Post-Brown era off to bumpy start
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.”
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.”