If you needed a reminder, Antonio Brown plays football as if he was the world’s most graceful ballet dancer. To me, as a neutral observer, there is no one more enjoyable to watch put on a show than Brown. He’s easily become the sport’s most vibrant player.
In the Steelers’ opening season 38-16 win over the Redskins on Monday Night Football, Brown painted another extravagant picture in a career that’s becoming a master class. Washington, last year’s NFC East champion, simply had no answer for a man increasingly becoming the answer in the NFL.
The best thing about Brown is that his eight receptions for 126 yards and two touchdowns on Monday has become routine. For most any other receiver, those are gaudy eye popping numbers. With Brown, it’s fair to wonder how he didn’t produce more, while understanding the confines of Pittsburgh’s offense, of course.
Many are questioning why the Redskins didn’t stick their newly signed big money corner, Josh Norman, on Brown. I’m not sure it would have mattered. Bashaud Breeland, a corner, who in his own right, is actually quite good, never had a chance. No one else would have either. By the end of the night, it seemed Breeland was more exasperated than enthused, given how easily Brown was abusing the bright young player.
Just look at the repertoire that Brown can throw at you. Most of his eight receptions were clinical.
A five-yard stick slash hitch route to put him in space.
A 13-yard comeback where somehow the 6’0 Brown easily won the ball in traffic.
A 29-yard bomb touchdown on fourth down to open the Steelers’ scoring. Here, Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger actually under-threw Brown, but it didn’t matter. Brown had a step on both Breeland and safety DeAngelo Hall, who never looked back for the ball, and he did a pirouette (figuratively) for a touchdown that belonged to him.
Breeland let Brown get a free release regularly, which is basically a death sentence. If there’s one receiver to use your hands and press on, it’s Brown. In fairness, even that might not help.
Moving forward, a no-gain check down with one hand while blanketed by Breeland. Brown somehow managed to corral the ball tight in here, and this had to be the point where Breeland just began to lose all hope.
Then you had chemistry on display later in the drive on third down with a 16-yard back shoulder completion. Brown and Roethlisberger clearly have impeccable timing and trust built over years. This play was just preparation between receiver and quarterback, another death knell for any defender unlucky enough to garner Brown’s assignment.
On his second touchdown of 26 yards just minutes later, Breeland would again not use his hands. But this time, he actually had quality coverage. Still, with Brown, even the slightest step he manages to gain on you is comparable to yards of separation with other receivers. All Roethlisberger had to do was play backyard football in a pitch and catch.
“Go deep, I’ll hit you Antonio” has much more meaning than it ever did for any of us.
Brown would be fined for unsportsmanlike conduct on the ensuing celebration for this (For The Win):
Listen, there’s a reason the NFL has been nicknamed the “No Fun League”. In Brown’s case, a man who’s often in the end zone, why not dance? No one’s going to stop the finely tuned machine from getting the opportunity. Brown’s twerking seems like his own subtle message to the rest of the league that he can’t be stopped. He’s having too much fun.
Hard to disagree with that sentiment.
And when the chips are down, and they aren’t often for this high-octane Pittsburgh offense, they go to their elegance expert. Brown caught three passes on third down and one on fourth down, not uncommon for any number one option. Each of Brown’s last two passes after his elated dancing, came on either third down or on second and long, when Roethlisberger was pressured, with Brown coming back to the ball. Brown set up Breeland in such a tailspin, that he could go in any direction. That mentioned timing with his quarterback allows him to practically play a different game.
The ease with which the Steelers can convert and extend drives when going in his direction is haunting.
Before the season started, I thought Brown could be the league’s Offensive Player of the Year as well as the first receiver to ever top 2,000 yards receiving in an individual year. He’s already enjoyed the the most productive four-year stretch by a receiver ever. Monday night did nothing to dissuade those assertions of new history. If anything, we should have expected even better.
An MVP award, something a receiver has never won, might actually not be out of question either, especially if the Steelers ascend to the heights most think they will.
With a healthy Roethlisberger in tow, Brown should be poised to hit a new stratosphere for his career and more. If anyone has earned record breaking expecations on an annual basis, it’s him.
Somewhere, I think Breeland’s head is still spinning, while Brown readies to dance emphatically again and again on the rest of the NFL.
Robert Zeglinski is a managing editor of No Coast Bias, the Bears beat writer for the Rock River Times, and is a staff writer for Second City Hockey and Windy City Gridiron. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.