Let me start by saying there are receivers in the NFL who would kill for Antonio Brown's statistics through the first 5 games of the season. However, a player like Brown has set the standard mighty high for himself after the best three consecutive seasons for a receiver in NFL history.
The All-Pro receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers has accumulated 447 yards on 37 receptions (57 targets) and 5 touchdowns. If Brown continues on this current trend, he would finish 2016 with almost 500 yards fewer than he had in 2015, and his lowest reception total since 2013.
So, what is the cause of these lower numbers for Brown? Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley thinks the answer is two-fold.
"There are only so many ways to double cover somebody," Haley told reporters Thursday after practice. "What changed is that we've moved him so much over the years and especially last year that teams have more tape. It was a little bit more of a surprise factor last year when this year that there is only so many spots that we can put him in. Teams have a little more tape to see what he is doing and prepare."
Haley is spot on in his analysis of Brown's struggles. Defenses are doubling Brown almost every time he steps onto the field. Safety help is almost always rolled to his side of the field, and zone concepts have been used to create small windows for Ben Roethlisberger to find his favorite target. Last year, the Steelers were able to move Brown into the slot, as well as all around the offensive formation, to help create a matchup they liked. So far, that hasn't happened.
Nonetheless, hope could be on the horizon. Although Martavis Bryant isn't showing up anytime soon, the recent emergence of Sammie Coates as not just a deep threat, but a more well-rounded receiver, could force defenses to account for him, and not just Brown. This is what happened in 2015 when Brown saw more single coverage looks, based on the defense having to compensate for Bryant opposite him.
Although fans, and most likely Brown, want to keep re-writing the receiver record books in 2016, Brown should be happy the team's offense has become a well-rounded unit. There are 5 players who have logged double-digit receptions throughout the first five games of 2016, and a sixth will likely come Sunday against the Miami Dolphins when Eli Rogers catches his 10th pass of the season. Ultimately, the one statistic Brown is set to best is his career touchdown mark. He is currently on pace for 16 touchdowns this season, and his personal best set at 13. Most would take a cut in yardage and receptions to increase their total touchdown mark.
It will be a test of humility for Brown, but even the most level-headed fan knows it is just a matter of time until he breaks out. Coates, Rogers, Markus Wheaton, Jesse James and Le'Veon Bell are just as integral in this process than the opposition's defense, or Brown himself.
Although business might not be "boomin'" for Brown at the moment, it is for the Steelers as they are off to a fine 4-1 start.