If the Pittsburgh Steelers are going to do anything in the NFL Playoffs, it’ll be up to their offense. Defensively, they’re average at best. What makes them a threat is an explosive offense that can literally put up points at the drop of a hat. At least, it could until about three weeks ago.
The Steelers faced some of the best defenses in the league this year. They put up 30+ points against the Seahawks, Bengals, and Broncos. The past two weeks they’ve faced two of the worst defenses in football and could only manage 20 and 28 respectively. And the 28 should come with an asterisk because it was aided by a pair of fumble recoveries that set the offense up deep inside the red zone.
So what happened to the Steelers juggernaut offense?
Quite simply, the secondary contributors stopped contributing. Ben Roethlisberger is an elite quarterback and Antonio Brown is the best wide receiver in football. However, when the offense gets reduced to the Ben and AB Show they struggle. Teams quickly begin keying on Brown which leads to incompletions or interceptions. It’s no surprise Ben’s turnovers last Sunday came on plays he tried to force to AB.
When the offense clicks, it’s because the other guys all contribute. Markus Wheaton had three catches for around 50 yards in each of the past two games. By contrast, he caught 6 balls against Denver and torched Seattle for 201 yards. However, the biggest culprit has been Martavis Bryant. He went from emerging superstar to making a whopping 2 catches for 6 yards the past couple games.
It’s no surprise then that Big Ben called out Bryant in his weekly radio segment on Monday. “It comes from love,” Ben prefaced his comments with which is exactly like when your mother starts a conversation with “I love you but…” Roethlisberger continued to explain that “He [Bryant] needs to understand that at this time of year you have to toughen up. You have to make tough plays. You have to make tough catches.” In other words, time to man up, Martavis.
There’s definitely a different level of effort required to play successful playoff football. It helps to have guys like Ben, Heath Miller, and James Harrison in the locker room – guys who’ve been there and know what it takes. You see a lot of young teams go one and done in their first playoff appearance precisely because they’re not prepared for the intensity of the post-season. The NFL isn’t exactly the NHL when it comes to the playoffs being an entirely different style of play but the teams that succeed definitely step up their game.
Big Ben knows it. Now it’s up to the young receivers to heed his advice. Because if they don’t, well, their stay in the post-season won’t last very long.