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The Steelers may have moved on from Antonio Brown, but their receiving corps hasn’t

The Steelers receivers are still trying to move on from the presence of Antonio Brown.

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Those who are better off without Antonio Brown, take one step forward.

Not so fast, Pittsburgh Steelers, specifically, your receivers. In fact, you guys should probably take one step back.

Addition by subtraction, that was the hope after the Steelers parted ways with the troubled but extremely talented Brown last spring. Despite his historic run as the most productive receiver in NFL history for a six-year period, the belief was that the organization would be better off without Brown’s distractions. The fact that Brown’s disruptive ways haven’t ceased, and he has already burned through two more teams since he left Pittsburgh, only strengthens that theory.

But someone needs to tell the Steelers—again, specifically, their receivers—that the best revenge is to live well.

The Steelers did turn in a thorough performance in their 27-3 blow-out victory over the Bengals on Monday Night Football. Unfortunately, it was their first win of the season, which improved their record to 1-3.

As for the receivers, they haven’t had a thorough performance going back to Week 17 of last season, when Brown was deactivated for the Cincinnati game for insubordination.

Brown’s absence was said to be a shocker for the team, which may explain why five active receivers contributed just 160 yards and a touchdown on 16 receptions in a sloppy 16-13 win.

But the offseason was supposed to be a reshuffling of team priorities, with third-year man JuJu Smith-Schuster being shuffled to the top of the deck as the Steelers new number one receiver. Smith-Schuster had 111 receptions for 1,426 yards in his sophomore season and had shown more than enough ability over his first two years to be trusted with the duties as the main focal point of the offense—certainly of the passing game.

Veteran Donte Moncrief was brought in as a free agent in the offseason and was considered a safe bet to assume the duties of the number two receiver. And if Moncrief wasn’t going to be up for the task, surely James Washington, the second-year man from Oklahoma State, would take that all-important leap.

Nothing like that has happened. Actually, the brightest spot of the receiving corps so far in 2019 has been rookie Diontae Johnson, but that may be damning him with faint praise, when you consider he leads all receivers in touchdowns with just two through four weeks.

As for Moncrief, he has three receptions for seven yards so far and enough drops that he’s now very limited in the offensive game-plan.

As for Washington, his best game sans Brown came in Week 17 of last year when he caught three passes for 64 yards. So far in 2019, Washington has just six catches for 88 yards—including zero catches for zero yards against the Bengals on Monday.

All-in-all, Steelers receivers have caught 66 passes for 713 yards and four touchdowns in the five games without Brown. They are averaging a paltry 10.8 yards per reception, which is very possession receiver-like. Finally, no receiver has even approached double-digits in receptions over the past five regular season games. As for 100-yard stat-lines? They’re a mere pipe dream at the moment.

Obviously, I’ve gotten pretty far into this article without addressing the giant elephant in the room, which is the fact that Mason Rudolph, the second-year man from Oklahoma State, has been the starting quarterback for 10 of the Steelers 16 quarters in 2019.

Fair point.

But it would also be fair to point out that the last 10 quarters with Ben Roethlisberger as quarterback may have been even less productive than the 10 with Rudolph. Actually, they were—and with a bullet.

So, what gives with the receivers?

Depending on who you talk to, either they aren’t getting open, or Rudolph doesn’t have the experience just yet to recognize the difference between Big 12 open and NFL open.

It may be easy to say it’s a combination of both, but judging by their last 10 quarters with Roethlisberger as their quarterback, I’m leaning toward the former.

I actually think the Steelers have enough talent to put together a really good receiving corps, at least when you’re talking about the trio of Smith-Schuster, Washington and Johnson. Unfortunately, Moncrief doesn’t appear to be a savvy enough veteran to not only take the heat off of Smith-Schuster, but to give the two less experienced guys a little more time to develop.

And that all adds up to one long first season for the receivers without Antonio Brown around to take the heat off of them by distracting opposing defensive backs.