Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown gets a lot of passes thrown his way. There is no secret behind it. It is not a coincidence. It’s by design.
So says Richard Mann, Brown’s wide receivers coach for the past couple of years. The sixth-year wide receiver is already at 79 receptions in the first 10 games, on pace to challenge his own franchise record of 129 receptions in a season that he set last year.
The second-leading receiver on the team? Tight end Heath Miller, with 34 receptions, or less than half as many. Brown just passed Miller this season on the franchise’s all-time leading receptions list, now in sole possession of third place.
No other player on the roster has even 25 receptions yet this season, just a year after the team hosted five players who gained at least 500 yards through the air. This year, they are on pace for only three—Brown, Miller, and Martavis Bryant.
So this year, more than ever, even with Ben Roethlisberger being out four games, and parts of three others, it has been Antonio Brown versus everybody else, and he’s stepped up, on pace to put up 1825 yards this season, which would be the third-most ever.
The veteran Mann has been the one overseeing this year’s rollercoaster passing game, which has seen quarterbacks come and go, and was without Bryant for half the season, after which he has been inconsistent. Markus Wheaton has virtually disappeared from the passing offense, or so it seems, barely averaging a catch and a half per game.
Even Le’Veon Bell is gone, the star running back who was second on the team last year in receptions and receiving yards. He and Roethlisberger never even played a full game together the entire season.
So it’s no surprise to hear Mann tell, “we only have one ball…we say, ‘give ‘em all to Antonio and everybody else gets the rest”. Basically, throw the ball to Brown if you can. If not, look for another option, or throw it anyway.
That is certainly what Roethlisberger did two games ago during Brown’s franchise-best 17-reception, 284-yard performance. He only posted another double-digit-reception, 100-plus-yard game as an encore the game before the bye.
According to Mann, he was once taught by an old coach that “in times of crisis, you think of players and not plays”. It goes without saying that when the Steelers need somebody to make a play in a critical offensive situation, Roethlisberger is going to be looking for Brown.
He’s only done it so often. So much of the Steelers’ success comes down directly to Brown’s production, picking up key first downs—he has converted 21 third-down plays on his own this season alone.
I’m sure that Mann loves having Bryant and Wheaton to work with. Darrius Heyward-Bey more than served his purpose in Bryant’s absence, and remains a blocking asset. Sammie Coates’ time is yet to come. But the veteran has seen a ton of wide receivers over the years, and he knows when you have a player like Brown, you get him the ball as often as he’ll take it.