Antonio Brown is the Best Non-QB in the NFL
In theory, the Pittsburgh Steelers shouldn’t have been throwing on third-and-6. But with Antonio Brown and Ben Roethlisberger how can you question that decision?
Not up seven points with 1:30 left in the game. Not after Ben Roethlisberger just threw an awful pick. Not with the Denver Broncos having a defense that can burn you. Not when a run can milk the clock under a minute.
But Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin doesn’t care. He is a gambler, and he has Antonio Brown. So of course the Steelers threw the ball. And of course they won.
Roethlisberger had just thrown an improbable interception on a bad decision, trying to force a pass to Brown on the front side of the two-minute warning. It might have been his worst throw of the season. But after the Broncos turned the ball back over to the Steelers on downs, they ran the ball twice — the Broncos burned their final two timeouts — and set up third down.
What do you do? The book might say run it, drain the clock and punt away to the quarterback, Brock Osweiler, who had cooled off remarkably since the first half in his fifth NFL start. But the book doesn’t account for the Brown factor.
If it’s Brown, flush them down.
So Roethlisberger watched as Brown ran a deep out route, absolutely torching one of the best corners in the business, Chris Harris Jr., in the process. The throw was there, Brown caught it — his 16th reception of the game on 18 targets — and the Steelers won a crucial, had-to-have-it game against a first-place team.
The Steelers still have work to do, but they’re that proverbial “no-one-wants-to-play-them” team in the playoff derby. And Brown is the player no team wants to contend with. In fact, he might be the best non-quarterback in the NFL.
If you want to argue that J.J. Watt or Rob Gronkowski are more dominant, it would be hard to dispute. But Gronk’s injury factor is hard to overlook, and Watt can do only so much as a defensive player on a team with some clear limitations.
But if you’re saying that Brown might not even be the best receiver, it’s falling on deaf ears here. Hey, I love Julio Jones, and the guy just physically dominates many opponents, but he gets hurt, too, and was held in check for a month in the middle of the season. Odell Beckham Jr. is as scary as any player in the league, sure, but as Sunday showed he’s also frightening for his own team.
Give me Brown, who can do almost anything. He can take a short pass a long way. He can catch the ball in traffic against bigger receivers. He works outside as effectively as he does inside. Down the field, he’s an animal. There might be no more competitive receiver with the ball in the air, his height and size be damned. And if you absolutely need a big punt return, Brown is your man.
He’s a big reason why the Steelers, who tend to give up lots of points and are not getting Le’Veon Bell back, are so dangerous. Want to slow Brown down? Better hope that Mike Vick or Landry Jones are forced into duty for an injured Roethlisberger.
Brown’s 186 yards and two TDs on Sunday were the difference. His first touchdown mid-third quarter cut a 14-point Broncos lead in half, and his score with 3:24 left in the game — burning Harris another time — was the game-winner. Brown has averaged more than 100 yards per game the past three seasons, and that includes the Vick-Jones games where they just couldn’t get him the ball.
He’s on pace to surpass his career highs in receptions and yards from a year ago, and with the Steelers still very much scratching to get into the postseason they’re most certainly going to keep throwing Brown’s way often. And he’s going to catch almost every one of them.