Scoring touchdowns is the No. 1 way to win a football game, but it’s something the Pittsburgh Steelers offense couldn’t do consistently last season.
While many on the Steelers offense are preaching ball security this offseason, offensive coordinator Todd Haley and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger have been huddled up designing a game plan – with more TDs as the ultimate goal.
They need to fix what was the third-ranked offense in the AFC North. They also must find a playmaker to replace the teams top touchdown receivers in recent years: Mike Wallace (now with the Miami Dolphins) and Heath Miller (injured).
Let’s look at the trends and you decide which Steeler is destined to be the top red-zone receiver in 2013.
We know Haley has history of playing well with the cards he is dealt. Just because elite running back Jamal Charles was the majority of his offense in Kansas City doesn’t mean he’s Bill Cowher. After all, Haley’s offense in Arizona was based around the talents of quarterback Kurt Warner.
Haley knows he has an all-pro leading the Pittsburgh offense in Roethlisberger, who looks great from a fantasy-football angle as Haley will keep him lighting up the scoreboard. Roethlisberger should get good protection by an up-and-coming athletic offensive line, which is finally healthy.
Keeping with Ben and fantasy football, Miller owners definitely preferred a healthy Roethlisberger last season, because he leaned heavily on the tight end position in the red zone. 40 percent of the Steelers’ receiving TDs were by a TE. This season, those scores will have to go to someone while Miller recovers. Realistically, recovering from multiple knee-ligament tears puts Miller on course for a truly healthy return in November, not September.
Recently re-signed tight end Matt Spaeth is a huge 6-foot-7 end-zone target. Whether or not second-year TE David Paulson gets the heavier load down the field, Roethlisberger will love Spaeth’s size in the red zone. If it works, Roethlisberger will not hesitate to use Spaeth all season.
Turning to the wide receivers, Antonio Brown looks to be the replacement for Mike Wallace. Brown played distracted last season as he tried to pick up Haley’s new offense and deal with losing former coordinator Bruce Arians. He had just 5 TDs. Brown is paid to be the team’s top receiver. He will get a chance to earn his coins this fall.
It’s hard to predict in June which of the other Steelers receivers are most likely to earn Ben’s trust, becoming the unit’s No. 2. Emmanuel Sanders is a bit like Wallace with his route-running ability. He is not as fast but better understands how to get open.
Sanders also struggles to catch in traffic like Wallace; he is not the tough-yardage third-and-5 guy. He will find his TDs in the middle pockets of the zone, or fooling man-to-man coverage.The veteran duo of Plaxico Burress and Jerricho Cotchery currently sit third and fourth on the depth chart. Burress is the more intriguing of the two. He had eight TDs in his last season as a Jet in 2011.
Burress was added to the roster late last season and never had much opportunity to shine. Toward the end of the season, he did show that he could still make the tough catch. He also continues to have a great relationship with the guy throwing the ball. Burress believes he can “still be dominant in the red zone,” as he recently told the media. If he can convince Haley he is speaking the truth, eight TDs are possible.
The Steelers also added two receivers in the draft: third-rounder Markus Wheaton (Oregon State) and former Penn State-to-Oklahoma transfer Justin Brown. Let’s leave them out until they adjust to their first NFL training camp.
So who’s your money on for top TD-maker of 2013? Vote for your top receiver today. Tomorrow we will add the running backs.