The Pittsburgh Steelers signed veteran wide receiver Lance Moore to a two-year contract after failing to re-sign Jerricho Cotchery, who emerged as a key weapon last year for Ben Roethlisberger after inheriting the slot receiver position.
The Steelers had to do without Moore during this first week of games, however, due to a groin injury that has had him sidelined for about a month.
This gave second-year wide receiver Justin Brown an opportune chance to get some extended work on the field, running with the offense as the slot receiver.
No doubt there were some among the coaching staff that were excited about getting him this opportunity. The Steelers gave him a ton of work during the preseason, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some believe, even hope, he can show well and earn the position.
The verdict so far through two games has been disappointing. While I can’t say for sure, it seemed that he had a great opportunity, if he performed well, to earn a healthy chunk of slot snaps later in the season once Moore returned.
But he’s certainly done nothing to leapfrog the veteran through two weeks, who one would have to assume is getting close to returning, and should be back on the field the next time the Steelers play a week from Sunday.
Here are the raw numbers for Brown: eight targets, four receptions for 44 yards, one fumble, and, if you’re a tough grader, two drops.
In the team’s season-opening victory, Brown was targeted four times, catching three passes for 38 yards. He had a fourth reception taken away on an offensive pass interference call that went against him.
The fourth target came at a key situation, late in the fourth quarter on third down in a tie game. He received the ball through traffic, but was unable to secure it before safety Jim Leonhard was able to come in and knock the ball out of his hands.
Last night, on the Steelers’ opening possession, the offense was driving down the field well. On second and nine from the Ravens’ 22-yard line, Brown caught a short pass and advanced upfield, but allowed the ball to be stripped out by Daryl Smith, and Baltimore was able to recover the fumble in the red zone.
Late in the game, Roethlisberger found himself scrambling and attempting to flick a shovel pass to Brown, but he was clearly not expecting the quarterback to do that, and he dropped the ball. I believe this was a third and one play.
Eight targets through two games is not bad action for a slot receiver receiving the first playing time of his career. Justin Brown had a golden opportunity to make his mark and convince Roethlisberger and the coaching staff that he needs to stay in the rotation, but he’s simply come up short, and must do better.