There is no denying that when it comes to the Pittsburgh Steelers, their success or failure may be most tied to two players more than any other: quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the man throwing the ball, and wide receiver Antonio Brown, the man on the receiving end of all of those throws.
Over the course of the past three seasons, Brown, the seventh-year wide receiver, has repeatedly upped his game and put up better and better statistics, to the point at which he is putting some all-time NFL records in great peril, and it is hard to detect any slowing down of that pace.
Last season, he recorded 136 receptions, which was good for the second-most ever. He had already set the mark for the second-most receptions in a season the year before with 129. In 2015, he also recorded 1834 receiving yards, which stands as the fourth-most in a single season, and would have been third-most prior to 2015.
Those 136 receptions came on, depending on your source, approximately 190 targets, with the majority of them obviously coming from Roethlisberger, but some fairly wonder how many targets is too much for one player? This is coming after a season in which three players in the league nearly reached 200 targets.
In fact, Roethlisberger was asked that question at training camp, in an interview transcribed by Mike Prisuta for the team’s website. “How many times can you realistically throw the ball to Antonio Brown in a game”, was the question.
While it is difficult to answer such a question, the closest that Roethlisberger came to supplying a direct answer was to say that he thinks Brown is “a guy that really should be targeted double-digit times a game”, and he certainly hit that mark and more last season.
The veteran quarterback talked about how Brown has only gotten better over time, but that defenses have also adjusted, and that sometimes they are forced to put three players on him to stop him—yet Brown still wants the ball.
Roethlisberger said that he has to tell Brown that “’they have three guys on you, someone else is open’” to try to justify throwing to another receiver—said no doubt in a lighthearted manner in response to the question, no doubt.
Still, there is a legitimate question to be asked here, particularly in light of Roethlisberger’s decreased efficiency in ball security, which saw him post one of the highest interception totals of his career, and many of them came as a result of forcing passes to Brown.
“Defenses will dictate [whether or not I can get him double-digit targets in a game]”, he said, but “the key is not to try and just force him the ball. Get him the ball when he’s there and the defense allows it”.
Personally, I can’t help but wonder if Roethlisberger said this with the self-awareness that he failed to do that on a number of occasions last year and aims to fix that minor issue for this season.