Michael Vick

Antonio Brown, Receiver of Renown

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The Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense will present several threats to the Indianapolis Colts’ offense on Sunday night. Perhaps the most dangerous is Antonio Brown, one of the league’s most prolific receivers and, by at least one measure, the most valuable. What does Brown do so well, and what makes him so good?

Volume, But Not Just Volume

Brown currently ranks second in the NFL in both receptions and receiving yards, behind only Julio Jones. It should come as no surprise he ranks highly in both categories. After all, he ranks third in the league in targets, behind Jones and Houston’s one-man band, DeAndre Hopkins.

But targets are no guarantee of production. Just ask Denver’s Demaryius Thomas, who was having a down season even before his 13-target, one-catch performance against the Patriots last Sunday night. What matters more is efficiency, and Brown has been very efficient. Just like he did last season, he currently sits atop the Football Outsiders’ leaderboard as the most valuable receiver in the league. What makes Brown so valuable?

Not in the Red Zone, But Getting There

Many of the most valuable receivers in the league are like Larry Fitzgerald, red zone monsters. That is not Brown’s forte, as his total of just five touchdowns indicates. He is not even the Steelers’ most-targeted player in the red zone. That distinction belongs instead to tight end Heath Miller.

Brown’s most productive areas are when the Steelers are trying to get to scoring territory in the first place. He is the second-most-valuable receiver in the league when the Steelers are between their own 20 and their own 40, and the seventh-most-valuable receiver in the league when the Steelers are between their own 40 and their opponents’ 40, the back and middle areas of the field where teams start most of their possessions and where many possessions go to die. Red zone receiving threats are incredibly valuable, but the best players are full-field players, and Brown is one of those.

A Threat Everywhere Past the Line of Scrimmage

Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Todd Haley is a devotee of the wide receiver screen, and Brown is his preferred screen player. He has 20 targets at or behind the line of scrimmage this year, most on the team. Haley may wish to rethink part of his strategy, as this is pretty much the only area on the field Brown has not been highly productive this year.

Brown’s most productive area of the field has been the very deep pass, those thrown more than 25 yards downfield. Even with the time he has missed, Ben Roethlisberger is tied with Carson Palmer for the most very deep attempts in the league. He has been excellent on those, ranking second to Derek Carr in total value by Football Outsiders’ metrics.

Brown is a big reason for Roethlisberger’s success on those very deep passes. Football Outsiders’ metrics rate him as the most valuable receiver in the league on such throws, ahead of Carr’s favorite target, Amari Cooper.

Brown is far from just a deep-ball specialist, as he displays special skills on short passes. There are 54 wide receivers who have been targeted at least 25 times within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. He ranks first among that group with an average of 6.9 yards after the catch. That is not just one fluke play either, as he ranks third on passes 1-5 yards downfield and first on passes 6-10 yards downfield.

Even on shorter passes, Brown does not need to get yards after the catch to be highly productive. He averages just 0.4 yards after the catch on passes 11-15 yards downfield but still ranks as one of the most valuable players in the league on those passes too. The reason: he catches almost everything. He has a catch rate of 81 percent, best among the 25 players with at least 15 such targets.

Brown is also not just a one-side-of-the-field specialist, like Odell Beckham was. He has been targeted in roughly equal numbers on both the left and right sides of the field, and has been just about as efficient on either side of the field. The one tendency has been his high yards-after-catch plays on short passes tend to come in the middle of the field.

A great deal of Brown’s value comes from not just where he is targeted, but when. He’s had the ball thrown in his direction on third or fourth down more often than any receiver in the league. By Football Outsiders’ numbers, he is the most valuable receiver in the league there. His 190 DYAR on third and fourth downs is 50 percent more than second-place A.J. Green‘s.

What It Means

Brown is not as physical pre-possession as Calvin Johnson or Julio Jones or Dez Bryant, but he might still be the league’s best receiver. He can beat you after the catch on short passes. He can sit down in intermediate routes, get open, and catch everything. He can beat you deep. He will beat you on third downs. He has even been just as good playing with Landry Jones as with Ben Roethlisberger. The only people to slow him down this season have been Michael Vick and Richard Sherman. Colts defensive coordinator Greg Manusky needs a good plan, or else Brown could match the 133 yards and two touchdowns he had in Pittsburgh’s 51-34 win last year.

Bengals visit rival Steelers as favorites at sportsbooks

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Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is expected to return to action on Sunday when the Pittsburgh Steelers play host to the undefeated Cincinnati Bengals as 1.5-point betting underdogs at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

Big Ben has been sidelined for a month since suffering a knee injury in the Steelers’ 12-6 win in Week 3 over the Rams in St. Louis, with veteran Michael Vick and third-year pivot Landry Jones leading the club to a pair of straight-up wins in his absence.

