By: Zach Metkler, GZ Sports Report Writer
[twitter-follow screen_name=’GZSports_ZM’ show_count=’yes’]
“Ladarius Green is a bum.”
“He isn’t really injured.”
“We wasted our money.”
“We don’t need him. We have Jesse James.”
“Where is Heath when you need him?”
I don’t think anyone is saying these things now. Well, they might be still asking about Heath Miller. That is going to take some time getting used to.
Ladarius Green has been active for just four games this season after missing the first eight games due to injury. To say he has made his impact felt would be an understatement. Green has displayed big-play ability over the past two weeks. He caught passes of 35 and 32 yards in Week 12 against the Colts, then destroyed the Giants in Week 13 to the tune of 6 catches, 110 yards, and a touchdown, including receptions of 37 yards, 33 yards and 20 yards. That is four 30-yard receptions in two weeks. So far in his four games, Green has totaled 11 receptions for 207 yards, a touchdown, and a whopping 18.8 yards per catch. Between Weeks 12-13, Green has averaged 22.1 yards per catch, which was the highest average in the league during that span.
Not only was his game against the Giants impressive, it was also his first career game with 100+ receiving yards. The last time a Steelers tight end had a stat line as good, if not better, than Green’s was when Miller did it in 2014.
Green’s emergence on offense couldn’t have happened at a better time. The Steelers have desperately searching for another option in the pass game other than Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. While Eli Rogers has shown plenty of potential and some nice plays and Cobi Hamilton has been a very underrated player, Green presents something that neither of them do: big-play ability. Sammie Coates was expected to step up as the deep-threat with the season-long suspension of Martavis Bryant. However, due to nagging hand injuries and other unforeseen issues, this has yet to really happen. With Green now at 100%, this role is now Green’s to lose.
What Green has shown over the past two weeks is great football intelligence. He has shown a great understanding of the offensive playbook, as well as knowing how to use his talents to his advantage. Ben Roethlisberger has also began giving praise to his new toy, which is not something that the future Hall of Famer does often. “I have all of the faith in the world in him and what he can do,” Roethlisberger told reporters after Green’s breakout game against the Giants. “He is a weapon for us.” As their chemistry grows, so will Green’s stats.
The Steelers now have two viable options at tight end. While Green was on the shelf, Jesse James proved to be a viable option at tight end. The primary difference between the two players is Green’s superior athleticism at the position. James is the definition of an all-around possession tight end. Whenever he is able to put his game together, he can be the player the Steelers turn to when they need the first down. However, as seen against the Giants, James is not quite there yet. His hands continue to show some inconsistencies, as indicated by his ugly drop which was a simple, uncontested toss and catch from Ben Roethlisberger. This is not to say that Green was perfect, either. Green had at least one drop that shouldn’t have occurred. But with the Steelers high flying, explosive offense, Green is the obvious choice. At some point in the near future, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Steelers begin to incorporate more two tight end sets, especially in the redzone. This will be even more likely if no wide receiver takes the #2 spot for their own.
As it stands right now, Green has already established himself as Roethlisberger’s #3 target behind Brown and Bell. This is vital for the Steelers success at the playoffs quickly approach. Teams have had to figure out ways to stop both Brown outside and Bell out of the backfield. But now with Green adding another dimension to the offense, defense will have to choose which threat they want to focus on. Which will open things up for Rogers and Hamilton underneath. Which will open up the run game. Which will lead to wins.
With four games left in the season, the Steelers are in prime striking distance of taking sole possession of the AFC North. With the defense steadily improving and the offense having three consecutive strong performances, the Steelers can taste a playoff berth.
And this begins with Ladarius Green.
Join the discussion at steelernation.com!