Jon Gruden thinks Antonio Brown is due for a big game against the Houston Texans tonight at Heinz Field. Not only that, but he told ESPN's Mike Sando that he thinks Antonio Brown might be the league's best receiver right now.
"Show me somebody who is playing like Antonio Brown at wide receiver," Gruden told Sando. "The guy is electrifying even in practice. He is 5-foot-10 and plays 6'10". He is a problem for defenses, in large part because of his incredible quickness after the catch."
Last week, Antonio Brown was targeted ten times against the Cleveland Browns. Though he only caught seven of those ten targets, Brown's ability to beat defenders with his precise route running and open-field running make him a big-play threat whenever he has the ball in his hands.
Gruden sees the Steelers' best method to produce against J.J. Watt and the Houston Texans is to get the ball in Brown's hands early and often.
"Ben Roethlisberger is looking for Brown, as well he should be. Only Jordy Nelson entered Week 7 with more catches or receiving yards than Brown. He's a huge key to their offensive success, and that's more important than ever for this Pittsburgh team. I think he will make a lot of yardage after the catch because the Texans' secondary does not tackle very well, as we saw last week against the Colts, when T.Y. Hilton went for 223 receiving yards."
Despite the emerging prominence of Antonio Brown's NFL performances, the team ranks in the bottom half when it comes to scoring in the NFL. Gruden sees this as something that needs to change if the Steelers are to make the playoffs in 2014.
"Over the years, the Steelers have been carried by their defense. Right now, it might be time for the offense ...six games into the 2014 season, for Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell and Ben Roethlisberger and Heath Miller and this offensive line to say, "Hey, let's go." It might be time for a period of transition where the offense takes over as the Steelers' identity while they work to rebuild their defense into what it once was."
Gruden has a very valid point. For more than a decade, the Steelers' defense ranked among the top-10, and most of the time even in the top-5 defensive units in the league. In that time, it was rare for the offense to rank anywhere close to such heights. However these are different times and today's defense lacks the legendary talents that carried the team through those previous successes.
Le'Veon Bell is having one of the best seasons so far among NFL running backs. Going into this week, he was second only to Demarco Murray's historic performance this year. The offensive line has improved its play, although they're still not great. But they are usually giving quarterback Ben Roethlisberger time to make decisions in the pocket and they've opened holes for Bell to make plays.
When you include Heath Miller and the stellar abilities of Antonio Brown, the offense has a strong assortment of weapons at the disposal of franchise quarterback and two-time Super Bowl champion, Ben Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger has the weapons on offense now and he must take leadership of this team at this stage of its development if they're to have any hope of succeeding.
No defense in the NFL can remain at the top of the league forever, and everyone has to re-tool when great players retire or move on. The growing pains that the defense is going through are natural considering the several younger players being asked to step up. As the defense endures those growing pains, another part of the team must compensate for the void in their legendary level of consistency during the past decade. And that other part is the Steelers' offense.
Gruden's praise of Brown is accurate. He's insanely quick in his movements to get open and after he has the ball in his hands. His precise route running and consistent catching ability make him one of the most difficult receivers in the league to cover, despite the fact that most of the other receivers in that conversation are well over 6'2" and Brown isn't even 6'0" tall.
The Steelers have to find every opportunity to get the ball into his hands and use the other weapons in this offense to distract opposing defenses away from concentrating mainly on what Brown might do to them. Hopefully, tonight we see the team begin to strike that balance.