Pittsburgh is coming off a disappointing 23-13 road loss to the Kansas City Chiefs as 3-point underdogs, their first against the spread defeat of the season, and enters Sunday’s Bengals vs. Steelers betting matchup at Heinz Field averaging just 20.5 points per game over their last four, and have seen the point total play UNDER in 10 of their past 12 contests.

They meet a rested Bengals squad that is coming off a bye week after opening the season with six SU wins, 5-0-1 ATS, and seven SU wins in their last nine road contests.

However, Cincinnati has lost three straight to Pittsburgh, and are just 4-13 SU and ATS in their last 17 meetings with their AFC North divisional rivals.

The Chiefs, meanwhile, travel to London, where they will meet the Detroit Lions on Sunday morning as 5-point betting favorites in the final NFL International Series game of the season.

Kansas City ended a five-game SU and ATS losing skid with their victory over the Steelers, and have held opponents to just 15.7 points per game over their last three.

The Lions made offensive coaching changes this week after falling to 1-6 with a 28-19 loss to the surging Minnesota Vikings. Detroit is now a dismal 1-9 SU in their last 10 games according to the OddsShark NFL Database, and have disappointed bettors with their current 5-13 ATS run.

The 4-2 Vikings will be looking to solidify their place in the NFC Wild Card hunt with a third straight victory when they visit the Chicago Bears in a contest pegged as a pick’em at the sportsbooks.

Minnesota is a middling 3-2 in their last five against the Bears, who are 2-1 SU and undefeated against the spread since opening with three consecutive losses.

In other NFL Week 8 betting action, the Green Bay Packers visit the undefeated Denver Broncos as 2.5-point chalk, while the struggling Baltimore Ravens take on the San Diego Chargers as 3-point favorites, and the Seattle Seahawks battle the Dallas Cowboys as 5.5-point road favorites.

Ravens favorites, Steelers underdogs in Week 6

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(OddsShark.com) — The Baltimore Ravens will be looking to revive their fading playoff hopes on Sunday when they travel to the Bay Area to battle the San Francisco 49ers as 3-point road betting favorites at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

The Ravens, who opened the season alongside Pittsburgh as +170 favorites to claim the AFC North crown, have stumbled to a 1-4 start following a demoralizing 33-30 overtime loss to Cleveland last weekend, extending their against-the-spread losing streak to five games.

Baltimore now has just two ATS victories in its past 10 games and enters Sunday afternoon’s Ravens vs. 49ers betting matchup at Levi’s Stadium with a brutal 3-10-1 ATS record in its past 14 October contests.

The 49ers have also limped to an early 1-4 record following their last-minute 30-27 loss to the New York Giants on Sunday Night Football, but they halted a 10-game ATS losing skid by covering as 7.5-point underdogs.

The Niners are 1-5 straight up in their past five dates with Baltimore, including their most recent meeting in Super Bowl XLVII in which the Ravens picked up a 34-31 win as 4.5-point underdogs.

Elsewhere, the Steelers will be gunning for their second straight win with quarterback Michael Vick running the offense when they entertain the Arizona Cardinals as 3-point home underdogs this weekend.

Stepping in once again for the injured Ben Roethlisberger, Vick led a fourth-quarter game-winning drive in the Steelers’ 24-20 win over San Diego last weekend, capturing the victory as 4-point underdogs.

Pittsburgh will remain without Big Ben against the Cardinals, and will take the field as betting underdogs for the fifth time this season, going 2-0-2 ATS in their previous four according to the OddsShark NFL Database.

The Cardinals laid a 42-17 beating on the Lions in Detroit last weekend, improving to 4-1 SU and ATS this season. But Arizona is just 1-4 SU, 2-3 ATS, in their last five against Pittsburgh, and a meagre 2-8 SU in their last 10 October road dates overall.

The Chargers face another tough contest this weekend when they visit the undefeated Green Bay Packers as 9.5-point underdogs.

San Diego is now winless SU and ATS in their last three on the road, while the 5-0 Packers have won six straight against the Chargers, SU and ATS, and are on a 12-0 SU run at Lambeau Field, 9-2-1 ATS.

In other NFL Week 6 action, the Browns welcome the undefeated Denver Broncos as 4.5-point underdogs, while the Cincinnati Bengals visit Buffalo as 3-point chalk, and the Seahawks host the Carolina Panthers as 7.5-point betting favorites.