PITTSBURGH -- Remember predictions that the Pittsburgh Steelers' passing game would flounder without a bona fide deep threat?
The Steelers’ receivers apparently do.
“They took to heart (questions of) how good are we going to be on offense without Mike Wallace,” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “I’m proud of the way they’ve handled things. We’ve had guys that have stepped up.”
No one has stepped up more than Antonio Brown, who leads the NFL with 85 catches and is on pace to break the Steelers' single-season record for receiving yards (1,398 held by Yancey Thigpen.).
Brown’s ascension and Roethlisberger staying healthy are the biggest reasons why the Steelers’ passing game has thrived in spite of the loss of Wallace, one of the fastest players in the NFL.
The Steelers are averaging 261.8 passing yards per game, compared with 236.7 last season. Roethlisberger has played every snap -- he is the only Steelers’ offensive player to do so -- and he already has 21 touchdown passes. Steelers quarterbacks had 27 last season when three of them started games because of injuries that sidelined Roethlisberger.
The passing game not only had to overcome the loss of Wallace, but also do without a legitimate receiving threat at tight end for the first two weeks of the season.
In addition to Brown's emergence as a No. 1 receiver, Jerricho Cotchery has rejuvenated his career -- the 10th-year veteran has a career-high eight touchdown catches -- and the Steelers can only imagine how good their passing game would be if they could coax more consistency out of Emmanuel Sanders.
Getting open hasn’t been a problem for the speedy Sanders, but he has struggled with drops, and his recent one came on a game-tying 2-point conversion attempt last Thursday in Baltimore.
Sanders appears to be doing fine after the fallout from that missed opportunity, and he pledged to become more reliable in the final four games of the season.
“Ben put a lot of great balls out there that I didn’t (catch) that I usually (catch) that I’ve got to make and that I will start making,” said Sanders, who has 54 catches for 604 yards and four touchdowns.
Fans lit up Sanders following the Steelers’ 22-20 loss to the Ravens on Twitter and other social media venues. He shrugged off the vitriol directed at him as something that “comes with the territory.”
“It’s been alright,” Sanders said on what the last week has been like for him. “People are going to say what they want to say, but I don’t really care. I’m just here to play football and win.”