Antonio Brown’s season peak has likely passed

With Big Ben missing more time, and the return Martavis Bryant, Brown's biggest game may have already passed.

| 2 years ago
Steelers WR Antonio Brown

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Antonio Brown’s season peak has likely passed

The Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger has been among the better quarterbacks in the NFL over the past decade, but it wasn’t until recently that he became one of the top QBs in the league. Currently, we have him as the second-best, with a PFF rating of 89.4. When you lose a player like Big Ben, your offense is going to suffer, regardless of who the backup is.

When transitioning from Roethlisberger to Michael Vick, a key thing the Steelers lose is the ability to make big plays in the pass game.

Roethlisberger has been simply amazing on deep passes this season. He has thrown the ball 20 yards or more in the air on 18 percent of his passes, the fourth-highest rate in 2015. He has completed 10-of-16 of those passes for 406 yards (both are NFL-bests). His accuracy percentage when throwing deep is 68.8 percent, which is also the best for quarterbacks with 10 or more deep attempts. He was one of only four quarterbacks last year to have more than 1,000 yards on deep passes—needless to say, success throwing deep has been nothing new.

Over the last two seasons, Michael Vick hasn’t had nearly the same success when throwing long. In his limited time in 2014, he attempted 17 deep passes, completing only three of them. In his 44 dropbacks with the Steelers, he’s attempted only three deep passes—none of which were completed.

Ben Roethlisberger has an average depth of target of 11 yards—fourth-highest this season—in part due to all of the deep passes. Michael Vick, so far, is at 6.9 yards, which is eighth-lowest. You would expect a quarterback with a lower average depth of target to be more accurate, because, in general, shorter passes tend to be easier, but Roethlisberger is beating out Vick in accuracy percentage at 82.6 compared to 78.1.

The player this hurts the most is Antonio Brown, who has caught five passes for 213 yards on deep passes this season. Only 25 percent of the Steelers dropbacks against the Ravens ended up as Antonio Brown targets, his lowest in the last nine games. Brown is getting targeted less frequently by a quarterback who isn’t throwing the ball as far down the field. Last night, that added up to a 42-yard performance, Brown’s lowest in a game since 2012.

In the Steelers’ next game, they get their other deep threat, Martavis Bryant, back from suspension, and Markus Wheaton, who missed most of the Thursday night game, will hopefully be healthy by Week 5. So, Brown could see an even larger decrease in targets. Everything that’s happening around Brown isn’t making him a lesser player, but his numbers will likely continue to suffer until Roethlisberger can return. Even then, Bryant, who had the third-highest yards per route run last year at 2.75, will take some of the deep targets that had been going to Brown.

With all this taken into consideration, we may have already seen Brown’s best statistical games of the 2015 season.

| Director of Analytics

Nathan has been with Pro Football Focus since 2010. He is the Director of Analytics, an NFL analyst, and a fantasy writer.

  • Joe

    Completely agree, brown I still a great WR, possibly the best in the NFL, but Big Ben is a huge contributor to that. Mike Vick didn’t get the ball into brown’s hand enough yesterday and I think that’s a big reason why they lost. Multiple factors contributed to that as well but only 42 yards for a playmaker like brown? More passes need to go his way next week

    • Jim Winslow

      Mike Tomlin needs to be fired

      • crosseyedlemon

        A coach that loses his best player to injury will almost always get a pass. Right now fans in Pittsburgh are more interested in seeing the Pirates have a successful playoff than sacking Tomlin.

        • Jim Winslow

          Yeah I know it isn’t going to happen, but I feel like it wouldn’t be hard to get someone better.

      • Sam Doohan

        This isn’t Houston or Jacksonville where the front office gets antsy after one bad game. They had a dip down, now they are on the way back up. Why fire him? Because they haven’t gone deep in the playoffs in a few years? It’s not his fault that Ben had a habit of throwing back breaking picks in wild card games. So a rough few years after they were last in the super bowl but keeping Tomlin means that they can be successful again today not in ten years after three failed attempts to rebuild.

        Even looking at this season – Even if Ben is out all 6 games, you can expect them to beat the Raiders, the Chiefs and the Chargers just with short passing and Bell running. So probably 5-5 with six to play with all their talent back in a division where ten wins will likely take it. How scary!

        • Jim Winslow

          They should fire him because that team actually has talent, jacksonville and housten have had nothing going for them for years. He has always been carried by his players. I used buy into that he was good coach too but as I got older it see that team makes really dumb decisions in critical situations.

        • Jim Winslow

          Also if you have a calvin johnson or randy moss you use them, they canmake any qb look decent, and they can keep you in the game. Detroit had no problem throwing to calvin when there qb and team was shitty. New England didn’t decide to forget about randy moss when matt cassel was their qb.

        • Jim Winslow

          I don;t expect them to beat those teams if don;t change up their offensive game plan. They lost to a bad already banged up ravens team, all those teams you listed are superior to the ravens they aren’t gimmees based on what we saw yesterday.

      • Corey Koehler

        I disagree. He was being his usual aggressive self but difference here was the execution by his kicker and quarterback made him look bad. Hard to make sound decisions when you don’t trust either of them.

        Vick missed a few critical throws to wide open receivers and seemed hesitant and slow running. Scobee is train wreck and needs to go.

        That said, It is always good to see Sixburgh struggle a little. They have enough rings.

        • Jim Winslow

          I think vick ws fine he was good in the intermediate game they just ran am ultra conservative offense and didn’t try to test the ravens secondary that much. I mean like 100 yards passing from 17/20(something attempts) that a bit showing. There were bunch of short throws to bell that didn’t go anywhere. Also tomlin was aggressive on defense and he got burned by his play calling in the end, he did a DB blitz on 4th and 10. That just seems dumb. Alos I understand having a shitty kicker can put you in a hole but the ravens had no problems putting themselves into holse too with them going for it on 4th down, and the fact they lost there only play maker on offense. The ravens gave you every oppertunity to win that game and you never took advantage.

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  • crosseyedlemon

    It’s definitely a bear market for all fantasy players with Steeler receivers now that Vick is at the helm.

    • Sam Doohan

      But if you have Bell then you can cackle to yourself as he puts the offense on his back and earns you 20+ points per game.

      • crosseyedlemon

        Bell made a terrific cutback run for a TD against the Ravens but he will have a huge bullseye on him now because opposing defenses realize that if they shut him down they probably have the game won.

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