Tape Review: WRs Inconsistent

Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders combined to make 16 catches for 170 yards, but made several mistakes along the way.

The Steelers' starting wide receivers were inconsistent Sunday against the Oakland Raiders, as Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders endured – and made fans endure – a wild cascade of highs and lows.

There were miscommunications and poor decisions, but there were also tough catches over the middle for key first downs and big plays for scores.

There were mind-numbingly dumb penalties, but there were heady plays made by seemingly savvy vets.

But, when the clock struck zero, the combination of highs and lows came up too low where it mattered.

Sanders had the first opportunity at a play. A third-and-four WR screen gave Sanders a chance against cornerback Mike Jenkins, but Sanders couldn't make the one man miss and he was dropped for a three-yard loss.

The next time the Steelers ran a screen, Sanders was out in front to block for Brown, but Jenkins easily absorbed the diving attempt. Had he thrown a more effective block, Brown may have had some room to work along the sideline.

These inefficiencies with the screens completely neutralized what's for all intents and purposes the Steelers' outside running game.

Soon thereafter, Ben Roethlisberger was forced to throw under duress and the hurried throw fell incomplete because Roethlisberger anticipated that Sanders would continue a route that he cut short.

Again, this type of miscommunication between Roethlisberger and Sanders has been worrisomely too frequent this season. With the way Roethlisberger plays, it's crucial he has reliable receivers who will do what he expects when a play breaks down.

Two drives later, the Steelers faced a third-and-five, on which Sanders was flagged for a false start. To make matters worse, the play would've been good for a conversion, and probably more. All a receiver has to do is look in at the ball, making this type of penalty unforgivable for a veteran.

To begin the final drive of the first half, Brown made a tough catch near the sideline for 20 yards on a ball he had to wait on. He showed toughness in hanging on after taking a hit from Charles Woodson.

And to begin the third quarter, Sanders converted the first third down of the day, and it was a long one. He caught a hard pass right at the first-down marker to move the chains after a 17-yard completion.

Later in the drive, Brown took an end-around all of two yards. Although the yardage secured another first down, the Raiders weren't fooled at all. In fact, Brown was first contacted behind the line of scrimmage and was able to reach the sticks. He has a quickness and decision-making ability with the ball in his hands that the Steelers lacked on these plays with Mike Wallace.

Early in the fourth quarter, Roethlisberger tried to hit Sanders down the field, something the Steelers have been trying to do all year. It worked once against the New York Jets, but Jenkins read the play too well.

With a 10-yard cushion off the snap, Jenkins had no trouble staying ahead of Sanders, who did just about everything in his power to prevent an interception, to no avail. There's nothing that Sanders did wrong on this play; he simply doesn't have the requisite speed to overcome such coverage.

The offense caught a break after getting the ball back, thus giving Sanders the opportunity to redeem himself. After escaping a sure sack, Roethlisberger found Sanders streaking away from Tracy Porter, and Sanders was able to jog into the end zone untouched.

What made the play, other than Roethlisberger's exceptional effort, was Brown, who crossed routes with Sanders and was able to pick off Porter and allow Sanders to separate. It was a perfectly executed legal pick, but not something that will receive much notice.

That was a plus, but the two receivers, particularly Brown, were maddeningly inconsistent in the fourth quarter. On third and 15, Brown had a 25-yard Roethlisberger pass in his hands, but failed to hold on.

Brown made up for the drop with a 44-yard punt return to Oakland's 31. But it occurred two minutes after his big drop, which, considering the way the game ended, was crucial.

On the first play after the punt, Sanders caught a pass on the sideline and cut toward the inside of the field instead of going out of bounds, yet he didn't gain any additional yardage and cost the team 30 seconds. Soon thereafter, a pass intended for Brown was knocked out of his hands and Porter intercepted the ball just before it touched the ground.

Brown and Sanders combined for three big catches on the final scoring drive, and then Sanders converted the two-point conversion in exciting fashion by taking the pitch, reversing field, faking a pass, and then weaving his way into the end zone.

However, the wasted timeout on offense, combined with the failed onside kick, left the Steelers with virtually no hope, as they had just 18 seconds left by the time they got the ball back. To put the nail in the coffin, Brown fielded the punt at the nine and proceeded to lose six yards. The game fittingly ended with a 33-yard pass to Sanders over the middle that was nowhere near the sidelines.


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