Steelers’ Antonio Brown vows: ‘The big plays will come’
Seven times over a 5½-minute session of meeting with the media Friday, Antonio Brown told reporters to “watch the tape.”
The tape has been watched. And something that is on it — or rather, what isn’t — draws attention.
Namely, big plays.
Through three Pittsburgh Steelers games, Brown has not produced a play of more than 27 yards, and his average yards per reception (8.8) is the third-lowest of any of the NFL’s 50 leaders in catches.
That’s a far cry from last season, when his career-high 15.2 yards per catch was seventh-best of any of the league’s top 50 receivers.
Brown was asked if there was any explanation for the downtick this season. As he is known to do at times, Brown’s answer was part defiant and part peculiar.
“Watch the tape,” Brown said. “If you watch the tape, (you’ll see). Just watch the tape, man. Right now, winning is important, Big plays will come, and then they’ll continue to come. … What we’ve got to do is continue to win.”
By most mortal measures, Brown is not off to a poor start to the season, his ninth in the NFL. Now 30 years old, he is on pace for 128 catches and ranked tied for fourth in that category after three games. He also has two touchdown catches.
But the lack of big plays is concerning. He has just two receptions of at least 20 yards after finishing in the top three in the NFL of that category in each of the past three seasons, averaging almost 25 per season. He also has been one of the top two in the league at 40-plus yard passes two of the past three years, but has none thus far in 2018, albeit in a sample size of just three games.
“There’s a lot of football left to be played; we know eventually we will start to connect down the field,” said Brown, who for the first time missed a sizable portion of training camp because of injury. “But right now winning is important, and the rest is (not).”
And the Steelers have a big game to win Sunday night against the division rival Baltimore Ravens.
Brown — the entire Steelers offense, really — catches a break in that the Ravens will be without Jimmy Smith. The team’s top cornerback is serving the final game of a suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. According to statistics calculated by ESPN, when Smith plays, Brown averages just 60.1 receiving yards per game against the Ravens. When Smith is out, Brown has averaged 151 yards against Baltimore.
But to borrow a line from Mike Tomlin, Brown isn’t seeking comfort in that.
“I haven’t really studied numbers or who I go against,” he said. “My job is to be the best player I can be no matter who I am going against.”
Perhaps most jarring about Brown’s relatively mediocre start is he doesn’t even lead the Steelers in catches or receiving yards. JuJu Smith-Schuster has 27 catches for 356 yards, which ranks among the top five in the NFL in both.
Though the past week was a quiet one, it was only two weeks ago Brown showed frustration via antics both on the sidelines and on social media.
“Obviously, it’s out of my control. I can’t throw it to myself,” Brown said of his production. “But what’s important is we continue to win. Obviously I am getting a lot of respect out there — guys are doubling me, tripling me. But what’s new? We have to continue to win. Winning is most important. Obviously, I think I am the top-rated receiver from (the 2010 draft class) still in the league. It’s all about winning at this point.”
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at email@example.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.