Steelers WR Brown out to get back on track, even with Jones under center
Already, Antonio Brown had to deal with the uncomfortable reality of having defenses devise coverage schemes to limit his end zone dances.
Now he will be without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger when the Steelers face the New England Patriots on Sunday at Heinz Field. Brown and quarterback Landry Jones will be challenged to ignite an offense that sputtered even before Roethlisberger injured his knee in the 30-15 loss at Miami.
The task is a monumental one, in part because the Patriots likely are to focus primarily on denying him the ball with deep threat Sammie Coates coping with an injured finger and slot receiver Markus Wheaton out with a bad shoulder.
“Obviously, it's frustrating not having Ben out there, but you have to be positive,” Brown said. “We can't be getting into his ear every time and telling him I'm open. We'll keep it simple, but he'll know where I'm at.
“We have to keep (Jones') poise and create separation for him and make plays for him. We have to play as a team to make everyone's job easier.
“There are no excuses,” Brown added. “Every man could be the reason why we win.”
Jones probably will be tempted to force feed the ball to Brown. However, he also could spread the ball around to receivers Eli Rogers and Darrius Heyward-Bey and running back Le'Veon Bell.
“We have to compete and make plays because opportunities will present themselves,” Rogers said. “We have to be there for Landry when he needs us.
“I've got to win in the inside. I can win every play if they're going to play, man, but we just have to move Antonio around to get him the ball.”
Brown is the difference maker for an offense seemingly in crisis mode without Roethlisberger. Heyward-Bey concedes there will be times when Jones can't look off Brown.
“Sometimes, AB will just have to be Superman,” said Heyward-Bey, who scored on a 60-yard run against the Dolphins. “I say just throw the thing — double-teamed, triple-teamed, who cares?”
Still, Heyward-Bey doesn't advocate Jones blindly throw the ball to the NFL's premier receiver. That, he said, would be a recipe for defeat against an opportunistic Patriots secondary.
“If we do that, we'll throw picks,” Heyward-Bey said. “It doesn't make any sense. Why tell an old lady to cross the street? Why not put her in a car and take here across the street?
“We want to throw (Brown) the ball, but we have to make that flow happen. He can't go to Landry and tell him to throw the ball no matter what. If he throws a pick, who am I going to look at? I'm looking at 84 (Brown).”
Jones will need Brown to be better than he was in Miami. Nothing has come easy for the four-time Pro Bowler this year.
Brown previously established a league record with 35 straight games in which he caught at least five passes for 50 yards. But twice this season he has been held to less than 50 yards receiving. Coincidentally, the Bengals and Dolphins surrendered the exact numbers: four receptions, 39 yards.
Also, Brown has totaled pedestrian numbers in wins over Kansas City (4 for 64) and the New York Jets (9 for 78). However, he carried the offense with 12 catches for 140 yards in a 34-3 setback in Philadelphia in Week 3.
Brown rarely stretches a secondary, partly because a safety takes him in double coverage. He can't shake loose on short routes because cornerbacks and linebackers are trapping him underneath.
As a consequence, his numbers aren't as impressive as other playmakers, such as Atlanta's Julio Jones and the New York Giants' Odell Beckham Jr. Actually, it is Coates who leads the NFL with an average of 22.2 yards per catch.
Brown has rewritten the Steelers' record book, but his numbers have dipped compared to the past two seasons. He has 41 catches for 486 yards, an average of 11.9 yards — nearly 10 yards less than Coates.
“I'm seeing double coverage every week,” Brown said. “Two or three guys are trying to stop me, but I want the ball.”