For 1st time since ‘98, Ward doesn’t lead Steelers

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Sanders, a third-round pick from SMU, has supplanted Antwaan Randle El as the No. 3 receiver, although he never got on the field regularly as a receiver until Oct. 17. He had seven catches for 78 yards against the Jets and four for 54 yards against Carolina.

Ward believes the recent shift in emphasis reflects the blanket-type coverage still given him by opposing defenses.

“He (Sanders) is a rookie, he’s young,” Ward said. “It’s the same thing with Mike, they tried to double me and Santonio (in 2009) and Mike took advantage of going against the third cornerback. Emmanuel is starting to do the same thing. The more times they take Mike and me out of the game, that’s going to create for opportunities for him. He’ll continue to get better, but it’s a work in progress.”

Since midseason, Roethlisberger has targeted Sanders nearly as many times (43) as he has Ward (45), according to STATS LLC. Sanders has 23 catches and two touchdowns in the last seven games, compared to Ward’s 24 catches and no touchdowns. Ward’s last touchdown was Nov. 8 in Cincinnati, or eight games ago.

Ben is believing in me, and it’s starting to show,” Sanders said.

Just like the Steelers have believed in Ward since he became one of the best third-round draft picks in NFL history.

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