Here’s a lesson for you—or rather for Ben Roethlisberger, and one that he has seemed to learn: stop forcing the ball to Antonio Brown. The Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback distributed the ball to nine different players on Thursday en route to a ‘perfect’ game, and that included five completions to Brown on five targets for 99 yards and a touchdown.
Over the course of the Steelers’ five-game winning streak, Roethlisberger has completed 27 of 42 passes attempted in Brown’s direction, a completion percentage of 64.3, and those 27 receptions have produced 421 receiving yards along with seven touchdowns and just one interception, with 20 first downs and a quarterback rating of 127.1, averaging 10 yards per attempt.
Compare that to the numbers between the two from the first four games of the season, when they went 1-2-1. Roethlisberger looked Brown’s way 53 times—26 percent more pass attempts in 20 percent fewer games—but only complete 29 passes, a completion percentage of just 54.7.
The pair combined for only 272 yards in those first four games, with three touchdowns, yes, but also with three interceptions, averaging just 5.1 yards per pass attempt and a quarterback rating of 64.3. Only 14 of those 29 completions resulted in first downs.
They are averaging very nearly double the production per target—5.1 yards per attempt versus 10 yards—and have achieved that, in part, by being more selective in their targets. Brown is only seeing an average of 8.6 targets per game during the team’s five-game winning streak, but they have been higher-quality targets.
It has been especially better over the past four games, during which Brown has caught 73.3 percent of his targets and is averaging over 14 yards per reception, not to mention with five touchdowns. He now has 10 touchdowns on the season, and nobody else in the NFL even has eight yet.
The funny thing is that Brown’s 692 receiving yards this season through nine games only places him 15th in the league at the moment, two yards behind San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle—and teammate JuJu Smith-Schuster as well. Meanwhile, both Adam Thielen and Julio Jones are verging on 1000 yards.
The connection between Brown and Roethlisberger was likened to a wi-fi connection, and their struggles in the first month of the year were the result of a bad connection. Perhaps there was simply too much data being sent through the system, because with a scaling back of material needed to process, the signal has strengthened, and the output has become much more productive.