To fend off the belief by outsiders that Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger can’t be replaced, replacement quarterback Byron Leftwich had a simple refrain:
We’ll see, as in, I’ll show you.
But Leftwich will need more help from his wide receivers to pull off the unexpected Sunday night against the Baltimore Ravens.
Without Antonio Brown, the Steelers’ wide receivers combined to catch just 6 passes for 66 yards Monday night. It was the lowest output at that position since the Steelers’ wide receivers combined to make 5 catches for 64 yards in the 2010 AFC Championship Game against the New York Jets.
Those Steelers had a 24-0 lead in the second quarter of that game and didn’t need to throw. These Steelers fell behind 10-0 and were tied at halftime, 10-10, the other night.
The Steelers haven’t had worse production in a game they were tied or in which they trailed at halftime since Nov. 5, 2000 when Plaxico Burress, Hines Ward and Bobby Shaw combined to catch 3 passes for 40 yards from Kordell Stewart in a loss at Tennessee.
That was 13 years ago.
It’s clear the Steelers on Monday night missed Brown, their 2011 MVP. And they’ll probably miss him again Sunday night against Baltimore. He’s doubtful with a sprained ankle.
The Steelers will also be without Roethlisberger. While medical experts say it’s foolish to estimate Roethlisberger’s recovery period – because the injury is so rare that the healing process is an unknown – it’s going to be an adjustment for the entire offense. So for the time being the passing game will live or die with Leftwich and those receivers who couldn’t get open Monday night.
“That’s wrong,” countered Sanders. “We were getting open.”
Sanders had also refuted another reporter the previous day who felt the Steelers’ receivers couldn’t beat press coverage. Sanders was backed by Steelers radio analyst Tunch Ilkin, who felt the receivers’ problems had more to with the field conditions.
“It didn’t look they could get into and out of their cuts,” said Ilkin, who was at the South Side practice facility Thursday to watch game tape. “It looked like the wet field bothered them.”
Sanders doesn’t buy that theory, either.
“Write whatever story you want,” he said in exasperation. “We’re getting open, man – in a rainy game. A rainy game is a rainy game. The production is always going to be down in a rainy game, especially as bad as it was last week.”
There were legitimate excuses for the wide receivers’ puny production Monday, but as Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday at his press conference, “Excuses are tools of the incompetent.”
Besides, the Ravens just put another cornerback, 2011 first-round pick Jimmy Smith, on injured reserve. He had replaced Lardarius Webb, who is also on injured reserve. And future Hall of Fame free safety Ed Reed is playing hurt.
The Ravens also have their problems, so 6 catches for 66 yards just won’t cut it this week for the Steelers.
“You had so many factors involved Monday night,” Sanders repeated. “You had rain, wind, you want to run the ball, sometimes the ball is slick, the ball is slipping out of the quarterback’s hands. You’ve got so many different factors.
“This week, we’ll see.”
NOTES – The Steelers activated ILB Marshall McFadden from the practice squad and put OLB Chris Carter on season-ending injured reserve with an injured abdomen. TE Jamie McCoy was re-signed to the practice squad. … Missing Thursday’s practice were Brown, Troy Polamalu, Marcus Gilbert and Roethlisberger.