The Pittsburgh Steelers are a very inconsistent team, and nothing showed this more than the team rebounding from losses to the Broncos, Chargers and Raiders with a huge home win vs. the New England Patriots in Week 15. It doesn’t get any easier for the Steelers though, as the New Orleans Saints await in Week 16.
Today in the Black-and-gold links article, we take a look at how for Antonio Brown, this season has been extremely odd. Receptions and yardage are down, but touchdowns are up. For almost the entire season, the connection between Ben Roethlisberger and Brown has just seen off. Is there something to this?
Let’s get to the news:
Points and picks: Sizing up Antonio Brown’s confounding season
By: Jeremy Fowler, ESPN
Antonio Brown still belongs in the conversation for the NFL’s best wide receivers. He’s pacing for a sixth straight 100-catch season. He’s one touchdown short of a career high.
But one Brown statistic in particular speaks to the conundrum with the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense as it relates to how defenses play him, and how JuJu Smith-Schuster benefits.
Brown leads the NFL in touchdowns (13) and targeted passes resulting in an interception (11), according to ESPN Stats & Information. No player has accomplished that feat over a 16-game season since targets were first charted in 2006. Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver Mike Evans and new Kansas City Chiefs receiver Kelvin Benjamin are tied for second in targeted interceptions with seven.
No spectrum better explains why Smith-Schuster has almost as many targets as Brown, 141 to 146. Throwing to Smith-Schuster is a safer proposition right now, largely because of the attention Brown draws from safeties.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger explained this thoroughly on his weekly radio show on 93.7 the Fan back on Dec. 11.
”He’s one of the best in the business right now. Teams are doubling him,” Roethlisberger said. “They put a corner on him and they have a safety over the top. They’ve been doing that for years now. A lot of times, AB still has huge numbers because we find ways -- I don’t want to say force it to him -- but we find ways to get him the ball. Now, when you have JuJu on the other side being singled or a different type of zone on that side with only one guy on him, we don’t have to force it to AB. JuJu can make plays and it’s one-on-one.
”Listen, I love AB to death, but if they want to keep doubling AB, we’ll keep throwing to other guys, because at some point they are going to have to stop putting two guys on AB and start respecting the other guy on the other side of the field. When that happens, AB’s just going to do what he always does.”
The numbers bear all this out. While Brown remains the primary big-play option, Smith-Schuster leads the Steelers in catches (95) and yards (1,274).
Brown’s 90 catches and 1,112 yards rank 11th leaguewide, which is a dip from a 2017 pace that featured 1,500-plus yards through 13 games.
”If you look at AB’s numbers this year, they are down, but yet he’s still in the tops in everything,” Roethlisberger added. “That just speaks to the type of player he is and the work he puts in and just how special he is.”
Brown doesn’t look like a different player at age 30. He’s still just as fast and has a flare for the big play. His double move to get loose on two Patriots defenders for a 17-yard touchdown reminds us he hasn’t lost a step. And it’s not like double teams are new terrain for Brown -- he has seen them most of his career.
But the interception rate could make recapturing his gaudy numbers of old difficult unless Smith-Schuster starts drawing consistent safety help.
(For more, click on the link in the headline.)
Steelers rookie Jaylen Samuels thrives in debut as featured back
By: Joe Rutter, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Experience wasn’t on Jaylen Samuels’ side when he stepped onto the grass at Heinz Field against the New England Patriots.
In high school and four years of college, Samuels never was asked to be a workhorse running back. He mainly caught passes as a receiver or tight end. When he got the occasional carry, it was sometimes as an H-back, sometimes while working out of the wildcat formation. Never as a featured tailback.
It wasn’t until the Pittsburgh Steelers’ biggest game of the season that Samuels was asked to put his lack of pedigree aside and make up for any shortcomings with heart and determination.
The rookie fifth-round draft pick was more than up for the challenge, rushing for 142 yards on 19 carries Sunday while helping the Steelers save their season with a 17-10 victory against the Patriots.
Samuels also caught two passes for 30 yards, including a crucial third-down grab that went for 20 yards while the Steelers were trying to run down the clock in the fourth quarter while protecting a 14-10 lead.
“I thought his whole game was awesome,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “He caught the ball. He ran. There is still room for improvement, but there is for all of us. The way he stepped up was special.”
Samuels got his second career NFL start because of James Conner’s high ankle sprain. Starting ahead of veteran Stevan Ridley, Samuels showed he was more comfortable in a prominent role than the previous week when he was held to 28 yards on 11 carries in the Steelers’ 24-21 loss at Oakland.
“I knew how big this game was for us and our organization,” Samuels said. “I just wanted to go out there and give them my all. I didn’t want to have any letdowns with James being out.”
When Samuels was selected in the draft, he joined the Steelers as the third (or fourth) option at tailback behind Le’Veon Bell, Conner and perhaps Ridley. He moved up a notch when Bell decided to skip the season, and he got the nod over Ridley when Conner was injured late against the Los Angeles Chargers.
Samuels was inactive for the first two games and then totaled 12 carries over the next 10 games. The 19 carries he got against New England represented a career high at any level, Samuels said, as did the 142 yards rushing. It also was the most work for a Steelers running back since Conner had 24 rushing attempts Nov. 4 at Baltimore.
“You get a chance to shine, and he did,” guard Ramon Foster said. “We blocked well, but he actually found a lot of good holes today. I’m happy for him. I really am.”
Kevin Gorman: Steelers’ best bet is to beat Saints
By: Kevin Gorman, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Updated 8 hours ago
The Pittsburgh Steelers and New Orleans Saints have more in common this season than their records suggest, even if they are at opposite ends of the NFL’s postseason picture.
Where the Steelers (8-5-1) are fighting for their playoff lives, the Saints (12-2) have the NFL’s best record and already clinched the NFC South division title. A victory over the Steelers would lock up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs for New Orleans. The Steelers could clinch the AFC North title with the combination of win over the Saints and a Baltimore Ravens loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, but a loss could force the Steelers into fighting for a wild card.
Not to get ahead of ourselves.
To avoid panic, let’s rewind. The similarities in schedules should give the Steelers hope against the Saints as they share victories over six common opponents. Both have beaten Cleveland, Tampa Bay, Baltimore, Atlanta, Cincinnati and Carolina. New Orleans also lost to the Buccaneers once, whereas the Steelers tied the Browns and lost to the Ravens.
Both had long winning streaks that included blowouts: The Steelers won six consecutive games, with a 41-17 victory over the Falcons and a 52-21 victory over the Panthers, and the Saints won 10 straight and beat the Bengals, 51-14, and Eagles, 48-7, along the way.
Both have played Los Angeles teams in games that could have playoff seeding implications: The Steelers lost to the Chargers by three, and the Saints beat the Rams by 10, which gives New Orleans a head-to-head advantage in NFC playoff positioning.
Both teams are coming off close victories as the Steelers defeated New England, 17-10, on Sunday at Heinz Field, and the Saints beat Carolina, 12-9, on Monday Night Football in Charlotte.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin talked about the tale of the tape, acknowledging that they have “a lot of common opponents to glean information from” and plenty of games to study leading into Week 15.
“I think that’s probably why these games are so tight at the end of the year, why you may be surprised sometimes by the score,” Tomlin said. “You may have been surprised by Monday night’s score. You may have been surprised by our Sunday evening score. But the reality is, there’s a lot of video out there, and preparation is an element of it. Both sides get an opportunity to prepare. From that standpoint, the playing field is very level. These are big, exciting games.”