How much will the Pittsburgh Steelers miss wide receiver Antonio Brown inside the red zone in 2019? Obviously they will miss Brown to some degree inside their opponent’s 20-yard-line but maybe not as much as most might seem to currently believe.
For starters, let the record show that the NFL officially considers the red zone to be inside the 20-yard-line and not on it. With that quick clarification out of the way, I can tell you that Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was 48 of 85 on his red zone attempts last season for 307 yards with 20 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. While Roethlisberger’s completion percentage (56.5%) and overall quarterback rating (84.2) both weren’t great on those 2018 red zone pass attempts, the Steelers offense still managed to register a league-best red zone scoring percentage of 73.47% just the same.
Roethlisberger’s 4 red zone interceptions last season were certainly disturbing. All 4, however, were passes intended for Brown and all of them were forced throws he had no business attempting. Two of those 4 came on plays that he was able to extend long after the snap of the football had occurred.
Of Roethlisberger’s 20 touchdown passes inside the red zone last season, Brown and fellow wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster each registered 5 scoring receptions. Tight end Vance McDonald had 3 red zone touchdown receptions last season and 4 others went to running backs via screen plays/quick dump-offs. The other 3 red zone touchdown passes from Roethlisberger went to tight end Jesse James, wide receiver Ryan Switzer and wide receiver James Washington.
Not only was Roethlisberger just 9 of 19 passing for 55 yards with 5 touchdowns and 4 interceptions when he targeted Brown inside the red zone last season, 2 of those scoring passes came via quick wide receiver screens that included the pass being thrown behind the original line of scrimmage. In short, Roethlisberger was 7 of 17 passing for 48 yards with 3 touchdowns and 4 interceptions on red zone passes thrown to Brown that traveled beyond the original line of scrimmage last season.
So, did Brown being the field help immensely with scheme when it came to all 20 red zone touchdown passes that Roethlisberger had last season? Also, how many of those 20 Roethlisberger red zone touchdown passes last season came as a result of the quarterback extending the play?
While defensive scheme centered around Brown undoubtedly played somewhat of a very limited role in a few of those 20 red zone touchdown passes last season by Roethlisberger, it’s not like it played a huge factor. Additionally, Roethlisberger predominately made quick decisions with the football on those 20 scoring tosses last season, In fact, only 3 of those 20 touchdown passes came more than 3 seconds after the football was snapped and all 3 of those plays were benefited by Roethlisberger holding the football and thus extending the play. Remember the Week 2 touchdown pass to Washington? That was one of those three plays and the other two were two of the three touchdown passes to McDonald.
You might be shocked to learn that on all 20 of Roethlisberger’s red zone touchdown passes last season that his average snap to throw time was just 2.17-seconds. On 10 of those 20 red zone touchdown passes from last season Roethlisberger had the football out of hand before 2 seconds after the snap had expired.
So, will the Steelers offense miss Brown in the red zone in 2019? Yes, some. However, it is my belief that the real loss of Brown will be felt a lot more by the Steelers outside of their opponent’s red zone.