Martavis Bryant And The Risk-Reward Pendulum

We have seen instances in every game that he has played so far that rookie wide receiver Martavis Bryant is still clearly raw.

Some lazy route running in the red zone on Sunday against the New York Jets caused Ben Roethlisberger to throw his first interception in four games, since before the Pittsburgh Steelers’ impressive three-game winning streak.

Bryant was supposed to break inside a step later to chase the cornerback to the left, but he rounded his route off instead, which allowed the Jets to sit back and read the play, breaking on the ball and popping it into the air for a diving interception.

Not that these things don’t happen to just about every wide receiver every once in a while, but at least for the time being, instances such as these are part of Bryant’s identity as a young, unpolished target.

Yet so are big time plays, and he hit it big time on the Steelers’ last offensive play of the game to bring the score to 20-13 with the hopes of recovering an onside kick.

The Steelers had just turned the ball over on downs with two minutes to play when the defense was able to force a three and out. The Jets punter boomed the ball 69 yards into the opposite end zone for a touchback.

It was on the next play, with 1:28 left in the game, that Roethlisberger found Bryant for the 80-yard touchdown, the Steelers’ longest reception of the season by 26 yards.

It was Bryant’s sixth touchdown of the season, all coming in the span of the past four games since he’s been active. It was also his second touchdown of 35 yards or more, the other four scores coming from inside the red zone, though two came from at least 18 yards out.

Bryant sprinted 20 yards down the field before looking back, and he started curving increasingly to the inside of the field as he saw Roethlisberger being flushed to his left by pressure. He gave his quarterback an out as the two made eye contact about 40 yards apart.

Roethlisberger heaved the ball to the open part of the field, with the pass hanging in the air for about 63 yards between the quarterback’s arm and the receiver’s hands, with Bryant snagging it at the 20 and jogging it into the end zone from there, having gotten the cornerback turned the wrong way and in a trailing position 60 yards ago.

It unsurprisingly put Bryant over 100 yards for the day, the first rookie wide receiver to do that since Mike Wallace in 2009. On the year—in the last four games—he now has 14 receptions for 310 yards and six touchdowns, averaging 22.1 yards per reception.

With numbers like those, you can live with the learning curve as he gains a better understanding of the offense with on the job training. You can live with some of the risks of a young player like Bryant as long as you get the pendulum swings both ways and reap the rewards.

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