Post-Brown era off to bumpy start

The Morning Call - - SPORTS - By Will Graves

The Pitts­burgh Steel­ers in­sist they won’t miss the drama An­to­nio Brown pro­vided on a weekly — and some­times daily — ba­sis. Miss­ing the wide re­ceiver’s record-set­ting pro­duc­tion is an­other matter.

Dropped passes. No sep­a­ra­tion. Lit­tle ex­cite­ment on the rare oc­ca­sion they found themselves with the ball in their hands and room to run. The post-AB era in Pitts­burgh be­gan with the group called on to re­place him spend­ing most of Sun­day night’s 33-3 loss to the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots chick­en­fight­ing with de­fen­sive backs as they strug­gled to cre­ate any sort of breath­ing room.

“We’ve just got to make more plays for [quar­ter­back Ben Roeth­lis­berger],” said Donte Mon­crief, who caught three passes for 7 yards in his Steel­ers’ debut af­ter be­ing signed in March, four days af­ter Pitts­burgh sent Brown to Oak­land. “It starts with the whole re­ceiver’s room, everybody on of­fense. We’ve got to be bet­ter.”

Way bet­ter.

Roeth­lis­berger fin­ished 27 of 47 for 276 yards and an in­ter­cep­tion, sev­eral of the mis­fires com­ing when Mon­crief or a team­mate would get one or two hands on the ball only to have a New Eng­land de­fender rake it away.

“They got away with some holds last night,” Steel­ers slot re­ceiver Ryan Switzer said of New Eng­land’s press cov­er­age. “But they play that, ‘You’re not go­ing to call it every play’ [style] so they take their chances and they won more than they didn’t.”

The Pa­tri­ots didn’t just beat the Steel­ers, they pro­vided a blue­print for how to keep Pitts­burgh in check with Brown now work­ing in New Eng­land.

When the teams met last De­cem­ber, the Pa­tri­ots dou­ble­cov­ered Brown and JuJu Smith-Schus­ter, al­low­ing rookie run­ning back Jaylen Sa­muels to run for 142 yards in a Steel­ers’ win. The threat of Brown gone, New Eng­land dared Pitts­burgh’s re­ceivers to beat them one-on-one. They couldn’t, leading to the fran­chise’s most lop­sided Week 1 loss in 22 years, all with the knowl­edge that Brown now works for the de­fend­ing Su­per Bowl cham­pi­ons af­ter agree­ing to a one-year deal fol­low­ing his rapid flame­out in Oak­land.

“I’m not specif­i­cally wor­ried about any­thing rel­a­tive to An­to­nio Brown, I’m wor­ried about the guys in the locker room,” Pitts­burgh coach Mike Tom­lin said af­ter fall­ing to 0-4 in New Eng­land when Brady is un­der cen­ter. “The qual­ity of the ex­e­cu­tion and what we did or didn’t do. An­to­nio’s been off our team for a num­ber of months. We moved on from that stuff in March.”

And moved on to a new kind of drama in the process, one where the is­sues might not be off the field, but on it.

What’s work­ing: Not much. The de­fense has never in­ter­cepted Tom Brady in Foxbor­ough and Brady’s num­bers in six home starts against the Steel­ers are hard to du­pli­cate on a video game, let alone real life: 21 TDs with­out a pick.

“I like to think ev­ery­thing just flew off and ev­ery­thing was wrong so we can say ‘That’s not go­ing to hap­pen again,’ ’’ de­fen­sive tackle Cam Hey­ward said. “But we did some things right. Not every play was mi­nus, but I’m go­ing to treat it like every play was.”

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