Being as there’s an outside chance Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown won’t be able to play Sunday in the team’s Sunday road divisional playoff game against the Denver Broncos because of a concussion, offensive coordinator Todd Haley was asked Wednesday during his weekly interview on Steelers Nation Radio what the plan would be should one of the league’s best pass catchers wind up sitting the contest out.
“Well, we got a good group, thankfully, guys who have made a lot of plays for us this year,” said Haley. “Obviously we would rather have AB. If we weren’t able to have him then a young guy like Sammie Coates, that’s been getting a lot of practice reps from a show team standpoint, working hard, trying to get better all year and he has gotten better, would have to step in in some role, even if it is as a back-up. But we need Markus [Wheaton], Darrius Heyward-Bey and Martavis [Bryant] to really step up and play at an even a higher level.”
Coates, who hasn’t dressed in several weeks, would obviously be active if Brown does wind up being sat down on Sunday. However, even if that winds up being the case, I wouldn’t expect him to see much, if any, playing time in that game barring any additional injuries at the position due mostly to his lack of experience.
Haley was also asked if the rest of the other wide receivers are interchangeable at all of the positions should Brown ultimately be unable to play against the Broncos.
“We try to really hone in on having guys do the things that they do best,” said Haley. “AB is obviously a unique talent. He can play outside, inside, he’s shown the ability to move around a bunch through studying and being ready to go. That being said, you’re not going to just plug somebody in and be AB. I think we have to continue to play to the strengths of the other guys.”
Not having Brown on Sunday would be a huge blow to the Steelers offense and especially being as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger won’t be 100% if he plays due to a right shoulder injury that he’s attempting to overcome.
The Broncos are expected to be in their base defense quite a bit on Sunday in this second meeting this season between the two teams in an effort to shut down Pittsburgh’s running game. The Steelers were able to take advantage of that through the air the last time around with a healthy Roethlisberger and Brown.
“They’re [Denver] No. 1 against the run and I think that’s where their defense starts with stopping the run,” said Haley. “When we have our three receivers on the field they chose to stay in basically their base, play a lot of man-to-man, and we felt like those matchups were good for us and in the end they were.”
The Broncos are currently 6½-point home favorites over the Steelers as of Thursday morning and that line could move even higher depending on the final status of Roethlisberger and Brown, which might not be fully known until 90 minutes before the game gets underway.