PITTSBURGH — Though it’s hard to tell since they are 2-0 and have scored 62 points in their first two games, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense has been playing shorthanded.
Running back Le’Veon Bell has yet to play and will serve the last game of his three-game suspension imposed by the NFL for violating its drug policy for a second time when the Steelers visit the Philadelphia Eagles (2-0) on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.
Tight end Ladarius Green, signed in the offseason to replace the retired Heath Miller, is on the physically unable to perform list and wide receiver Martavis Bryant is sitting out the season because of a drug suspension.
Markus Wheaton, who was expected to be the Steelers’ No. 2 wide receiver with Bryant suspended, has also missed the first two games with a shoulder injury that also kept him out of all four preseason games.
Wheaton is expected to return Sunday. He was healthy enough to play in last Sunday’s 24-16 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field, but was inactive.
Wheaton was a full participant in practice on Wednesday and Thursday last week, though he ran with the scout team each day, but then was listed as limited on Friday. However, he said he did not experience any setbacks and it was coach Mike Tomlin’s call to sit him.
“He just thought I wasn’t ready,” Wheaton said. “I just missed a lot of football. With that little bit of practice, it was any easy call.”
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is glad that Wheaton is expected to play Sunday, even though the Steelers are averaging 31.0 points a game, which is fourth in the league. Wheaton averaged a career-best 17.0 yards a reception last season when the fourth-year veteran caught 44 passes for 749 yards and five touchdowns.
“A guy that has been here, knows the offense, good speed,” said Roethlisberger. “Someone I have trust and faith in as well.”
The Steelers will now have their full complement of wide receivers, as Wheaton joins Antonio Brown, Sammie Coates, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Eli Rogers, which should only aid a team that is 12th in the NFL with 270.0 passing yards a game.
“It’s competition,” Roethlisberger. “If they can play well enough to keep the other guys off the field that should be their goal.”
Roethlisberger needed the depth against the Bengals as they held Brown, an All-Pro each of the last two seasons, to just four receptions for 39 yards. However, Roethlisberger was not concerned about Brown’s sub-par performance.
“He is the best in the world,” Roethlisberger said. “We won the game, that is most important and I think that is most important to him, too. He will get his catches. He will get his yards. He will help us win football games.
“He is helping us even when he is catching three or four balls because he is taking a lot of attention away from other guys. That is the reason the tight ends were open across the middle, because he is attracting two or three sets of eyes. He is helping us win even when he is not catching balls.”
Nine different Steelers had receptions against the Bengals. The tight end trio of Jesse James, Xavier Grimble and David Johnson combined for six catches, while running back DeAngelo Williams had four and Coates hauled in two passes for 97 yards.
“We hold ourselves to high expectations,” Roethlisberger said. “I think people thought, ‘What are you going to do without Martavis? What are you going to do without Le’Veon, without Heath Miller?’
“My message was, ‘Well, we’ve got Sammie Coates, Eli and all the tight ends and DeAngelo Williams.’ We’ve got guys that can make plays.”
Wheaton has personal incentive to make plays. His four-year, $2.8-million rookie contract expires at the end of this season.
However, he said he isn’t looking that far into the future.
“Just keep working,” Wheaton said. “Put in the extra time when I can. Extra work when I can, and just build from there.”.