PITTSBURGH - Based on statistics, the worst tandem of starting wide receivers in the AFC North belongs to the Steelers.
But as he's said regarding his team's disappointing 1-2 start, coach Bill Cowher isn't about to panic over the meager production he's gotten so far from Hines Ward and Cedrick Wilson. Their stats are just one part of the bigger picture.
The Steelers' passing game ranks 28th in the league for several reasons, ranging from Ben Roethlisberger's inaccuracy, six drops combined from the entire wideout corps, and Ward's training camp hamstring injury that he says still isn't completely healed.
"Nothing that time can't (heal) with a little more continuity and repetition," Cowher said of the Steelers' passing attack. "And we're getting that right now (at practice)."
With Roethlisberger seemingly back to full strength after undergoing an emergency appendectomy on Sept. 3, the Steelers expect better play from their quarterback, who's ranked 31st in the NFL with a 34.3 passer rating.
Likewise, Ward expects to elevate his game now that his hamstring woes seem behind him.
"I'm almost 100 percent," he said. "But I'm not making excuses. I have to play better. All of us (wide receivers) have to play better."
With only nine catches for 99 yards and one touchdown, Ward, a four-time Pro Bowl selection, is off to his worst start since 1999. Last year after three games, he caught 12 passes for 219 yards and four TDs. After three games in 2004, he had 22 catches for 346 yards and two TDs.
Wilson, who's replacing free-agent defector Antwaan Randle El in the starting lineup, only has four catches for 85 yards and no TDs.
Combined, Ward and Wilson average only 3.3 catches and 61.3 receiving yards per game so far this season. That's clearly the worst average of any starting WR tandem in the division.
Baltimore's Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton average 8.7 catches and 106 yards.
Cincinnati's Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh average 7.8 catches and 97.5 yards.
Cleveland's Braylon Edwards and Dennis Northcutt average 7.3 catches and 105.3 yards.
Despite Wilson's slow start, Cowher said he has no plans on demoting him and starting either second-year pro Nate Washington or rookie Santonio Holmes, the Steelers' first-round draft pick.
Washington, who played small-college football at Tiffin, leads the Steelers with three dropped passes, including one that would have gone for a touchdown in the 28-20 loss to the Bengals on Sept. 24. Wilson has two drops. Ward and Holmes, the ex-Ohio State star, have one each.
"We have some young guys who just need to play," Cowher said of Washington and Holmes. "Santonio will get more comfortable with what he's doing. He's fine. And you can't lose sight of the fact that Nate is really in his first year as a full-time player. He didn't play in any games until we got into the playoffs last year.
"So you'll have some of the natural inconsistencies that come with guys growing and learning. That takes time. It doesn't happen over night. Getting Ben back out there healthy and working every day will help the timing and continuity (of the passing game). Those things will get better."