With the Pittsburgh Steelers coming off their bye week and there soon being little to talk about in the interim outside of returning players, now would be as good a time as any to take a look back on what’s transpired this season and give out some mid-year player evaluations.
The team has had a rocky but ultimately successful season to date, coming out of the first eight games with a 6-2 record, tied for the best in the AFC along with the Patriots and the Chiefs, the latter of whom they have already beaten.
The offense has not lived up to its billing for the most part this year, though the running game has had its moments. Defensively, the sacks have come, and the secondary has improved, but there will always be things to work on.
Player: Antonio Brown, WR
If it were not for Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, I’m not sure that the offense would have done much of anything this year. Business has, as always, been booming for Brown, the Steelers’ star wide receiver, and the highest-paid at his position for good reason, as he once again finds himself at the top of most statistical categories.
Through the halfway point of the season, Brown leads the league with 57 receptions, and his 835 yards is also tops in the league. While he ‘only’ has three touchdown receptions so far, it is worth noting that he has had two taken off the board because of penalties—though one penalty was on him, so…
Anyway, he is also having the most efficient season of his career as a starter in terms of production per reception. His 14.6 yards per catch is the second-most of his career behind only his second season in 2011, before he was a full-time starter.
His numbers are perking up from his ‘down’ year of 2016, in which he caught a mere 106 passes for just 1284 yards over 15 games. He is on pace for 114 receptions and 1670 yards, both of which would be the third-highest of his career. Considering the other two seasons were among the best any wide receiver has ever had, that’s nothing to sneeze at.
One would hope that the Steelers can get him in to the end zone more in the back half of the season. He has been in double-digit figures for touchdowns for the past three years running—the first wide receiver in Steelers history to accomplish that, mind you—but right now is on pace for only six.
He does have two touchdowns on his past three games, and had one taken away in the last game, so recent trends suggest that he is getting more opportunities to score. The red zone touchdown against the Bengals was a beautiful thing. Let’s see more of that.
And maybe less on punt returns? He’s not even doing well, having muffed a punt and allowed others to bounce that caused lost yardage, while averaging 4.4 yards per return and fair catching more than he has fielded. If he is not even being effective as a returner, there is little value, or sense, in using him there. But I’ll have more on that later in the week.