In their four seasons together, Ben Roethlisberger and Mike Wallace teamed up for 29 touchdowns, 19 of which were 20 yards or more in distance. The Steelers figured they would lose some of their quick-strike capabilities when Wallace was not re-signed over the offseason, but did anyone figure Roethlisberger would go from one of the best deep passers in the game to one of the most ineffective?
It's only two games, but Roethlisberger and his receivers have not produced the types of big plays he used to engineer with Wallace and others in previous years. And it hasn't been for a lack of trying.
Roethlisberger has taken his shots on deep routes, but his receivers haven't been able to make many big catches. He tried to connect with Emmanuel Sanders on the first play from scrimmage in Week 1 against Tennessee, and Sanders let the ball go through his hands. In the loss to Cincinnati Monday night, Roethlisberger was 1 for 8 on throws of 20 yards or more.
Wallace isn't a big target but at 6 feet, he is taller than Sanders (5-11) and Antonio Brown (5-10).
"They're aren't the biggest guys in the world, so it's easy for defensive backs to hold them, push them and arm-bar them, and they aren't getting the calls," Roethlisberger said earlier this week. "So it's tough. They just need to keep fighting through those things. I know they will do that. They take pride in their work and they work hard at it."
Roethlisberger might be jealous of Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler on Sunday night if he sneaks a peek at the Bears offense. Cutler's starting receivers are 6-4 Brandon Marshall and 6-3 Alshon Jeffery. There are six receivers on the Bears' 53-man roster and only one is shorter than 6 feet.
"It makes it nice," Cutler said. "The window to throw in is a lot bigger when you're dealing with guys who are 6-2 or 6-4."
The Steelers have five receivers on their 53-man roster and only two -- Jerricho Cotchery and Derek Moye -- are 6 feet or taller.
Cutler knows what Roethlisberger is going through. He has not always had the good fortune of throwing to taller receivers.
"When I first got to Chicago, we had a bunch of little, fast guys who were running 4.3 [40-yard dashes]," he said. "They're hard targets to hit. You just have to work with what you have out there. Ben has been in it long enough. He'll make it work somehow, some way."
So far, Roethlisberger hasn't been able to make it work as much as he would prefer. Brown, the No. 1 receiver, has 11 receptions but his longest is for 22 yards. Sanders leads the team with 12 receptions, but his yards per catch average (11.3) is lower than Brown's (11.6).
The Steelers knew they had a small group of receivers, which is one of the reasons general manager Kevin Colbert re-signed 6-5 Plaxico Burress, who joined the team late last season.
When Burress had a season-ending shoulder injury in training camp, it opened the door for Moye, who also is 6-5. Moye caught the first touchdown of his career against the Bengals when Roethlisberger lobbed a pass to him in the corner of the end zone from a yard out.
"I've always had the confidence that I could play at this level, but whenever you go out there and do it, you show yourself and your coaches that you'll be ready for the moment," Moye said. "It's a positive for me to show the coaches that I can go out there and play and they can rely on me if the situation is needed."
Offensive coordinator Todd Haley took notice.
"Our receivers are a certain build," Haley said. "Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders are a certain build and have a certain skill set. Being dominating in size isn't one of them. That's why it's nice to have a Derek Moye on the roster and [sixth-round draft pick] Justin Brown on the practice squad. Those guys are working all the time. Derek continued to make some plays that made us say, 'Hey, when we get down in there tight, we have a big guy that has a definite size advantage against a bunch of cornerbacks in this league.' Ben and him did a great job of executing and made it go. It's definitely a strong suit of his."
For now, it appears Moye will be used mostly in goal-line situations but he is ready to assume a larger role in the offense if called upon.
"I just think a bigger receiver can help out the quarterback sometimes," he said. "If the corner or defensive back has good coverage on the receiver, he can just throw it up and you go up and get it. That's what I like to think I bring to the offense, and I can do that if need be."
Ray Fittipaldo: email@example.com and Twitter @rayfitt1. First Published September 21, 2013 4:00 AM