Before I write a single word on Martavis Bryant and his return to the Pittsburgh Steelers, I fully understand his conditional reinstatement, and how him staying on the team is him hanging by a thread.
Nonetheless, I am going to assume he stays clean, follows the protocol set forth by the NFL, and is a contributing member to the 2017 Steelers football team.
With that disclaimer out of the way, it is worth noting just how huge Martavis Bryant’s return to the team will be this year. Yes, we all know his ridiculous numbers, but were you like me in 2016 and thought the Steelers could live without No. 10? Oh, don’t act like you weren’t!
The team seemed to have the depth to withstand the loss of Bryant. Darrius Heyward-Bey, Sammie Coates and Eli Rogers could all step up their games to help fill the massive void left by the then-suspended Bryant.
A messed up Coates hand and an injured foot/ankle for Heyward-Bey equated to the team relying on Cobi Hamilton and Rogers as their primary No. 2 wide receivers, and we all know how that panned out. Antonio Brown was double, sometimes triple, covered on almost every snap because no one on the other side struck fear in the defensive secondary of the opposition.
For a second, think back to the 2014 and 2015 seasons when Bryant was healthy and in the lineup. If defenses wanted to bracket Brown on one side of the field, it left Bryant with a very manageable one-on-one on the opposite side.
Now, strictly for giggles, let’s look at the potential of the 2017 Steelers offense.
Antonio Brown and Bryant on the outside, with either Eli Rogers or JuJu Smith-Schuster in the slot. Jesse James at tight end with Le’Veon Bell in the backfield. If the defense is selling out to stop Brown and Bryant, Rogers could, and will, exploit the middle of the field, but there is always the threat of Bell coming out of the backfield or running the football.
Sell out to stop Bell, and the running game, and you leave your defensive secondary in a very precarious situation trying to cover both Brown, Bryant and others with little or no help at all.
Now, think back to 2016 one more time. Defensive coordinators weren’t all that scared of Antonio Brown without someone opposite him to be a legitimate threat...and the Steelers still made it to the AFC Championship game.
Plain and simple, Bryant’s return downright alters the entire Steelers offense. There is a reason the team averages almost a touchdown more with Bryant in the lineup. After reading this, fans should be ridiculously excited for the 2017 Steelers offense, as long as all of the appropriate pieces are there and available.
I talk about all this, and more, in the above podcast. Give it a listen!