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Fewer roles, more big plays for WRs

They no longer have identifiable regulars in terms of the No. 2, the No. 3, and the No. 4 wide receivers, but the Steelers' wide receivers are much more interested in results than defined roles.

"I think you guys are trying to figure that out," wide receiver Lance Moore suggested to a curious member of the media this week. "We're just playing ball. They don't tell us who's doing what. We just look at the game plan, and when our numbers are called we go in the game.

"I think everybody caught a ball in the last game. As long as we know we have the potential of catching balls out there I think everybody will be fine."

The Steelers had five wide receivers dressed for last Sunday's 51-34 victory over Indianapolis. The distribution of catches ranged from 10 for Antonio Brown to one for Darrius Heyward-Bey. As a group the players who play wide receiver exclusively were targeted 29 times and caught 23 passes for 321 yards and five touchdowns.

"Pretty sweet, huh?" wide receiver Markus Wheaton offered.

They played mostly in groups of three: Brown, Wheaton and Moore; or Brown, rookie Martavis Bryant and Heyward-Bey.

Yet even another threesome might easily emerge on Sunday night against the Baltimore Ravens given the way the Steelers have been distributing labor at the position.

The constant is Brown, a dazzling playmaker who leads the NFL with 60 catches (including seven for touchdowns) and ranks second in the league with 852 receiving yards (behind T.Y. Hilton of the Colts with 866).

"We all obviously feed off him, doing what he does and his work ethic and all that," Wheaton said.

The rest are on call and respond when called upon.

"We get the personnel (group), the formation and we go," Wheaton said.

That's a significant departure from the way the Steelers deployed their wide receivers at the outset of this season.

Back then it was Brown No. 1, Wheaton No. 2 and Justin Brown No. 3. When Moore was healthy enough to make his Steelers debut on Sept. 21 at Carolina, he was No. 4 at the position.

Now, seemingly, just about anything goes, and the group couldn't be happier about it.

"Any time we're running up the score we're going to be happy," Wheaton said. "If we're going to score like (we did against the Colts) I'm pretty sure everybody's going to be happy."

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has grasped the novelty of such an approach. But Roethlisberger is nonetheless a big fan of keeping everyone involved.

"I don't think it's a first group, a second group," he said. "It just depends on what personnel and what plays we want to run. As long as each guy wires in on what he's doing on his particular plays and groupings, then we can keep rolling."

The Steelers' embracing of the more-the-merrier approach at wide receiver coincided with Bryant making his NFL debut on Oct. 20 against Houston. Since then Roethlisberger has eight touchdown passes and no interceptions.

Wide receivers have been responsible for seven receptions in the end zone during that span including the 3-yard pass Antonio Brown threw to Moore for a score against the Texans.

"We've seen the work that everybody has been putting in," Wheaton said. "We know that everybody can contribute. Martavis, the first couple weeks he wasn't dressing out but he was still putting in the work that we were all putting in, staying after (practice) and catching balls. I don't think this surprises any of us in this locker room."

Certainly not in a wide receivers room that has adopted an all-for-one attitude that can't be measured by statistics alone in terms of value.

"I'm a guy who's always enjoyed when the guys around me are making plays," Moore said. "And I like it when the guys celebrate when I'm making plays, as well. It works well for your team and the chemistry and camaraderie and just kind of having each other's back.

"I think it's a good thing."

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