I asked myself the following questions after I finished watching Monday night’s 20-10 “egg laying” by the Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium:
- Why is David Paulson, a tight end who cannot block, stretch the field vertically, or contribute much as a pass receiver in general, taking up space as Pittsburgh’s starter during the first two weeks of the regular season?
- Are H-backs/fullbacks Will Johnson and David Johnson going to strike fear into opponents when the Steelers go to the air?
- While Kelvin Beachum offers some help as a pass-protector at tight end, doesn’t his presence in the lineup all but negate a potential receiving option for Ben Roethlisberger to find in the passing game?
Why did I ask myself these questions? Because I could not understand why backup wide receivers Markus Wheaton and Derek Moye rode the pine for so much of Pittsburgh’s first two regular season games.
Thankfully, head coach Mike Tomlin alluded to the possibility that Wheaton could probably receive more work during the coming weeks, and one has to wonder why it took so long for the coaching staff to turn to the talented rookie pass-catcher.
The former Oregon State Beaver performed extremely well during preseason play (nine catches, 139 yards, one touchdown), and his skill-set drew praise from many of his veteran teammates like Ike Taylor.
Despite the fact that Wheaton can stretch the field vertically and horizontally, offensive coordinator Todd Haley appeared more content to use his backup tight ends and fullbacks along with his the top three receivers instead of the rookie pass-catcher during the first two games. With Wheaton in the lineup however, Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, and Jerricho Cotchery will all have more room to make plays underneath.
Like Wheaton, Moye transferred his solid play during the preseason (10 catches, 149 yards, one touchdown) into a spot on Pittsburgh’s 53-man roster. Although he did not have any regular season experience under his belt, Moye nevertheless found a bit of a “niche” on Monday night against the Bengals.
Moye out-muscled and out-jumped Leon Hall for the touchdown grab, and his large frame (6’5″ 210 lbs.) and speed definitely make him more of an asset in the red zone passing game than Paulson and “The Johnsons” and whatever they can bring to the table. While the former Penn State Nittany Lion cannot stretch the field as well as Wheaton, he still has the tools to create more positive plays in the passing game than any of Pittsburgh’s healthy tight ends and H-Backs/fullbacks.
I am not advocating that the Steelers need to run four and five wide receiver sets on every single play for the rest of the season. I simply believe that is in this team’s best interests to tailor their offensive scheme towards its most athletic play-makers until Heath Miller and Le’Veon Bell can return to the lineup to provide at least the semblance of balance.
How much Wheaton and Moye can improve the offense’s productivity is certainly up for debate. What is not however is that both are far and away more athletic and play-making options than the backup tight ends and H-backs/fullbacks they will replace in the present.
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