For the first time in his career, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Martavis Bryant played in a game and did not catch a touchdown pass. And he could have, even should have, had at least one, if not two, on two drives in which the Steelers combined to net three points, despite being on the 20-yard line or better on both occasions.
Bryant, in fact, caught just two passes on the day for 11 yards, having previously caught a pass of at least 19 yards in each of his first four games, and a pass of at least 35 yards in three of those games.
As exciting as he’s been for the Steelers over the past month, the game against the Tennessee Titans provided us with some reminders about just how far the rookie still has yet to go in terms of maturing his game as a complete wide receiver.
To be sure, even within this game we did see some signs of encouragement and growth, even as a blocker, but it’s just window dressing until we get to see it consistently.
He spent his bye week productively, working on his craft, and perhaps the coaching staff will use this down time to help expand his playbook and polish his understanding of the offense.
Bryant received the Steelers’ first pass of the game on a screen, but neither blocker was able to get out in front in time, and he was tackled after three yards. But he did a nice job four plays later of coming back to the ball and helping out his quarterback on second and 10 as Ben Roethlisberger was feeling the pressure.
He caught the ball in traffic, but he didn’t attack the ball either, which was a foreshadowing of the following play.
The Steelers had reached the outskirts of the red zone on their second drive, and were facing second and nine from the 20. Heath Miller drew in the safety, giving Bryant one on one coverage, and sold the inside route well to gain separation from cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson.
Roethlisberger lofted the ball to his 6’4” wide receiver, but the problem was that said receiver didn’t use that height to his favor, and allowed the corner back into the play, tipping the ball at the last moment.
The Steelers did convert on third and nine, gaining first and goal on the six, but they gained one yards on the first two downs. Roethlisberger went back to Bryant on third and goal on a corner fade, but Bryant didn’t fade enough, even if he perhaps rightly argued that he was impeded. The way the ball was delivered, he wouldn’t have gotten to that pass.
Finally, at the end of the half, the Steelers were back on the 20-yard line, with Roethlisberger going to Bryant in the end zone. Once again, Wreh-Wilson just barely got to the ball at the last second, preventing another touchdown, but this ball would have been more difficult to get to.