It’s not easy to run out of accolades for which to give praise to the many talents of Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown. I’m still trying, but there’s still so much more to talk about.
One of the many facets of his game that doesn’t always get highlighted, yet which was a prime feature last week against the Tennessee Titans, was his reliability in converting on third down. Who needs a reliable veteran slot receiver for third down when you can just give it to Antonio Brown, after all?
In fact, of his 10 targets on the day—of with he caught nine—five of them came on third down. He caught four of them, converting those four third downs for 44 yards, with three of those third downs coming from at least eight yards out. The one incompletion resulted in Ben Roethlisberger’s interception when he threw an ill-advised pass from an awkward stance.
The conversions came in pairs, with the first two featuring on the Steelers’ second drive of the first quarter, which helped net the offense a field goal. Facing third and two on their own 40-yard line, the quarterback and receiver combination took advantage of the one on one coverage, with the cornerback dropping off just before the snap, with a stop route just four yards out. It was an easy conversion in spite of Roethlisberger’s less than ideal delivery.
The offense got bogged down with a third and nine once they scraped the outer edges of the red zone on that same drive, but Brown kept the drive moving with a curl route to the sideline. The Titans blitzed a safety on the play, leaving Brown one on one with Jason McCourty, and the All-Pro won with a false step inside, getting the corner to turn just enough to win positioning and bring in the pass.
Even though the drive ended in an interception, the Steelers’ last full drive of the half featured another pair of impressive third down conversions from Brown. This one came on third and 11 following a false start penalty.
This time, McCourty had safety help over the top, enabling him to allow Brown past to take a trailing position, but when the receiver stepped inside, it froze the safety long enough to allow him to break to the sideline, curling back to the ball between the two defensive backs for a 17-yard gain.
A few plays later, it was Brown again keeping the drive alive on a third and long, this one third and eight. Sitting on the Titans’ 40-yard line and needing the 32, Roethlisberger was able to beat the blitz as they rushed seven, getting the ball to his play maker with the one on one coverage, slicing to center field and finding the sticks.