With three regular season games now in the books, the Pittsburgh Steelers leading pass catcher is JuJu Smith-Schuster and not Antonio Brown. In fact, Smith Schuster enters Week 4 as the AFC’s leading receiver in both receptions and receiving yardage as he has caught 27 passes for 356 yards and a touchdown. Brown, on the other hand, has caught 24 passes for 210 yards and touchdowns on the season.
During his weekly interview Tuesday morning on 93.7 The Fan, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was asked about him not connecting as much as he usually does with Brown at the start of the regular season and if that is in any way related to something different going on with defensive coverages the Pittsburgh offense is seeing.
“Well, they’re definitely still doubling and keeping an eye on him [Brown] and grabbing and holding him like they always have,” Roethlisberger said, “But maybe it’s just as much me looking at other guys, not trying to force it to him. JuJu’s doing some great things – Jesse James, Vance [McDonald]. James Washington is making plays for us – Switz [Ryan Switzer] now. You know, I think it’s just maybe me just not forcing it into those coverages and forcing him the ball and in the past, I know I forced them, and some good things have come of it. But I’m just trying not to do too much of that because other guys are making plays. So, that might be part of the reason the numbers aren’t what they have been in the past.”
While that’s certainly a plausible explanation by Roethlisberger, the Steelers quarterback has still targeted Brown a team-high 42 times so far this season and four more times than he’s targeted Smith-Schuster. The real difference so far this season is that Roethlisberger hasn’t been as on target with his passes to Brown and especially when it comes to his deep pass attempts. In fact, 10 of the 42 pass attempts that Roethlisberger has targeted Brown with were deep throws that traveled more than 15 yards past the original line of scrimmage and only 2 of those were caught.
Late in the Monday night game, Roethlisberger failed to connect with Brown via a deep pass on a 3rd down and 9 play from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 36-yard-line with 3:26 left in the fourth quarter. It appears the two players weren’t on the same page on that play and after going to the sideline on 4th down, Roethlisberger slammed his helmet down as if he was frustrated with Brown possibly running the wrong route.
Roethlisberger apologized publicly to Brown for his sideline actions during his post-game press conference and he was asked the reason for him doing that during his Tuesday radio interview.
“It was the end of the game, that third down, and if we complete that ball, I think worst case scenario, he gets the first down, but I think he’s got a good chance to score and I think that seals it,” Roethlisberger began explaining. “And I think I was just frustrated because I felt like we had a chance to stay on the field to end the game, to not put it in our defense’s hand and I just got frustrated with what happened. And I think I just showed too much emotion and so I just felt like as a leader it was my place to make that known and I could’ve just went to him and told him, but I felt like it was the right thing to do at the start of my press conference to apologize to him.”
Roethlisberger was then asked if he thinks Brown’s mind is still okay despite a seemingly slow start of the season for him when it comes to his previous one.
“Absolutely,” Roethlisberger said. “And I’m sure he’s frustrated a little bit. He’s used to putting up 1500 seasons, right? And I don’t think he’s had a 100-yard game yet, I could be wrong. But you know, so I think obviously you get frustrated when you’re kind of used to those big numbers, but listen, we’ve talked about it before, winning helps cure everything. And so, when you win last night, I think yeah, he probably was still frustrated, but he got a touchdown and I think he was still happy we won the game.”
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was also asked about Brown and his yards per catch average being below what it normally is to start a season. Tomlin let it be known that he’s not worried one bit about the way Brown has started the 2018 regular season.
“Just like we’ve been talking a lot about the first part of the year, you know, people probably spent all summer working to minimize his downfield action and it will smooth out over time, I’m sure,” Tomlin said. “A.B. is A.B., he’s a significant contributor in any setting. He showed that in the first half of that game last night on that catch and run for 7. I’m not concerned about it at all.”