Steelers Wide Receivers Broke Franchise-Best Mark In Touchdown Receptions

By Matthew Marczi

One of the more curious statistical anomalies that I’ve come across when considering the 2013 Pittsburgh Steelers is about the way the team has been scoring points this season—more specifically, who is catching the touchdown passes.

Of Ben Roethlisberger’s 27 touchdown passes thrown this season—and he is the only one to throw a touchdown pass—24 of them have been caught by his wide receivers. Jerricho Cotchery leads the way with nine, while Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders have eight and six, respectively. Derek Moye adds one more.

The other three touchdown have come one each from tight ends Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth and fullback Will Johnson. Johnson was only targeted because Brown dropped a pass in the end zone earlier in the drive.

The Steelers have had surprising production from the group, with the wide receivers accounting for 89 percent of the touchdown receptions this season. All four receivers that caught at least one touchdown pass this season marked their career-highs for touchdown receptions in a season—including, of course, Moye.

You would have to go back to at least 1996 to even make an argument for when the Steelers last relied so heavily on their receivers for points through the air, and that argument hinges on whether one considers Kordell Stewart a wide receiver.

That year, Stewart recorded 17 receptions for 293 yards and three touchdowns. But he also carried the ball 39 times for 171 yards and five touchdowns, in addition to attempting 30 passes.

In 1996, Mike Tomczak threw 15 touchdown passes: six to Andre Hastings, one to Ernie Mills, three to Charles Johnson, and two to Yancey Thigpen—all receivers—in addition to the three to Stewart.

If that doesn’t work for you, then you have to go back to 1984 for the last time the receivers accounted for such a high percentage of the offensive production. That year, the combination of Mark Malone, David Woodley, and Scott Campbell threw 25 touchdown passes.

Of those 25, 23 went to receivers—nine to Louis Lipps, 11 to John Stallworth, and three to Weegie Thompson. The other two went to tight end Bennie Cunningham and running back Rich Erenberg.

With all the concern about the receiving corps entering this season minus Mike Wallace, who was the primary scoring source through the air in recent years, the unit admittedly stepped up quite a bit in 2013, scoring more receiving touchdowns than any other receiving unit in franchise history.

What will this unit look like entering next season? It’s hard to say, behind Brown in the starting lineup. Sanders will likely be gone. If Cotchery is retained, it probably won’t be as a starter. Is Markus Wheaton ready to contribute? Might they jump on a potential plug-and-play first-round talent in the draft?

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • steeltown

    I see them retaining Cotchery and letting Sanders test the market

    So the depth chart could be – A.Brown, Cotchery, Wheaton, a newly acquired rookie draft pick and Moye/J.Brown

    Of course Wheaton can easily become the #2 by mid-season. I think even if they spend an early draft pick at the position that guy will still be considered #3 or #4 at first, until he learns the offense

  • Douglas Andrews

    I’m sure Wheaton if he stays healthy can make up for the loss of Sanders to FA. Cotchery should be retained as the number 3 the guy just makes plays but more importantly I’m hoping they do draft a big receiver that can stretch the field. With these group of guys we could have an even better WR corps next year.

  • RMSteeler

    Steelers have had a few “big” receivers the past couple of years, but they can’t beat out the “little guys”. If you want to go tall with a WR, he better be superb in athleticism, balance, and body control. Just looking for a tall only WR, and you can get another Limas. TE’s on the other hand are usually 6’5″ or taller now. A lot of recent good/great TE’s have an extensive basketball background. Why? They are conditioned to high point the ball, whether for taking a pass, or a rebound. And, successfull basketball players tend to have much better body control and balance than other sports’ athletes.

  • Steeler Goetz

    I don’t want to take anything away from what Cotchery has done this year, he has been absolutely phenomenal. That said, a lot of his production has been the result of teams underestimating & ignoring him. To his (and Ben’s) credit, he slips past defenders, drops into zones and when no one’s paying any attention to him, Ben hits him. They’ve worked amazingly well with each other this year. But he’s not a starting wideout. If a team actually game planned for him as a #2 guy, instead of the 4th or 5th option he is now (Brown, Sanders, Miller, Wheaton), he wouldn’t be nearly as productive. if he’s back next year I hope they pick up right where they left off.