Tag Archives: Antonio Brown
The Pittsburgh Steelers are one of the toughest NFL teams to figure out ahead of the 2016 season—in a good, potentially great, way.
Just after the 2015 campaign ended, had you asked if the Steelers would improve upon their 10-win performance and wild card berth the following year, the answer would have been a resounding yes. They would have Martavis Bryant, Antonio Brown and Le’veon Bell for an entire season. Ben Roethlisberger remains one of the most underrated great quarterbacks of all time. How could they not emerge as a dynamo on the back of perhaps the scariest offense in the NFL?
Well, a spanner or two (or three) has been thrown into those plans. Stud wide receiver Bryant is suspended for the entirety of the 2016 crusade after violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Bell, the Steelers’ star running back, is also facing a four-game suspension for skipping a drug test. Multiple reports have the Steelers confident that the suspension levied will be overturned, and that Bell will, in fact, be available for their Week 1 sparring.
Still, these types of hiccups are troubling. You want your best players on the field every week, and the Steelers won’t have that luxury with Bryant watching from home all year. And there’s a chance they’ll be debilitated even further for the first 25 percent of the season with regards to Bell. Those losses would cripple most teams.
But the Steelers aren’t most teams. Not by a long shot. Bell’s backup, Deangelo Williams, shined as the No. 1 running man through the first few weeks of last season. Brown, meanwhile, is the best wideout in football. Having Bryant on the field, as one of the most lethal deep-ball threats in the game, makes his job easier; not having him on the field, though, doesn’t make Brown’s job impossible.
Brown caught more than 70 percent of his passes while racking in 136 total receptions and more than 1,830 yards. The last player to reel in at least 69 percent of his passes while clearing the 1,800-yard plateau? That would be Jerry Rice, during the 1995 season, as a member of the San Francisco 49ers, according to pro-football-reference. That’s some serious company, and it suggests that Brown can carry an entire receiving corps on his own.
He has a better chance than most one-man shows anyway. The Steelers’ running game, whether they are using Bell or Williams, will open up plenty of opportunities in the air, while Big Ben has the ridiculously strong arm necessary to capitalize on Brown’s speed against double coverage. Wide Receiver Sammie Coates has also stepped up in training camp and could be speeding toward a subtly spectacular season. Any production of Bryant’s that he can make up will make life exponentially easier on Brown and the rest of the Steelers’ offense.
The defense, of course, will need to tighten up as well. It was hot and cold last season, and appeared to cool off as the year progressed. The Steelers, nevertheless, ranked 11th in points allowed per game.
If they can stay right around that area, they’ll be just fine.
Pittsburgh’s passing prevention will most likely need to improve for that to happen. While the Steelers ranked among the top six defenses in total interceptions, they finished 30th in passing yards allowed and 19th in passing touchdowns relinquished.
Their secondary would often get burned taking too many gambles, so they’ll have to see if rookie cornerbacks Artie Burns out of Miami (first round) and Sean Davis out of Maryland (second round) can make an immediate impact. Anytime defenses are even slightly dependent on newbies in the secondary, the potential for some sort of regression exists.
And yet, there’s a reason why Bovada gives the Steelers top-five Super Bowl odds (+1200), in addition to the second-best AFC Title chances (+550), behind only the New England Patriots (+275). Even a slightly below-average defense puts you in a great position if you’re carried by a dominant offense. And we know the Steelers will have that, even without Bryant and, potentially, Bell.
Besides, regardless of what Pittsburgh’s secondary looks like, it will be buoyed by a stingy run defense. The Steelers ranked in the top five of both rushing yards allowed per game and touchdowns let up on the ground last season, and they didn’t lose any personnel that would suggest they’re do for a decline.
It helps, too, that the AFC isn’t exactly overrunning with powerhouses. You have the Patriots, yes. But the No. 2 slot in the conference is far from determined. Any one of the Cincinnati Bengals (+800), Denver Broncos (+900), Indianapolis Colts (+1100) or Kansas City Chiefs (+1100) could end up being Super Bowl contenders or pretenders. The Steelers, on paper, are easily the best team of that bunch. They have the best quarterback, in Roethlisberger, and it isn’t even kind of close, and their backfield combination of Bell and Williams leads the pack by a similar margin.
