The Pittsburgh Steelers won’y have injured wide receiver Antonio Brown for their Monday road game against the Houston Texans and that means the rest of the team’s wide receivers will need to collectively replace his usual production. On Thursday, Steelers rookie wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster confirmed that fellow wide receiver Martavis Bryant will play Brown’s usual X position against the Texans and that he will remain in his usual slot position.
“I think when we have Tay [Martavis] moving to AB’s spot, moving to X, it helps out a lot,” Smith-Schuster said. “He’s been focusing in on that this whole week and for me, I’m just staying in the same role.”
This makes perfect sense and it will be interesting to see if Bryant is able to produce at the X position against the Texans. He should be expected to play a huge majority of the offensive snaps against the Texans and the same goes for Smith-Schuster. As for the team’s other wide receivers, expect Darrius Heywaryd-Bey and Justin Hunter to both play Bryant’s usual spot, the Z position, and for Eli Rogers to fill in occasionally in the slot. Rogers, by the way, will likely return punts again with Brown sidelined with his calf injury.
“When AB is out there, the game is a lot easier,” said Smith-Schuster. “Now that he isn’t out there, we have a lot of guys who have to take his plate and eat off of it. Playing with Ben, the game is a lot easier.”
‘Heyward-Bey doesn’t sound overly worried about the team’s wide receivers ultimately being able to collectively overcome the loss of Brown, who will likely also miss the regular season finale against the Cleveland Browns as well as Monday’s game against the Texans.
“I think we are going to react the same way we did on Sunday and two years ago when we didn’t have AB,” said Heyward-Bey. “Everybody has to just step up and play ball. We don’t have to do anything special. We don’t need to be toe dragging and all. Play football, do what got you here, and play smart football. Just be yourself. We have to do that as a group.”
As for Bryant, who enters Week 16 with 41 catches on the season for 478 yards and 3 touchdowns, he made his NFL debut against the Texans in 2014 in a game that was played in Pittsburgh. He finished that game with two receptions for 40 yards and a touchdown and the Steelers won 30-23.
When it comes to Hunter, who hasn’t dressed for very many games this season, he enters Week 16 with just 3 receptions on the season for 18 yards. Expect him and Heyward-Bey to both be targeted deep by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on Monday. The Texans defense, by the way, has allowed 47.9% off all deep passes thrown against them this season to be completed and 9 of those 45 completed passes resulted in touchdowns.
“Don’t put pressure on yourself. I think we do a good job with that,” Heyward-Bey said. “Coach (Richard) Mann does a good job of that. All during the season, even though AB gets a lot of reps, he always lets everyone know you never know what is going to happen. In that situation we were ready to go.”