To say that Martavis Bryant is disappointed in the way his 2017 season has unfolded would be an understatement. Bryant, who put up 549 yards and eight touchdowns in just ten games as a rookie in 2014 has 419 yards and two touchdowns after playing 12 games this year. On top of that, we have the entire saga involving his suspension for a game.
While Martavis Bryant has lost rooting interest of a lot of the fan base, and has been removed as a commodity from fantasy football circles, his play in 2017 has made an impact on the Pittsburgh Steelers, and he may be one of the underlying reasons as to why the Steelers beat the Patriots this year.
Why Martavis Bryant is difference Steelers need to beat Patriots
Martavis Bryant is a deep threat. We can talk about all of the contested passes that he has dropped, and all of the times he has been off with Ben Roethlisberger by inches on so many plays. The fact of the matter is that he is a threat to catch the ball for a game-changing play on every single snap. That demands respect.
The Steelers, understanding that Bryant has the speed, strength, and athleticism to burn cornerbacks deep one-on-one, send Bryant deep a lot. What this does is demands the attention of any sort of safety alignment the defense will bring. The Steelers use that respect to create mismatches for Antonio Brown. It is in part as to why Brown is on pace to have one of the best seasons ever.
Take the play below for example. Eric Weddle is originally shaded over to Brown’s side. However, he knows the deep threat of Bryant on the other side of the field is lurking. Roethlisberger looks to Bryant to get Weddle on his high horse to his side. When Roethlisberger sees Weddle break, he is attacking Antonio Brown one-on-one.
Below, the Steelers line Bryant up in the slot. With no other defenders on the left side of the field, Tony Jefferson fears that Bryant, with that much space in a one-on-one scenario, could break the big play. So, he leaves Antonio Brown with a cornerback and the sideline. Brown won.
When the Steelers and the Patriots met in the AFC Championship, the main storyline taken away was how the Steelers defense could not stop Tom Brady. However, that fails to bring up the fact that the offense, the supposed strength of the team, scored nine points in the first 56:34 seconds of that game.
The Patriots had a clear plan of attack for the Steelers on that night. It was aided by the injury to Le’Veon Bell, but the team was set to sell out on stopping the run with the front seven, sending extra help to Antonio Brown, and leaving the secondary players on islands.
On the first drive of the game, down 3-0, the Steelers faced third and one. As shown below, the Patriots have two players accounting for Le’Veon Bell and two players accounting for Antonio Brown. For Sammie Coates, there is nothing but room to run. Of course, he is Sammie Coates, the pass is incomplete, and Bill Belichick wins the round.
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When Bell left the game, the gameplan was simple, Antonio Brown. Below, Brown is double covered as he runs a short slant. On top of that, at least four other players have eyes on him. They did not care who else was on that field, they were not afraid.
Another third down where the defense asks Ben Roethlisberger if he wants to try Cobi Hamilton or not. He tried. No good.
In the play below, the linebacker underneath had responsibility for DeAngelo Williams but completely abandoned it to secure a triple team on Antonio Brown. Williams caught the pass, but the safety closest to the 50-yard line pushed him out of bounds short of a first down.
Against the Ravens, Ben Roethlisberger looked towards Bryant, and Weddle reacted. In New England, Roethlisberger is staring down Cobi Hamilton as the safety runs towards Brown instead.
And, of course, Brown saw two bodies in the red zone.
As much as the Steelers fans base does not like Bryant right now, one thing is clear, he is better than Cobi Hamilton and Sammie Coates. He has not put up the statistics to back it up yet, but that is because he is still demanding the same respect in Week 13 that he was in Week 1.
It would be tough to imagine that Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia will draw up a similar game plan as last contest, especially when you factor in a full and healthy Bell and JuJu Smith-Schuster underneath and over the middle. How they adjust their game plan to factor in the safety respect demanded to Martavis Bryant while still understanding that Antonio Brown is the heart of the offense and quite possibly the MVP of the NFL is going to be fascinating to watch. It is a code that has not been solved this season, as Brown dashes towards a record pace, but it will face its toughest test on Sunday.