In any other season, given the absence of Bryant and the uncertainty of Pittsburgh’s passing defense, it might be tough to envision the Steelers as Super Bowl contenders. They would be playoff-bound, sure. But there would, presumably, be another team or two to slot ahead of them. That’s just not the case this year. The Steelers are a good-to-great football squad that will be propped up even further by the AFC’s shallow juggernaut pool—and there is, by no means, any shame in that.
We like the Steelers to advance to the AFC Championship game against the New England Patriots, where they’ll likely fall just shy of their ultimate Super Bowl aspirations. Then again, if a few things go their way, we could see the Steelers play Green Bay in an all-anticipated Super Bowl Final
Change with all sides has to happen over time, and there has been a gradual change in the personnel at the Steelers over the past few years. The challenge ahead this year for head coach, Mike Tomlin, will be getting back to having a winning season after a 12-4 record and a playoff loss to Denver in 2011 turned into an 8-8 season in 2012.
Defensively, the biggest loss was linebacker, James Harrison, who was released after salary-cap issues (and is now with the Bengals) but it was the offense that saw the biggest changes, with new back-ups behind quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, a new backfield, a much-changed receiving corps, and a new look on the offensive line.
The steady part of the Steelers offense is Roethlisberger; he is the main constant in the attack and, with a new supporting cast this year, fans betting on the NFL will be hoping that he (for once) can stay healthy this year and play all 16 regular season games, something that has happened only once in all his seasons as a starter.
His fitness is vital, especially with veteran backups, Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich, gone and replaced by another veteran, in Bruce Gradkowski and fourth-round draft pick, Landry Jones, who must be considered a work-in-progress. Jones went from a potential first-round pick to a fourth-rounder after a disappointing senior season; he certainly isn’t NFL ready – yet.
Pittsburgh has always been considered a team that can run the football but, last year, they couldn’t accomplish that, mainly due to injuries. This year, they certainly expect improvement to come in that department, as they have drafted Le’Veon Bell in the second round; he should quickly take over as the featured and starting back.
He’s a workhorse back with good size (6-1, 244); he’s durable, and can take tacklers a few yards; he’s also very powerful and relentless, a good acquisition for the Steelers’ style of running game that they like to play.
Bell should have solid support on the ground with Issac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer competing for the number two spot on the roster. As things stand, it looks as though Redman will get the nod. Bell is likely to see the field on 3rd down as long as he continues to improve his pass blocking & blitz pickup. Will Johnson returns at fullback and will be a good addition in a mainly blocking role.
Question marks must remain over the receiving corps though, especially as Heath Miller at tight-end, their leading receiver in 2012 (71 catches), is not yet slated to return after injury. With him missing, the receivers look like a weaker group, especially as Mike Wallace was also lost to the Dolphins.
So, what have the Steelers got in this department? Well, Emmanuel Sanders, who was a nice slot receiver last year is going to have to step-up and improve his numbers for a start.
Although he did well in 2012 (44 catches for 626 yards), he will have more pressure on him this year and will be expected to produce more; it remains to be seen if he can handle that situation. Antonio Brown needs to improve again after his form rather levelled off in 2012. After those two, the Steelers receivers are a mixture of draft picks and veterans and it remains to be seen who of those make the full roster for the season. Offense is one area where the Steelers are looking a little light, unless Sanders or Brown really engage overdrive this year.
The offensive line gets a very new look and protecting Roethlisberger will be all important; two starters are gone from the “new look” – guard, Willie Colon, and tackle, Max Starks, and it will be three-time Pro Bowl center, Maurkice Pouncey, who anchors the line.
Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams are being lined up as the tackles but there is still some doubt from NFL betting pundits over who will play left and who will play right. Guards, David DeCastro and Ramon Foster, complete the front five and it looks like the Steelers have a real belief in this line as a unit that could stay together for years – it certainly looks solid enough, providing a platform from which Roethlisberger has time and room to operate.
All in all, ‘transition’ is the right word to use about the Steelers offense – there are elements of stability there, Roethlisberger, for instance. However, much of the cast is new and it may take a while for it all to knit together.
This year, with an increased running game, we can see the Steelers getting back to their “ground and pound” style as the staple for whatever success may come their way, a return to their roots and some “blue-collar football”.
