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.