The Pittsburgh Steelers will have a golden opportunity to throw against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday should they indeed be without cornerback Adam Jones, who is perhaps the one player who has been able to contain Antonio Brown with relative consistency over the years.
If you compare his yards per route run in terms of opponent, taking for example just the AFC North, his number is far lower against the Bengals than it is against the Browns or the Ravens. And as controversial a figure as he might be, he is, frankly, still quite good at what he does—when he contains his composure.
Starting in his place previously when he missed the opener due to a suspension was second-year former first-round draft pick William Jackson III, whom the Steelers, according to reports, wanted to draft. According to Pro Football Focus, Jackson on the season has allowed nine receptions on 18 targets for 130 yards with no touchdowns allowed and one interception.
But that is on fewer than 100 snaps in coverage. He is being targeted once every 5.4 snaps and is allowing 1.33 yards per snap, and a reception once every 10.9 snaps, all numbers that are, at best, average, if not below average.
As for Jones, he had been targeted once every 5.5 snaps, but allowing a reception only once every 15.7 snaps, and just .44 yards per snap. He has allowed just six receptions on 17 targets for 41 yards, with no touchdowns and no interceptions.
Overall, however, the Bengals as a whole defensively have been among the best in the league, one of only two teams—along with the Steelers—who have allowed fewer than 160 passing yards per game, and the only team allowing fewer yards per receptions than Pittsburgh, though by just .1 yard.
One interesting thing to note, however, is that they have allowed four receptions of 40 yards or more on the season, and only seven teams have allowed more—and all seven of those teams have already played six or seven games, while Cincinnati has played five. So they have been susceptible to the deep ball.
Ben Roethlisberger did hit on one deep pass on Sunday, that to Vance McDonald, and nearly had another completion to McDonald as well that was just a hair long. If the Steelers could reintegrate that aspect of their offense into a regular feature, that would be a key upgrade, and the Bengals might offer an opportunity to do it.
Of course, much of this becomes a moot point if Jones is able to play, but it’s rare for a player listed as doubtful to end up playing, outside of some unusual circumstances. And that doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t try to attack deep. Roethlisberger has never been one to shy away from it, anyway.