The loss of Antonio Brown has many in the football world, from sports networks to fantasy experts, predicting the decline of the Steelers’ passing attack as they believe the receiving corps to be a potential problem. Certainly, they all believe it to have been greatly diminished.
Since this seems to be National Dump on Ben Roethlisberger Week – or is it month? – courtesy of the national media and a few (thankfully) ex-Steelers, let me tell you the following:
The Steelers need not panic. The receiving corps will be just fine because of the man of the moment -- Roethlisberger.
Yes, there is a former third-string running back who is griping about Ben. Seriously, who remembers this guy? And, yes, two fantasy football stars (the only time Antonio Brown was EVER worth a number one draft pick) have tried their best to destroy Big Ben’s rep.
But, I remember how dramatically the Steelers changed when they finally found a replacement for the Blonde Bomber, and I recall the incompetence at the QB position the Steelers endured for a few decades. In fact, as soon as Tommy Maddox got pummeled to the turf, Ben Roethlisberger gave the Steelers hope and fixed the team with the ease of Fonzie fixing the jukebox with the tap of his fist.
As soon as he was inserted as the starter, the Steelers improved and went right to the AFC Championship game. Finally, there was a QB that made the “8-in-a-box defenses” stacked against the Steelers’ seemingly always powerful running games pay for that strategy. They had to respect his arm and accuracy. The team’s offense opened up and has been competitive ever since, winning multiple Super Bowls.
Great quarterbacks do that. And not because he was throwing to Hines Ward or Plaxico Burress. Tommy Maddox threw to those guys, too.
But, there is panic now, and you need only listen to sports radio and read any sports websites to find it. There is mass worry and predictions of the team’s demise due to the loss of Antonio Brown. Even the wise guys with bent noses setting lines in Las Vegas appear to be jumping ship.
Cleveland Browns or bust, they say.
First, the running back situation was already righted last season, with James Conner and Jaylen Samuels forming a nice young duo. Would you really trade those two for Le’Veon Bell now if you could?
And, with the offensive line signed and sealed, the continuity in that elite outfit will be the bedrock that steadies the ship of the entire offense. Losing Mike Munchak wasn’t good, but this is a seasoned unit that has dominated for some time.
So, what about the wide receiver situation? Surely the Steelers are in trouble, right?
The Steelers have been down the road of losing top receivers before. When Mike Wallace signed with Miami -- hitting the jackpot as the biggest offensive NFL signing in free agency that year -- this was supposed to be a big blow. Oh, the complaints that were heard bemoaning the loss of such an up-and-coming deep threat. All pundits and media spin said this was a huge loss to the Steelers, and all in-the-know believed that the Dolphins were landing a stud.
You probably forget, but Mike Wallace was a big deal back then. Antonio Brown, sitting on the Steelers’ roster at the time, was not.
I remember telling people not to worry. They were going to give Brown a nice contract and replace Wallace. I also clearly remember that I was pretty alone in thinking the loss of Wallace would not be substantial. The national “experts” did not mention the loss of Mike Wallace and replacing him with Antonio Brown as any type of a positive.
Wallace was the real deal, and the signing of Brown was met with yawns or silence.
I didn’t believe that the Steelers were going to be fine because Antonio Brown was better (it turns out he was) than Mike Wallace. I said it because I knew the Steelers had Big Ben throwing to Antonio Brown.
The Steelers would be fine because it was the QB that matters the most – not the wide receivers.
That’s how it is with the great ones. Brady, Brees, Manning, Marino, Rodgers, etc. Great ones make wide receivers look better. All of them had interchangeable wide receiver parts throughout their careers. Sure, some receivers are better than others, but did the Patriots go away after losing Randy Moss?
Unfortunately, no, and it was because of Tom Brady.
Just look at the Super Bowl when Santonio Holmes undeservedly won the MVP. It should have been Big Ben as MVP. It was Ben running around like a chicken-with-his- head-cut-off (thanks, Grandma, for that saying) waiting for Holmes to come open on the game winning drive that was the difference.
Yes, Holmes got open, but Ben bought him time and then threw strikes. Ben’s game winning throw was every bit as impressive as Holmes’s catch. It was pin-point under enormous pressure. Super Bowl winning pressure. But, Roethlisberger did not win the MVP because he is perennially underappreciated.
Holmes was soon dumped for personal reasons to the Jets – and he soon flamed out with no Big Ben throwing the ball to him.
Before Mike Wallace, Big Ben made Nate Washington big money in free agency by hitting him on deep passes. He was Mike Wallace before Mike Wallace – a one-trick, deep threat pony. The Tennessee Titans signed him to a nice contract based on that, and he was never anything more than average with them.
Again, because it was Big Ben, not Nate Washington, that mattered.
So, as the media and fans again become hysterical in losing a generationally great wide receiver to his shenanigans, I’m not worried. I wouldn’t be surprised if Brown suddenly looks mortal without Big Ben squeezing balls into triple coverage to him. Larry Fitzgerald knows a thing or two about the importance of a QB, and he suggested that Brown may regret his choice.
The Steelers still have Ben Roethlisberger, and the wide receiver cabinet is far from bare.
Ju Ju Smith-Schuster has already broken out and is the team MVP. He is setting team and NFL records in his own regard and looks every bit a star.
When James Washington was picked in the second round last year, it seemed a bit of a luxury pick that high. Or, maybe the Steelers telepathically knew Brown would start growing a yellow mustache and throwing furniture from his windows, and planned ahead. Whatever the case, it turned out fortunate because first year wide receivers normally don’t break good; they need time to learn the nuances. In his second year, the talented wideout will be more prepared to be the target of “star maker” Big Ben.
I hear he was “inconsistent.” So? That is what rookies are, especially ones that were not being counted on heavily in the receiver rotation.
Sometimes I wonder if the drafting of James Washington helped Mr. Big Chest (isn’t that almost like saying Mr. Big Ego?) lose his head a bit. With young Ju Ju already ascended to stardom, and the Steelers investing a high second round pick on Washington – maybe, just maybe, Antonio Brown began to see the writing of his future on the wall. Was he being phased out in the next year or two?
With his ego, he surely could have thought so.
Anyway, I like the talent of Washington, and I also like the signing of Donte Moncrief. This is a supremely gifted athlete who tested out of this world and performed in college (his Player Profiler comp is Andre Johnson! Really!). He has also had success in the NFL and he’s only 25.
Last season, he was stuck in Muddsville with the QB-less Jacksonville Jaguars. Before that, he had to endure an Indianapolis team without star Andrew Luck.
That’s not lucky at all.
But, I do believe his luck is changing because now he has an extremely motivated Ben Roethlisberger throwing to him. And, if you know anything about Big Ben, he uses motivation – like being passed over for Eli Manning and Phillip Rivers – quite nicely. You think he wants to fail sans Brown? I’d guess he’s itching to go to camp to prove he can survive without him.
So, fans should not worry. The team will most likely draft a receiver or two in what is being hailed as an extremely deep and impressive wide receiver draft, plus they have a few other nice targets in Vance MacDonald and Jaylen Samuels. Ryan Switzer also has the look of a nifty slot receiver. To top it off, James Conner proved he has catching chops, too.
All is well because the Steelers will have Ben Roethlisberger hitting those targets.
Even if none of those targets have yellow mustaches.