PITTSBURGH -- So, now what?
Antonio Brown comprises about 40 percent of the Pittsburgh Steelers' passing yardage. That's gone now that he has been ruled out for Sunday's game in Denver. First Le'Veon Bell in last year's playoffs, now this. Let's not act as if Brown's absence doesn't hugely affect everything the Steelers want to do on offense. He's the catalyst, and a colossal loss.
The Steelers' climb up the Rockies got that much steeper.
I don't think the offense will be incapable, though. Worse off, no doubt. But not inept.
The Steelers value Ben Roethlisberger most during weeks like this. They feel they have a chance every week with him under center. Go win with whatever you've got. Tom Brady and Cam Newton make it work without topflight weapons everywhere. Roethlisberger can, too. This is assuming he plays, which I'm assuming he will. Roethlisberger acknowledged he made a few throws on the receiver route tree but declined comment otherwise. Martavis Bryant said Roethlisberger will likely be sore and stiff, but overall it was good to have his quarterback back.
Expect the Steelers to run the ball more. This is an underrated offensive line; the Steelers feel they can run on anybody. Fitz Toussaint and Jordan Todman have proved capable in short stints. They aren't DeAngelo Williams, but they are adequate. Running backs can get hot for a few games. Toussaint and Todman aren't long-term answers, but they can be January answers.
You'll see a lot of Heath Miller, who estimates his role won't change much -- he's a primary run-blocker and a middle-of-field threat. You'll see Markus Wheaton lining up outside some. Martavis Bryant isn't versatile like Brown, but he's the big-play threat whom Roethlisberger must target early and often. Darrius Heyward-Bey will get plenty of reps. Expect him to elevate to No. 3 on the depth chart, and Sammie Coates will see the field. My guess is Heyward-Bey will get some of Bryant's deep balls and Bryant will run more intermediate, middle-of-field stuff than he usually does.
"When you have a quarterback like Big Ben, you're in every game," Coates said.
And, yes, the Steelers are accustomed to fighting through injuries, as that has been customary this season. For this injury, the next-man-up mantra doesn't apply. But the loss of Brown deepens the intrigue for Sunday's game.
The Steelers' somehow pulling this one off, with two of their best playmakers on the shelf, would be an all-timer for the franchise, which would be saying a lot for a six-time Super Bowl winner.