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Drops prove costly for young Steelers wideouts

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The Steelers have played the boom or bust game with their complementary receivers outside of Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell all season.

On Sunday night against the Patriots in Foxborough, with Bell injured and Brown trapped in tight coverage, it turned out to be a resounding bust. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was as critical as he could be in the situation, while still taking some of the blame himself.

"Yeah, a little frustrating," Roethlisberger told reporters after the game. "Because we talk about, sometimes it's just one play here, one play there, and tonight we didn't make those plays. Like I said, was it too big, what it was, I don't know. We need to make every single play in a game like this, against an opponent like this."

The main culprits were not unfamiliar to Steelers fans, though Pittsburgh knew well the drop issues associated with wideouts Sammie Coates and Cobi Hamilton when they drafted them. In each of their NFL.com draft profiles, concentration and catch consistency were among the negatives.

Roethlisberger went deep to Coates on the opening drive when it was clear the speedy wideout had a step on his defender, but the ball fell through his hands. Hamilton, in the second quarter, dropped a pass that appeared to land in his stomach near the end zone. According to Pro Football Focus, the Steers' drops accounted for 119 total yards of offense.

Back in October, I wrote about Coates and how he embodies a conundrum for scouts. He has blazing speed and unteachable athleticism, but is the football equivalent of Major League Baseball's Mark Reynolds -- a player who hits home runs but typically has a lower batting average and a higher strikeout rate. At one point this season, Coates was in the top 10 in receiving yards. Since week 5, however, he's had just four total catches. Two of them came Sunday night against the Patriots.

With Brown taken out of the game for the most part, re-establishing these players for a more practical use isn't easy.

"Hopefully, this is a learning game for guys to understand this isn't promised to anybody," Roethlisberger said, via the Post-Gazette. "Tomorrow isn't promised. Just to make the playoffs isn't enough. A lot of guys have been in the league for a long time and haven't been to any of these. I hope they understand the importance and relish the opportunity if it comes again."

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