23 percent.

    If there ever were a game for Wallace and Sanders (and Brown too if he gets a hat) to make plays after the catch, it would be this week. I think we'll see the Steelers try to run the ball, but history suggests it will be tough sledding in that department. Hines Ward and Heath Miller will do what they do - make plays in the seam, over the middle, and in the flats, then fight and scrap for yards after the catch. However, if Ben Roethlisberger doesn't have much time to go through his progressions and wait for guys to get open down the field, it's imperative that the passing game not shut down entirely. That means quick-hitting passing plays that actually work.

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    Default Re: Big Test and Opportunity for the Pittsburgh Steelers' Young Wide Receivers

    On the Steelers: Brown, Sanders, Wallace triple threat

    Friday, December 10, 2010
    By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

    Peter Diana/Post-Gazette

    Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown had three receptions for 26 yards in Sunday's game against the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.

    Nobody said it quite this way: The best things in life are threes, especially if you play wide receiver for the Steelers.

    With rookies Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown seeing the field on offense more often and joining second-year man Mike Wallace, the Steelers have three of their most dynamic young receivers since that titanic trio from the '98-00 era: Hines Ward, Troy Edwards and Plaxico Burress.

    To boot: Sanders, Wallace and Ward were all third-round picks. The Steelers packed off Santonio Holmes, their only remaining first-round pick at wide receiver, to the Jets this year. And Brown is twice times three -- a sixth-round pick.

    "When we lost Santonio, we needed some depth at wide receiver," Ward said. "Emmanuel and Antonio have great talent, it's just a matter of trying to slowly ease them into the game until they get that comfort level."

    Sanders and Brown each lined up together seven times when the Steelers used four wide receivers Sunday night in Baltimore. Brown caught three passes in that formation, one more than he had total in the previous four games he had played this season. Sanders also caught three passes, his second most in his nine games, and his 49 yards were the most he has had in a game.

    The production by the two rookies who competed against each other for much of the season to be active on game day has inspired their coaches to keep it up.

    "Each week you try to get them to grow a little bit more, and they've done a good job with their opportunities so far. So it won't be any less," coordinator Bruce Arians said.

    The nurturing of Sanders, Brown and, to an extent, Wallace gives the Steelers something at the position they lost when Holmes left; they have great speed in Wallace and good speed and quickness in the other two. Sanders passed veteran Antwaan Randle El several games back as the No. 3 receiver. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the coaches have gained more confidence in Sanders and Brown.

    "We just have to keep on those guys and keep them plugging along because they can be really good and helpful in certain areas," Roethlisberger said.

    Said Sanders, "Me and Antonio, we're starting to see Ben trust in us a little bit. We're starting to understand the playbook and we're more comfortable out there and it's all starting to come together.

    "I feel like we stretch a defense. We all can go deep, we all can come out of our breaks at any time and that kind of puts stress on the defense."

    Ward noted that as defenses keyed more on Wallace and on him, it opened things up for Sanders. Wallace has 41 catches for 868 yards and eight touchdowns. He leads the NFL with an average of 21.2 yards per game. Ward has 41 receptions for 523 yards. Sanders has 16 for 228, and Brown now has five for 53.

    "The more and more they continue to make plays," Ward said, "the more and more I think it will balance our whole wide receiver corps out there, especially on third down."

    "They call us the Young Money Crew," Sanders said. "We're just trying to come together, make plays and lead this team to the Super Bowl."

    Wallace calls Brown "Cash Money" and Sanders "Young Money," although he's thinking of changing the latter to "Easy Money."

    "Those guys have so much talent. I love them," Wallace said. "I get excited because they can make plays at any time."

    With Wallace attracting more attention on his deep routes, the Steelers have been trying to get the ball quickly to Brown and Sanders so they can use their quickness for yards after the catch, but Sanders caught an important deeper one of 28 yards in Baltimore that set up a field goal.

    "Quickness and speed," Arians said, naming their main attributes. "They're very good with the ball in their hands as return people, so you're looking for run after the catch from both of them, and they can also take the top end off the coverage so they're going to be a dynamic pair in the future.

    "They have their kiddie gloves on still, but they're growing. I like where they're at right now."

    Ward said there's still life in him, but he likes what the future holds at his position once he does retire.

    "My career is not over this year; I still have some football left. But I think we're in good hands."

    Smith out for season
    Aaron Smith may be lifting weights again but do not look for him to play in any of the four regular-season games left. The defensive end, who had surgery to repair a triceps after it was torn Oct. 24 in Miami, has another MRI scheduled in two weeks.

    The hope for him and the Steelers is they will get one of the top two seeds and earn a bye the first week of the playoffs. That would buy Smith one more week and he might be able to make it for that first playoff game the weekend of Jan. 15-16. If that happens, it will have been worth them holding a spot on the roster for him.

    Adams likely to play
    Flozell Adams returned to practice and it appears he will make his 13th consecutive start at right tackle Sunday for the Steelers. He and rookie center Maurkice Pouncey are the only linemen who have started every game.

    Adams left last Sunday night's game in Baltimore with what coach Mike Tomlin described as a mild high-ankle sprain. He did not practice Wednesday, but Arians said it was good to see him Thursday.

    "He's persevered through it and he's not 100 percent, but he's a tough old pro. It's good to have him back out there.

    Tight end Heath Miller (concussion) and safety Troy Polamalu (Achilles) did not practice again. Polamalu has missed two practices in each of the past three weeks but has not missed a game.

    For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at Ed Bouchette:

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