The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: The absence of Antonio Brown will lower Ben Roethlisberger’s interception total.
Explanation: Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw 16 interceptions last season, which was the most in the league. Antonio Brown was the official target of record on 10 of those interceptions, more than double the amount of any other target.
It’s not exactly a state secret that Roethlisberger forced the ball to Brown, even when he shouldn’t. double coverage? Triple coverage? Doesn’t matter. I’ll give my guy a chance even if he doesn’t have one. All four of Roethlisberger’s red-zone interceptions, in fact, came to targets for Brown.
So, yes. The safe answer is yes. Brown was only targeted a couple more times than was JuJu Smith-Schuster, but Roethlisberger threw only four interceptions in the second-year wide receiver’s direction. And this isn’t new. Five of Roethlisberger’s 13 interceptions last year were targeting Brown, while nobody else was the target more than twice. 2016 is an aberration in the numbers, but he also threw seven of 16 interceptions while targeting Brown in 2015.
This isn’t about whether or not the wide receiver is making mistakes. This is about the entire connection, and clearly the connection Roethlisberger and Brown had was one with boom-or-bust potential.
Just because a high volume of Roethlisberger’s interceptions were in Brown’s direction doesn’t mean that he will throw fewer interceptions. Brown was the player that he went to when he was desperate. That is just going to be Smith-Schuster now.
Smith-Schuster is a good combat catcher to be sure (just ask Darqueze Dennard), but let’s not pretend that Brown wasn’t as well. For his size, he made some ridiculous plays on the ball, and probably saved a good number of interceptions himself.
It’s even in the realm of possibility that without Brown, Roethlisberger will throw more interceptions. It really depends on how Roethlisberger plays. Did having Brown allow him to take risks that he otherwise wouldn’t take, or will he simply now take them while targeting other people? He himself self-identities as a gunslinger, and he’s too old to change at this point.