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Offensive Output Overshadowing Antonio Brown’s Special Teams Success


By Matthew Marczi

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown is certainly having a Pro Bowl season, having eclipsed not only the century mark in receptions—just the second Steeler to do that—but also breaking the franchise record in receiving yards in a season with a game in hand.

But he’s also having a Pro Bowl-worthy season as a punt returner. He was already a Pro Bowler on special teams in his second season in 2011 when he became the first player in NFL history with 1000 yards receiving and 1000 yards in returns.

Of course, because he now only returns punts, he doesn’t have enough production on special teams to merit a Pro Bowl nod in that role, though he will in all likelihood still be heading there for his offensive output.

After his 41-yard punt return today---as well as a minus one-yard return after being run into by Shamarko Thomas and fumbling—Brown now averages 13.34 yards per punt return on 29 returns.

Among players with at least 15 returns on the season, that ranks fourth in the league, trailing only Tandon Doss, Dwayne Harris, and Marcus Sherels. Doss paces that group with at 15.6 yards per return. Harris averages 14 yards per return, while Sherels averages 13.6.

In terms of pure yardage, Brown ranks third with 388 yards on punt returns. The two players ahead of him—Dexter McCluster at 654 and Golden Tate at 587—have far more punt returns than he does.

That is partly because Brown has been forced to call for a fair catch far more frequently than most in the league. In fact, while he ranks third in total yardage, he also ranks fourth in total fair catches with 22. Only Sherels, Rueben Randle, and Ted Ginn, Jr. have called for more fair catches.

Brown is also one of just 12 players this season with a punt return for a touchdown. Only McCluster has more than one for a touchdown.

Another interesting thing to note is that Brown has more returns of at least 40 yards or more this season than anybody else in the league. With his 41-yard return yesterday, he extended his league lead to five. Even with two punt return touchdowns, McCluster only has three total returns for 40 yards or more.

Brown also ranks third with seven returns of 20 yards or more. McCluster—with nearly double the number of returns—has 10, while Tate—with 20 more returns—has eight.

Prior to the rookie Thomas’s inadvertent collision with Brown in yesterday’s game, Brown also hadn’t fumbled this year—on either offense or special teams. That comes after a year of having fumbled four times, losing two of them.

With all of his offensive prowess, his production as a punt returner might sometimes get lost in the background, but he is a deadly weapon in that role. He would be even more so if the punt return unit didn’t force Brown to call for a fair catch 43 percent of the time.

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About Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • Lamarr56

    This kid is special. He is an absolute playmaker. Even though he is great at returning, I almost wish we had someone else back there that’s not as vital to this teams success.

  • steeltown

    An absolute beast, even at 5’10 185lbs, you can tell the work he puts in on his body year round pays off on game days. He just seems quicker and stronger than everyone around him.

  • Jay

    He reminds me of santonio Holmes I think brown is better. I know santionio has been non existing this year and last but look who’s throwing to him the last two years. I really wish the steelers would have never traded him for a freaking 5th rd pick??? Imagine antonio brown on one side and santonio Holmes on the other that would be amazing

  • JAMESH

    “Passion For The Game” can’t be measured at The Combine.

  • Alan Felicia

    You could argue that without that Holmes trade, Pittsburgh may have never drafted Brown in the 6th round (traded 5th round pick to Arizona for Bryant McFadden and the 6th round pick #195).
    As for Holmes, he had too many off the field issues including a 2nd strike on the Drug Policy in which he was scheduled to miss 4 games during 2010 season. Plus, Holmes was in a contract year and Steelers was never going to re-sign him. And, before I forget, Holmes a head case! He practically dogged it this with Jets!!

  • pittsburghjoe

    He has really evolved. They really nailed this contract…paid him over wallet. Give Colbert credit on this one…

  • Jeff

    Antonio Brown really is the MVP of this team. He’s playing like a top 5 WR in this league, and he’s 3rd in the entire NFL in both punt return yards and punt return average. Just incredible. Colbert & Co. got it right by signing AB over Wallace. Kudos!

  • Lamarr56

    Brown might have a field day against Cleveland. Joe Haden apparently agravated a hip injury, which will likely cause him to miss the game next week. AB might have a good shot of breaking the receptions record if Haden indeed is out.

  • Jeff

    Great post. This guy is the real deal! You could really see his explosiveness on that sideline go route. It almost looked like Ben underthrew him, but AB hauled it in like it was nothing.

  • Shea Fahr

    You are absolutely correct. Even Haden has given up big plays against AB though.

