With the Pittsburgh Steelers having completed the first portion of their season, now would be as good a time as any to take a look back on what’s transpired this year and give out some midseason player evaluations.
The team has had a rocky but ultimately successful season to date, coming out of the first six games with a winning record despite being 1-2-1 just two weeks ago. Coming off of consecutive strong victories with improve play from both sides of the ball, things are looking up.
The offense has done its part for the most part, but has taken some long vacations. Their disappearing acts in the second half was perplexing, but that has improved. Defensively, the secondary is seemingly becoming a bit more stable after being nothing short of terrible previously, but there are absolutely some real concerns remaining.
Player: Antonio Brown, WR
Perennial All-Pro Antonio Brown is having a ‘down’ year, so to speak, but what is ‘down’ for him is often ‘up’ for others. And the reality is that, in the category that matters most, he has actually never been performing better. The nine-year veteran’s six touchdown receptions through six games are the most he has ever had up to this point in any season, putting him on pace to set a new franchise record for offensive touchdowns in a single season.
Or at least tying it. Brown is actually on pace to score 16 touchdowns this year. Willie Parker scored 16 touchdowns back in 2006, 13 on the ground and three receiving. Brown already owns the record for the most receiving touchdowns in a season with 13. Second on the scoring list, though, is Louis Lipps, with 12 receiving touchdowns, one rushing, and two punt returns.
But that is just one component of the season. Brown now has 478 receiving yards through six games. He is actually averaging fewer than 80 yards per game. He has never averaged lower than 85.6 since 2012, and in fact has more often then not averaged better than 100.
It hasn’t just been fewer receptions, either, because his yards per reception had been down as well, though are now returning to a healthier 12.0. He averages 13.4 yards per reception for his career.
But the biggest concern has been the target inefficiency. He has been targeted 72 times while only catching 40 passes, about 55.6 percent. And that is with recent improvement, including catching five of six passes on Sunday.
Now, that hasn’t been on him. If Ben Roethlisberger had been giving him reasonably catchable balls all season long, he would be well over 65-70 percent, as he typically is. The connection between the two has been really the only thing in need of repair all season long.
Not only are the targets improving, the Steelers are also getting him open in different ways, and that has yielded over 100 yards in each of the past two games. Hopefully a trend that will continue on the other side of the bye week.