CLEVELAND -- Anytime Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown has the football in his hands, he is a threat to score, and as such, the coaches have found ways to use the veteran pass catcher to the fullest extent possible.
Oftentimes, Brown has the chance to do as much damage on special teams as he does during scrimmage plays, as he is one of the top punt returners in the National Football League.
“He has some risk taker to him, which is a good quality in a punt returner because he will put pressure on your coverage units,” Browns special-teams coordinator Chris Tabor said. “He catches the ball extremely well.
“He obviously has great vision, toughness, first-step quickness, and then, long speed. If you were buying a car and you went into the dealership and said, ‘I want the total package,’ they would roll out the Antonio Brown car. He is a good player.”
This season, Brown has turned nine punt returns into 100 yards, with a long run back of 33 yards, and two have gone for at least 20 yards.
Despite calling for 96 fair catches in his career, Brown has returned 169 punts for 1,658 yards, an average of 9.8 yards per runback, and four touchdowns. He has 26 career 20-plus yard returns and nine returns of at least 40 yards.
“Obviously, I have competed against this guy a ton of times, even coaching on defense,” Browns head coach Hue Jackson said. “He is just, he has an undeniable determination to play the game and to be the best on the field each and every week.
“He is trying to embarrass you, let’s be honest. He walks out there and he wants to catch every football, and when you throw it to him, you almost believe that he can catch every football. When he drops one, I think everybody is really surprised.
“He is just that determined, plays with an unbelievable passion and a fire in his belly, and it shows by the way he plays. Stature, how big a guy is, how small a guy is, it doesn’t matter because he is not the biggest guy in the world, but he is one of the best players I have ever seen.”
With Brown being the notable leader on special teams, the Steelers have averaged 10.3 yards per punt return and 22.4 yards on kickoff runbacks.
And Tabor is expecting nothing but the Steelers at their best when they take on the Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium today.
“Pittsburgh Steeler week, typical Pittsburgh Steelers special-teams unit,” Tabor said. “I mean that from this standpoint: they are big, they are fast, they are physical and they are extremely well coached. Obviously, they probably have one of the most dynamic players in the game, Antonio Brown, as the returner. He has led to some sleepless nights for us. We are looking forward to the challenge and worrying about the Cleveland Browns and getting better. This will be another big test for us.”