We continue our deep dive into what makes Antonio Brown one of the best wide receivers in the NFL. In Part 1 we went over Brown’s route running. Part 2 took a look at his hand fighting. Part 3 will focus on his ability to gain yards after the catch.
The best wide receivers consistently gain yardage after securing the catch. This trait sets apart good receivers from the great ones. Players like Julio Jones and Odell Beckham Jr. are well known for turning a simple slant pattern into a house call. Having a player who can turn a short pass into a big gain makes an offense much better and forces defenses to challenge underneath routes.
Brown is great after the catch. He uses his great agility and field speed to create extra yards for himself with regularity. Every time he makes a catch he looks to score and many of his yards after catch simply come from the great effort he puts forth when he is on the field. Lets take a look at what he does with the ball in his hands.
Gaining first downs
Having a receiver like Brown in the offense requires around 10 targets a game to keep him happy. This high volume doesn’t hinder the offense when Brown is able to create extra yards for himself after the catch.
Something like this simple “flare” route would be an easy way for Carr to get the ball into Brown’s hands and watch him work. Brown is often able to make the first defender miss. Securing a first down on a simple pass concept opens up possibilities for the offense and prevents the defense from selling out to stop the run on 1st down.
Another simple way to get the ball into Brown’s hands is utilizing him in the screen game. Pittsburgh catches the Bengals in a blitz and calls this perfectly timed screen to Brown over the middle. The pass travels less than 10 yards from QB to WR and Brown turns a simple concept into a big play.
This screen is more complex and calls on Brown to fake the bubble screen before reversing field back to the middle. The Saints are running a blitz with man coverage in the back end. Brown is able to get so much out of these short passes because he seems to always find the perfect angle to take to maximize his yards after catch.
Gruden has designed the offense to give his quarterback the freedom to check into these kind of plays when a blitz is identified. Getting Brown the ball in blitz situations is one way for him to gain the amount of targets required to keep him happy.
This play against the Ravens in 2017 is an example of Brown going beyond the expected play result. Brown runs a post across the middle with Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle in coverage. After securing the catch Brown sees another defender come off his man but he changes direction and turns a 15 yard pass into a 60 yard play.
Brown doesn’t need a designed play to break free in the open field. Sometimes he can turn what would be a solid first down catch by most receivers into a huge play. Jon Gruden has been on record wanting more chunk plays to happen in 2019. The Brown signing makes that a possibility.
This example is from 2018 against the Bengals. At the top of the screen Brown faces Dre Kirkpatrick in press coverage. He beats Kirkpatrick off the line and runs a quick slant across the middle. If he caught the ball and went down it would have been good for a 10 yard gain. However Brown is always looking to score every time he has the ball in his hands. He feels the safety coming down to make the tackle and uses a subtle side-step to leave the defender in the grass before running for another 40 yards.
Some fans have been wary of the amount of targets Brown will require in Gruden’s offense. His ability to turn short passes into first downs or even touchdowns makes him worth the extra attention. Brown has tricks up his sleeve that allow him to make defenders miss in the open field. He’ll also take a path through the defense that forces defenders to take great angles—otherwise he’s gone. Brown’s ability to gain yards after the catch combined with the other elite areas of his game is what makes him such a potent weapon. Because defenses must account for all the ways Brown can beat them, the rest of the offense will benefit even when the ball isn’t going to the All-Pro wide receiver.