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Steelers

Steelers' balance hurting Antonio Brown's numbers

Chris Adamski
| Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018, 11:45 a.m.
Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown runs after a catch against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first half Monday, Sept. 24, 2018, in Tampa, Fla.
Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown runs after a catch against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first half Monday, Sept. 24, 2018, in Tampa, Fla.
Ben Roethlisberger looks for an open receiver during the first quarter of the Pittsburgh Steelers game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sept. 24, 2018 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.
Ben Roethlisberger looks for an open receiver during the first quarter of the Pittsburgh Steelers game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sept. 24, 2018 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.

Through three weeks, perennial All-Pro Antonio Brown is on pace for his least productive season in six years. Ben Roethlisberger has a theory why.

“(Opponents) are definitely still (double-teaming) and grabbing hold of him like they always have,” Roethlisberger said Tuesday morning on his weekly 93.7 FM radio show. “I think it’s maybe just as much me looking at other guys and not trying to force it to him.”

Brown had six catches for 50 yards in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 30-27 win at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday night. He was targeted nine times, second-most on the team to JuJu Smith-Schuster’s 11.

Through three games, Brown has been the target of 30.2 percent of Roethlisberger’s throws (42 of 139). That’s not markedly different than last season, for example, when Brown was targeted on 31.8 percent of Roethlisberger’s passes in the 13 full games Brown played (160 of 502). Over the first three weeks last season, Brown was the target on 32.7 percent of Roethlisberger’s passes.

But Brown had 354 receiving yards after three games last season and finished with 1,533. He has 210 this season, a pace to finish with 1,120. That would be his fewest since 2012.

“I am sure he’s frustrated a little bit,” Roethlisberger said. “He’s used to 1,500-yard seasons. (Brown hasn’t) had a 100-yard game yet. So I think you get frustrated when you get used to the big numbers. That can happen. (But) winning helps cure everything, and we won (Monday). I think he’s still a little frustrated, but he got a touchdown and we won the game.”

Smith-Schuster (38) has four fewer targets than Brown this season but more catches (27 to 24) and yards (356 to 210). Tight end Jesse James almost has as many yards (205) on only nine catches. Running back James Conner has been targeted 17 times and tight end Vance McDonald 10 times in two games. Young wide receivers James Washington and Ryan Switzer each have a touchdown reception.

“It’s good to get a variety of contributions that we are getting from eligibles,” coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday. “Our ability to spread the ball around, I think, helps us continue to move it fluently.”

The eight days before Monday’s win were rough ones for Brown. He was spotted yelling at assistant coaches during the Week 2 loss to Kansas City, was disciplined for an absence from a mandatory meeting and tweeted “trade me let’s find out” in response to a former team employee who suggested Roethlisberger is the sole reason for Brown’s career successes.

Tomlin brushed aside Brown’s relative lack of production thus far, attributing it to the emphasis opponents put on stopping him throughout the offseason and in game plans.

“It will smooth out over time I’m sure,” Tomlin said. “AB is AB. He’s a significant contributor in any setting. He showed that in the first half of that game (Monday) on that catch-and-run for (a touchdown). I’m not concerned about it at all.”

Neither is Roethlisberger, who listed the other skill players as to why. Arguably, though, this season’s offense isn’t as dynamic as previous ones that included Le’Veon Bell, Martavis Bryant, Heath Miller and others.

“JuJu is doing great things. Jesse, Vance, James Washington is making plays. Switz, now, too,” Roethlisberger said. “In the past, I have forced them (to Brown), and some god things have come of it. (But) I am trying not to do too much of that now. I’m just trying to make plays. And that might be the reason why (Brown’s) numbers aren’t where they were in the past.”

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Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at cadamski@tribweb.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

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