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An imposing performance in Kansas City made Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell the first offensive tandem with 700 yards apiece through six games since individual stats were first recorded in 1933, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
That’s an insane stat, and a tangible reminder that those two are talented enough to push the Pittsburgh Steelers toward, into and possibly through the playoffs.
But coming out of Kansas City, the Steelers still need more help in the passing game to have a balanced attack, and Martavis Bryant’s trade request complicates matters.
Early indications are the Steelers do not plan to trade Bryant, according to sources. He still has value to them and is on an affordable rookie contract for two more years. And Bryant himself has quelled concerns with a tweet to Steelers faithful on Sunday night.
But the unhappiness with his role in the offense had been bubbling under the surface for a few weeks. It’s something the Steelers have to address by clearly defining his role.
Watching Bryant practice, he looks as explosive as he did two years ago, plus 10 pounds heavier. He is too valuable an asset to waste. But Bryant and Ben Roethlisberger have been just slightly off, and the emergence of JuJu Smith-Schuster has decreased Bryant’s snaps slightly.
Even so, Sunday’s game plan was a sound one: dominate the line of scrimmage with the running game, let Brown do his thing and spread the field with Bryant and Smith-Schuster, who had three targets apiece.
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“Third-and-short opens up the playbook,” Bell said.
Bryant’s talent merits more targets, and on the game’s first drive he got open deep, but Roethlisberger was sacked. The Steelers got Bryant going north-to-south with what Bell called “quick slants” and plays up the middle instead of go balls and screens.
Bryant might be most valuable when the Steelers are running the ball well because of his vertical presence.
“Martavis is such a deep ball guy in the threat of it,” Roethlisberger said. “He had a big catch there coming across the field. Really, we’ve got weapons we can kind of utilize and I liked what everybody did tonight.”
Roethlisberger added that he wants to see Vance McDonald, who made a key third-down catch over the middle, get more involved in the passing game. The lineup appears set — Jesse James and McDonald splitting tight end work with Smith-Schuster as the inside-and-out, intermediate playmaker, Bryant the vertical option and Eli Rogers in relief.
A big theme with the Steelers’ season has been whether they can keep all their playmakers happy. Obviously, the answer is no. But losses to the Chicago Bears and Jacksonville Jaguars showed the Steelers aren’t good enough to worry about such problems. They have to find creative ways to win each week.
The difference between a fringe playoff team and a real contender is having reliable playmakers outside of Bell and Brown. The Steelers still are counting on Bryant to help with that cause.