It’s no secret why Antonio Brown’s numbers are slightly down through three weeks. Simply, defenses, like always, are spending all their time to stop him, especially now that this team lacks a true, established #3 receiver, like Martavis Bryant in past years.
But AB’s “loss” is JuJu Smith-Schuster’s gain. He’s been the one to receive the single, favorable matchups against cornerbacks. And he’s made them pay. He’s tied for 4th in the NFL in receptions with 27 and 5th in yards, surpassing 350 last week. Those numbers are good enough for the team lead, working in the slot over the middle but also an asset vertically, in part thanks to that one-on-one coverage.
Should that production keep up, and there’s no reason to think otherwise, defenses are going to have to start spending some of that “AB time” on JuJu, finding new ways to prevent him for wrecking defenses like he has. Speaking to reporters earlier Friday, tweeted out by ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, Smith-Schuster believes that time is near.
“I think that’s going to come very soon. I’m going to get double-teamed, more and more. They’re going to slow me down.”
Earlier this week, I tweeted out one of countless examples to show how defenses play the two differently. Brown is facing a Cover 6 look, “Cloud” coverage with the cornerback rolled up to bump and reroute him with the safety over the top. At the top is Smith-Schuster, seeing off-man coverage by the isolated cornerback.
Here, it was Smith-Schuster who received the deep ball target from Ben Roethlisberger, though the pass fell incomplete. But you get the point.
Antonio Brown discussed post-game he often sees Cover 6. CB pressing, safety over the top. You see how defenses play him vs JuJu. Brown (at bottom) bumped, doubled, JuJu free release, 1v1 vs corner. #Steelers pic.twitter.com/Pr5iwI7xfb
— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) September 26, 2018
“Right now, AB is taking the double-teams so I’m able to get my plays in,” JuJu told reporters. “When the time comes, I’m going to be the one getting double-teamed and someone else will make those plays.”
The development of James Washington will be critical in opening up Brown too. If he can establish himself as another threat, especially vertically, teams won’t be as free to roll all their coverage towards Brown. Or if they do, pay the price of another receiver making plays one-on-one, something Washington did well in college and a big reason why the Steelers drafted him.
Of course, it’s important to note there’s no reason to be worried about Antonio Brown. He looks like the same receiver as ever and when he’s gotten the ball in space, like his 27 yard touchdown on a screen pass Monday night, he’s as dangerous as anyone. His numbers will bounce back and historically speaking, that’ll happen in a big way. He’s still been productive, even if that means in just his presence, letting players like Smith-Schuster rack up the big plays.
JuJu Smith-Schuster expects to see double teams soon enough, which is good news for Antonio Brown and the Steelers offense. pic.twitter.com/QufRI6U3Lz
— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) September 28, 2018