Rookie wide receiver Martavis Bryant took Justin Brown’s helmet on game day this past Monday when the Pittsburgh Steelers played the Houston Texans in a critical game at Heinz Field, and he did on his first reception what the latter could not throughout the first six games: put points on the board.
Of course, there’s little use burying the lede with regards to recounting Bryant’s debut performance. It’s the 35-yard touchdown strike that everybody is talking about, and for good reason. But that doesn’t paint a full picture of his game.
The fact that Ben Roethlisberger continued to attack him deep throughout the game—once in each quarter, if I’m not mistaken—tells you how the Steelers believe Bryant’s skill set will translate on the field, at least early on.
The first of those deep targets, unsurprisingly, came on the Steelers’ opening drive. Pittsburgh was approaching midfield on second and eight when Bryant ran a go route up the left sideline. With Darrius Heyward-Bey—slot left—running a crossing route to pull the safety, Bryant was left one-one-one. He got behind his man, but the pass was just not there.
The Steelers also sent Bryant on a deep route midway through the second quarter to draw coverage away from the middle of the field as they faced a third and 10 deep in their own end. Le’Veon Bell beat the linebacker and started crossing right. When Bryant realized this, he turned around and began blocking down on the cornerback, which helped Bell maximize his 43-yard reception.
It was Bryant’s turn soon enough, however, as the Steelers got him back on the field after another long reception from Bell gave Pittsburgh the ball on the Texans’ 35-yard line. The call was obvious: go after Bryant deep, and sure enough it worked.
The Steelers were in the 11 personnel, with Bryant lined up as the right outside receiver. Unfortunately for the Texans, they put eight in the box, with the deep safety shaded to the offensive left side of the field—naturally, over Antonio Brown.
That left Bryant one-on-one against Andre Hal, a rookie seventh-round draft pick with a half-foot height disadvantage on the 6’4” receiver. The corner pedaled toward the inside of the field and didn’t have the makeup speed to recover when Bryant didn’t cut inside with him. Roethlisberger only had to loft the ball far enough for Bryant to run under and get it, and he did just that at the back of the end zone.
But to be quite honestly, I might be even more, or at least equally, impressed with his effort on this incomplete deep pass in the third quarter. This time the Steelers had two tight ends on the field, leaving just Brown and Bryant at receiver.
Bryant streaked up the right sideline against one-on-one coverage—again, with a safety in the box and the deep safety shading toward Brown—as he nearly climbed up Johnathan Joseph’s back to get this ball. Had Joseph not gotten his left hand in the way, he may even have been able to snap that one.