By Matthew Marczi
Jerricho Cotchery is an offensive tool for the Pittsburgh Steelers that has gone somewhat under the radar over the past two years, at least as perceived by the fans. After all, he totaled just 33 catches for 442 yards and two touchdowns in 27 games during his two seasons in Pittsburgh.
With Mike Wallace now gone, however, Cotchery is, at least for the time being, the team’s primary slot receiver, and based on his Week One performance, there is no reason to believe that rookie Markus Wheaton will be leapfrogging him any time soon.
Cotchery is not a virtuous athlete with blazing speed, but he does all the little things the right way in order to get the job done. It should be no surprise that all four of his catches this past Sunday went for first downs or scored, and three of them came on third or fourth down. The difference between first down and fourth down? Veteran savvy.
Cotchery was called upon twice on the Steelers’ first drive on third down, and he delivered both times. Take the first third down conversion, for example.
Cotchery is lined up in the backfield to the left of Ben Roethlisberger. At the snap, he trails behind Emmanuel Sanders and David Paulson, who are able to clear out the secondary on the left side of the field. Cotchery is left one on one with the linebacker, and stops about five yards short of him, a few yards shy of the first down. He sits down to wait for the pass, but quickly pivots to his right in order to free himself from the trailing linebacker long enough to get the first down.
Following the play after Maurkice Pouncey’s injury, Cotchery is called upon once again to convert a third and long situation later on during that opening drive of the loss to the Tennessee Titans.
Cotchery goes in motion before the play to the open end of the field, lined up in the slot to the left of Antonio Brown. He is left one on one with the nickel back, who maintains the inside leverage. Cotchery abruptly turns outside, however, and gains separation. Roethlisberger is forced to rush the throw due to the pressure in his face, and in fact the ball is released before Cotchery can even get his head turned around. Cotchery catches it almost three yards shy of the first down marker, however, so he turns to his size advantage in order to muscle out the rest of the yardage with a final stretch across the first down marker.
Roethlisberger was unable to hook up with Cotchery again until late in the fourth quarter, however, despite two attempts in between in which Cotchery was open but the quarterback was unable to get him the ball. It was the Steelers’ final drive on offense, with any hope of coming back quickly fading. After a Titans penalty but them in good field position, Roethlisberger finally found Cotchery again.
Once again, Cotchery is in the slot. He takes advantage of the shallow coverage in order to get as far down the field as he can without interference before turning around, which ends up being two yards shy of the first down marker. So he breaks two tackles just to get that bit of extra yardage for the first down.
He also made sure that, unlike the first drive, the last one would end with success. Roethlisberger targeted him on the first and goal play, but it was defended well and broken up. Roethlisberger probably could have had him for a touchdown on the second play if he pulled the trigger, but he did not, delaying the score for another two plays.
On fourth down, finally, success, as Roethlisberger finds Cotchery right on the goal line for the first offensive points of the season with under two minutes remaining. On the play, David Paulson blocks his man out of the play, making sure not to block past five yards down the field and draw a penalty, in doing so disrupting the coverage on Cotchery. The result is a legal pick that gives Cotchery all the separation he needs right down the middle of the field, and he makes sure to keep his back to the defender to shield the ball as he crosses the goal line for the score.
Cotchery proved in the opening game that he is as reliable as ever and can serve as a security blanket for Ben Roethlisberger to rely upon in those tight situations by twice converting third and longs and getting open on fourth and goal for the score. He appears poised to have his best offensive showing with the Steelers yet this season, and as it currently stands, there seems no reason to rush Markus Wheaton’s development. In the meantime, the veteran Cotchery will continue to do all the little things that go unnoticed to help his team win, even if he does not get the credit for doing so.