After going just 8-8 last season, the Pittsburgh Steelers lost key wide receiver Mike Wallace to free agency. He was the Steelers top receiving threat and a particularly strong deep threat as well as being the Steeler top ranked in fantasy football in 2012. As the team tries to get back into the playoff hunt, will Ben Roethlisberger have enough reliable targets to throw to?
With Wallace gone, the Steelers now have Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders as their top two options. Jerricho Cotchery will more than likely slot in at the #3 option, with Plaxico Burress and Markus Wheaton likely battling for the #4 spot. While all five of those receivers are talented, no single player is going to be able to replace Wallace’s productivity. Instead, it is going to take a collective effort to boost the passing attack.
At 5’10” and just 186 pounds, Brown does not have the size of most #1 receivers in the NFL. However, Todd Haley’s offense calls for a lot of short passes, and that is one of the strong points for the quick receiver. His numbers were down last season, but with the high-ankle sprain behind him, he could be a solid target.
Sanders seems like the player most likely to breakout as a true Wallace replacement, and Roethlisberger was so found of him that he begged management to match his offer sheet from the Patriots. He is not a big play type of guy just yet, but he does have some impressive quickness to go with reliable hands.
Of course, for the Steelers to really have a solid passing game, they will need to have things balanced out by a decent running game. Last year, they were awful running the ball, but Le’Veon Bell has a chance to help turn around that part of the offense. His running threat can open up things for Roethlisberger when the game is on the line.
Wallace is a tough player to replace, but the Steelers feel as though they have enough depth to make up his production collectively. With a healthy Roethlisberger, the passing game should be just fine in 2013.
Over the past 3 years, Mike Wallace has been one of the most productive receivers in the NFL. Now, Wallace wants to be paid like one. There is little doubt that the Steelers are a better team with Mike Wallace but at what cost? Do you jeopardize future signings such as Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders? I don’t think so.
Wallace has been rumored saying he wants to be paid like Larry Fitzgerald who signed a 8 year, 128.5 million dollar contract.
The Steelers won’t pay Wallace, Larry Fitzgerald money. That would be a poor decision and that is not the way the Steelers do business. They won’t overpay for a wide receiver (see Burress, Randle El, etc) and they never let a player (see Santonio Holmes) jeopardize the future of the franchise. And quite frankly, Wallace isn’t worth Fitzgerald money. Wallace has elite speed but he’s not close to being a Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald talent. They are in a class of their own. Wallace is in the next tier of wide receivers. He’s still a 1 trick pony that disappeared towards the end of last year. He might not be the best overall wide receiver on the team. That title probably goes to the Antonio Brown.
With that being said, I want Wallace on the Steelers if the price is right. What’s the right price? I think 5 years, 45 million seems about right. The contract will be back loaded and much less than that will be guaranteed. If Wallace doesn’t agree to a contract similar to that, he won’t be a Steeler after this season.
The Atlanta Falcons will face the Pittsburgh Steelers tonight at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. This will be the Steelers third preseason game and you’ll see the starters play the 1st half and the roster will begin to finalize for those on the “bubble”.
Here are a few players to pay special attention to during tonight’s game:
Tony Hills – The tackle from the University of Texas in now a 4th year player and it’s now or never for him. Hills came into training camp in great shape and has played inspired during practice and the last 2 preseason games. Hills can play tackle as displayed against the Philadelphia Eagles or guard. Hills has been so impressive that he appears to be the front runner for the RG position. Tonight, Hills is starting at RG.
Antonio Brown – What else can you say about the youngster? The guy has seized every opportunity in training camp and preseason. He is continuing right where he left off last year but now he may be in the process of wrestling the 3rd wide receiver spot from Emmanual Sanders. Sanders has been sidelined with a foot injury.
Cornerbacks – How will our cornerbacks Keenan Lewis, Crezdon Butler, William Gay, Donovan Warren, Bryant McFadden (questionable), and Cortez Allen (questionable) fair against the highly talented and explosive Atlanta Falcons offense.
Ramon Foster and Chris Scott – Will they allow Tony Hills to steal their spot at RG? At the start of training camp, it was Foster’s job to lose. Apparently, he is starting to lose it.
Marcus Gilbert – The rookie LT from the University of Florida had a rough start to training camp reportedly showing up out of shape. He has turned things around recently and is getting his first start due to Jonathan Scott’s injury (hyperextended knee). He will have a tough matchup against Atlanta’s 4-time Pro Bowler, John Abraham.