2016 South Side Questions: Was AB’s Second-Half Inaction By Design?

The regular season is here, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are taking their practices at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, formerly known and still referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility of Heinz Field. While the real work is now upon us, there is plenty left to be done.

And there are plenty of questions left unanswered as well. The offseason is just really the beginning phase of the answer-seeking process, which is lasts all the way through the Super Bowl for teams fortunate enough to reach that far.

You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the regular season and beyond looking for the answers as we look to evaluate the makeup of the Steelers as they wade through a regular season in which they are, at least supposed to be, among the favorites to win the Super Bowl.

Question: Was Antonio Brown’s zero targets in the second half by design?

Over the course of the first half of Sunday’s victory over the Chiefs, All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown caught four passes on five official targets for 64 yards and two touchdowns. Both of his touchdowns occurred on his first two receptions in the first quarter, which by that point gave the Steelers a 22-0 lead.

By the end of the second quarter, the Steelers held a 29-0 lead, and led 36-0 within the first five minutes of the third quarter. And in the interim, wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey also suffered a shoulder injury that kept him out of the remainder of a game in which the team was already without Eli Rogers.

That left the team with just three wide receivers for the rest of the game, but they had an insurmountable lead by that point. While they still needed to have Brown on the field often due simply to sheer numbers, what they did not have to do is expose him to needless harm, and I can’t help but wonder if that played a role in the fact that he not only had zero catches in the first half, but he also failed to see a single target, official or otherwise.

Because of Rogers’ injury, Brown did have to field two punts in the second half, but on both of them, he signaled for a fair catch early in spite of the fact that he clearly had room to run. In the first half, he did return a punt five yards and took a somewhat awkward hit in doing so. I would not be surprised if he was told after that just to fair catch everything.

Brown still played every snap on offense in the second half up until the two snaps that set the team up with first and goal for their sixth and final touchdown, which is all but the six final offensive snaps of the game.

But on those snaps, he certainly looked to be playing a decoy role for the most part, primarily running deep route to draw coverage, and often seeming to not even look for the ball. I certainly have no problem with this strategy, if it was indeed the case, mind you. I am just curious if there was a design behind how his second half unfolded.

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