Steelers Drop In Explosive Receiving Plays Has To Be Made Up By Running Game

Wide receiver Mike Wallace is long gone and gone with him is the 67 explosive plays of 20 yards or more that he accumulated during his four seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers. In an effort to fill the void that was created when Wallace signed with the Miami Dolphins early in the free agent signing period, the Steelers drafted Oregon State wide receiver Markus Wheaton in the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft.

While Wheaton certainly demonstrated his ability to produce explosive plays in college, 18 catches for 20 yards or more in 2012, it might take him a little while to see extensive playing time due to the fact that he is behind heading into training camp after missing all of the OTA sessions and the mandatory mini camp due to graduation rules. Until he is ready to contribute on a regular basis, it will be up to Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders to produce the receiving explosive plays with Wallace now gone.

In the new offense instituted last season by offensive coordinator Todd Haley; the Steelers only produced 49 receiving explosive plays. The three years prior to that, the offense generated 60, 62 and 77 explosive receiving plays with Bruce Arians orchestrating the offense.

Keep in mind that in 2012 tight end Heath Miller was responsible for 11 of the 49 receiving explosive plays himself, which was a career high for him. With his status for the start of the 2013 season still uncertain as he continues to recover from his serious knee injury suffered late last season, that could potentially be more of a void to fill when it comes to explosive receiving plays. Both Brown and Sanders were responsible for 21 of the 49 last year, so expecting them to produce much more than that in 2013 will be asking quite a bit. In addition, both Plaxico Burress and Jerricho Cotchery are up in age, and neither should be expected to produce many plays of 20 yards or more, so you can definitely see the problem here.

So just how important are explosive plays? If you followed my TOX Stat tracking the last few years, you should know by now that a team wins 80% of the time when they have two or more explosive plays than their opponent does in a game. Now, does this mean that the Steelers can\’t win games, assuming their receiving explosive play count could take a hit in 2013, especially early in the season? No, and Haley proved this in 2010 himself as the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs. That season his offense only produced 40 receiving explosive plays the entire season yet the team went 10-6 and made the playoffs.

So how did Haley offset the lack of receiving explosive plays produced by the offense? He did it with the running game of course, as not only did the Chiefs offense lead the league in rushing yards per game that season (164.2), but they also finished fourth in the league in yards per carry (4.72). Not only that, but the running game also produced 15 explosive plays on the ground, which helped the team at least have a positive explosive play differential of one by the end of the regular season.

Now, being as the Steelers are coming off of a season that included them finishing 26th overall in rushing yards per game (96.1) and 28th overall in yards per carry (3.73), you can definitely see the challenge that awaits the rebuilt offensive line and rookie running back Le\’Veon Bell, along with Haley and new offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr.

The Steelers managed to go 8-8 last season thanks mostly to the play of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger prior to his injury taking place and the play of the defense, as the running game failed to produce. Due to the explosive play void created by the offseason loss of Wallace and the potential early-season absence of Miller, the team can expect to go 8-8 again in 2013 if the running game fails to produce for a second season in a row.

  • steeltown

    I wouldn’t expect a bunch of “explosive” plays from Burress and Cotchery, but they are certainly capable of making some big catches. They wont outrun anyone but if the OL can keep Ben clean Burress and Cotchery can find creases and both can make the tough catch. I will always remember that game tying 31yd TD in the DEN playoff game with a few minutes left. So sweet. Obviously didn’t end well in OT but Ben and Cotchery gave us the chance.

  • StrengthOfVictory

    I agree that the run game must grow by leaps and bounds if we expect to compete for the division…let alone secure a playoff spot. A solid running game gives the offense a much-needed rhythm. I’m tired of watching the Steelers barely eek out enough yards to move the sticks on 3rd and 9, only to be in the exact same position two plays later. We need to threaten a big gain (if not a score) on nearly EVERY single play. Without a run game that opposing defenses respect, get ready for Ben to run all around the yard.

  • VaDave

    I understand the statistical significance of the TOX stat, but logic tells me, I’d rather have a consistent 4 yards a pop for 5 plays in a row, than one 20 yarder followed or preceded by 4 one yarders.

