Steelers: Who will step up for Antonio Brown?
By Tim Weaver
The Pittsburgh Steelers have a lot of quality offensive weapons on their roster. Unfortunately only one of them is named Antonio Brown.
Thanks to the heinous personification of evil that is Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict, the Steelers will have to face the Denver Broncos without him this weekend.
In case you have been living under a rock for the last six days, Burfict laid a dirty headshot on Brown late in the wild card game that appeared to knock him out cold instantly. Burfict was flagged for 15 yards, which set Pittsburgh up for the game-winning field goal.
Brown has been going through the concussion protocol ever since and has been unable to practice. Today we learned that he has not cleared and will not be able to play on Sunday. The team announced the news via Twitter:
Burfict has been suspended three games for the start of the 2016 season but that’s not much of a consolation to the Steelers right now. In a more fair world he would be suspended at least half of the season. That’s a story for another day, though.
Now the big question is this: who will step up and fill Brown’s production against Denver?
The most obvious answer is their number two wide receiver, the freakishly tall, fast and athletic Martavis Bryant. However, there’s plenty of reason to be concerned there. Bryant disappeared late in the season and didn’t score a touchdown the final month. He showed some life last week against Cincinnati, rushing for 44 yards and making a highlight reel touchdown catch. Still, banking on Bryant to come through is not an ideal situation.
Next up there’s Markus Wheaton, who came on strong in the second half of the season, scoring four of his five touchdowns over the last six weeks. In the December meeting with Denver he notched 62 yards and a touchdown. He may not have the size and strength to get separation from Aqib Talib if he’s covered one on one, though.
Finally, there’s Darrius Heyward-Bey, who missed nearly half the season and has dropped more than his fair share of red zone targets this year. If he can come through with a big game it would be a pleasant surprise.
The player who the Steelers most likely need to step up most will be veteran tight end Heath Miller. With Ben Roethlisberger limited with a shoulder injury (thanks again Burfict) he won’t be able to connect on those deep downfield throws that make Pittsburgh’s offense so dynamic. That means more check downs and quick looks to his long-time security blanket.
While the Broncos defense normally does a great job shutting down wide receivers, they haven’t had as much success against tight ends. They allowed 908 receiving yards and seven touchdowns to opposing tight ends this year, which means Miller could be in line for a big game.
Whatever the case, it’s sad that the Steelers offense has been reduced to these hypothetical scenarios. #BanBurfict