  • Alexander Sebastian Heath

    Antonio Brown have a strong case of breaking Hines’ record next game and even much as I want him to, I’m pretty certain Brown’s resilent words would be “just get us in playoff, that’s all I care about”. Antonio Brown if being measured as far for being a weapon, offensively he is the best right now, not saying he’s physically best but he is playing as the best one right now. How many have you seen that is undersized, not the fastest but manages to be NFL’s top 3 punt returner AND wide receiver? Steelers got a break on the contract they gave to Antonio Brown. Anyone with that production likely will demand Fitzgerald’s contract.

  • DrakePirate

    You said it ! Wallace appears to have a poor “me first” attitude, while AB is clearly more of a “STEELERS” type player

  • Alexander Sebastian Heath

    And! How the heck do we not have a nickname for him yet?! Dave Bryan, Matt Marczi, and every other writers; I demand a poll of voting for his nickname, get some good kick out of it! My first recommendation (and first though, probably lame but whatever) is.. wait for it… Mister! Yes, just “mister”. Every game I have seen cornerbacks getting owned by him, Calvin Johnson giving him props after the game by trading jerseys. He is a gentleman who come to fit in the crowd and is getting noticed.

    Imagine brodcasters anncouncing “Antonio Mister Brown is getting it done again! What a game!” I just… think the nickname is appriorate even if Mister is a common addressing of approching a man, but that’s the point; he’s just an ordinary man and yet he’s well-noticed now and you have no way of approaching him anymore that you address him as “mister… Mister!”

  • Alan Felicia

    No need……..past Steeler WR greats never needed a nickname. Not Swann, Stallworth, Lipps, Thigpen, Burress, and Ward (I included Lipps and Thigpen since they put up decent numbers in a period in which offense was not explosive nor did the team had a quality/Franchise QB).

  • MailboxKid

    I could not agree more. At the time I was frustrated with the contract. I understand the guaranteed money wasn’t that heavy but it seemed too high for a #2 receiver who hadn’t really emerged. Ever since then it has played out perfectly for Colbert. However, in the sake of optimizing investments, I think at the time Colbert could have saved himself a few million by reducing the contract at the time. I don’t think Brown would have argued.

  • Deuce22

    AB is an all around class act on and off the field. He is the first person to show up for practice, and the last to leave. I have had a couple run-ins with him after games and he respects the fans and truly enjoys having fans. He tried tossing me his white towel that he played with in one game, it slipped and someone else caught it, he then asked if I had a pen (which thankfully the person next to me had a sharpie). He then signed my jersey for me! Sorry for the story. He is just incredible, loves the game, loves his fans, and loves helping his team out anyway he can. AB is definitely the best player we have and hopefully he is a Steeler for life!

  • Deuce22

    His nickname is simple and he goes by it….”AB”.

  • mem359

    I noticed on the two big returns yesterday, the ball carrier used Dwyer like a fullback. Probably helps to have a blocker with speed to help clear a path.

  • 2winz

    I call him “downtown” Antonio Brown

  • 2winz

    They didn’t need it but you have to admit.. “psycho ward” was an awesome nickname lol

  • Matthew Marczi

    Dwyer’s done a real solid job on special teams last year. Getting cut lit the fire under his butt, making him understand what he needs to do to contribute to the team.

  • Dutchess Hershberger

    LOVE HIM!! ITS UNREAL THOUGH THAT TOMLIN SEES WHAT BROWN CAN DO AS A PUNT RETURNER AND THE WAY IT EFFECTS THE GAME, THEN GOES TROTS OUT 2 FULLBACKS TO RETURN KICKS, HE LIVES IN FEAR OF INJURY TOO MUCH PUT SANDERS AND WHEATON BCAK THERE, THEY ARE PAID TO PLAY FOOTBALL AND WOULD CERTAINLY BE UPGRADES OVER DWYER AND JONES, THIS IS THE REASON THE STEELERS ARE LAST IN STARTING FIELD POSITION,

  • Dutchess Hershberger

    REALLY?????? HE HASNT RETUNED A KICK PAST THE 25 YARD LINE. HES BEEN GREAT ON OFFENSE BUT IS NOT SUITED TO BE A RETURNER WHEATON AND SANDERS SHOULD BE BACK THERE FULL TIME

  • Matthew Marczi

    Oh, I wasn’t talking about returning kicks. That’s not his job. On kickoff returns he plays the up back, and he also contributes on punt returns as well. He’s done a good job of learning how to block for the returner and suddenly become a key contributor on the return units in his fourth season.

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