    I think the deal here is in addition how many big plays you make, it is equally as important as to how many you allow your opponent to make. When you are grinding it out @ 4 yards a pop, you limit the opportunities of your opponents O. This was the problem with BA’s system. It was exciting and generated enough stats to keep fantasy guys in clover, but it is way to inconsistent play in and play out.

    This is JMO, but I think once our DL, OL, and Worlids/Jones settle in, we’re going to be fine.

  • steeltown

    Agreed. Even thinking back to last season, those 3or4 games when Dwyer and/or Redman gained 100+ yds we won pretty handily, we didn’t blow anyone out mind you, but we were in the drivers seat so to speak in those games

    Basically.. you give Ben 100+ yds rushing and he’ll usually deliver the “W”

  • dgh57

    There is a old axiom in football: If you establish the run game that in turn opens the passing game up! I feel we have done the necessary things to improve the running game such as installing the outside ZBS, improved o-line, drafting of Bell, and so on that all that’s left is for everyone to stay healthy, especially the o-line. So our #26 rushing yards per game from last year has nowhere to go but up, IMO!

    Wheaton is a smart kid and he’ll learn the playbook and I can see him proving it on the playing field starting this preseason, despite missing the OTAs!

  • StrengthOfVictory

    Exactly. The Giants and Redskins games come to mind. They felt like we were in control. So much so in the Giants game that even a few terrible calls (and the resulting points for NY) couldn’t lose us the game. Let’s also hope that when the door is wide open for victory, we can take it from the other team as though we want it. (See the first Ravens game and the second Bengals game for how NOT to do this.)

  • steeltown

    Yea I expect to see a lot of Wheaton and Gilreath in preseason, plus JBrown, JD Woods and Moye playing against 3rd Teams

  • Don

    ANOTHER 8-8 season???? OMG, this is getting nuts. Schedule can’t get much softer, looks like another year of rebuilding. When so many stars can’t wait to get out of town (Harrison, Wallace, etc), something is wrong, real wrong.

  • steeltown


    Wallace leaves for more money and Harrison leaves for less (ha) doesn’t mean we’re rebuilding or that something is “real wrong” ..and the other guys (Mendenhall and Colon) just plain had to go

    I think ‘transition’ is a better word

    If we’re talking about the OLine then yes over the last 3-4seasons they have definitely been trying to rebuild the OLine

  • dgh57

    How much do you know about Moye? I know he has the size but that’s about all I know about him.

  • steeltown

    To be honest, Im not sure what the deal is with Moye, he’s not the fastest or most athletic guy but he was pretty damn productive in college. He must have trouble gaining separation or blocking or something

    Would love for Moye to be that #5 guy with his good size, but there must have been a reason, otherwise they wouldn’t have drafted Justin Brown

  • dgh57

    Lets hope so or we’re in trouble! LOL

  • Rob

    All of those explosive plays did not put us in place to have the most important offensive stat we needed, more points, our offense for the last several years has under performed in scoring. There are no points for getting 60 yards taking sacks and penalties and then punting, which seemed to happen way to often with Ben and his sand lot game. Last year the offense looked like it was on the verge of putting it together but injuries and inconsistent play by numerous individuals instead of scheme seemed to derail things all season.

  • charles

    This comment is good reading. I happen to think that Wallace stretched the field whether it was a pass or not. That is difficult to replicate immediately. I am sure Ben will continue to try and stretch things, but Haley’s strategy has never been that. Maybe that is a part of why Wallace left. Hopefuuly Howling or Dunn can catch a short pass and stretch the fielld in a different way. One of the points that I think the FO used in their strategy to draft Bell was his good hands, but I would be surprised if he offered an explosive play. This article has me thinking that this years Steelers will have to be a very ball control team to be successful offensively.

  • VaDave

    That is BA’s O in a nutshell. Tons of meaningless stats. When you put up 400 yards of O but only score 13 points in a game, you got to start asking questions. I don’t know if there is a way track how many yards of offense BA generated by the number of points scored, but I would venture to say he’s probably on the lower end of the scale.