Antonio Brown Wide-Open Play Against Ravens: Ad Lib Or By Design?

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown is certainly happy his team got the win on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens but with that said, he wasn’t happy that he didn’t contribute very much during it.

By now, you’ve probably already seen Brown getting mad after quarterback Ben Roethlisberger failed to see him wide-open down the field on a 3rd and 4 play from the Steelers 36-yard-line with 12:26 left in the second quarter.

On the play in question, Brown runs a mesh concept with tight end Jesse James and after successfully rubbing off his defender, he turns his route up the field and was indeed wide-open. Roethlisberger just didn’t see him and instead chose to try to dump the football off to running back Le’Veon Bell along the right sideline. That pass was high and incomplete. Regardless, it would have resulted in a failed third down conversion just the same.

Ever since the game ended, there’s been a lot of talk about whether or not Brown ad libbed on the play or if he was indeed supposed to turn his route up the field like he did. Well, according to James after the game, Brown was doing what he was supposed to do, according to Jeremy Fowler of

Apparently, James went on to say the Steelers have tried to run that play in the past with wide receiver Eli Rogers only to have the pass from Roethlisberger to him fall incomplete. With some quick research, I was able to find one instance of that play and it happened in the Steelers AFC Championship loss to the New England Patriots last season. In fact, it was even a 3rd and 4 play from the Steelers own 37-yard-line.

On that failed pass, as you can see above, Rogers really didn’t do as good of a job as Brown did when it comes to rubbing his defender off.

The two plays are nearly identical except for perhaps the spacing of the wide receivers and they’re run from opposite directions.

If you needed any other confirmation concerning whether or not Brown’s route was by design, check out the reaction of Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley after Roethlisberger dumps the ball off to Bell.

James perhaps summed the play up the best after the game.

“That kind of stuff happens throughout a football game,” said James, per Fowler.

  • Hubert Parker

    Where is haley??

  • colingrant

    Looks well designed to me. On tape now though. Either way, hard to defend, whether corner goes under or over top James. If he chooses under, the play can lead to a touchdown. If over, a routine 7-10 yard catch for a first down.

  • SteelersDepot

    You don’t see him in the third gif?

  • Hubert Parker

    Nevermind i see him

  • SoCal Steeler

    I could’ve swore that it was ad libbed in watching it develop and I still believe that it was at least to the extent that A.B. turned up field.
    It’s too bad that Ben didn’t take one last look but he was getting pressured and had to get rid of it. In his younger days he would’ve scrambled and found him open. That’s just something we have to live with with Ben getting a little older and a little more beat up.

  • psteelers

    Ben is playing like he missed training camp. And no he wasn’t “being pressured.” The ball should have come out once AB passed James. Hopefully he’ll be in mid-season form once the playoffs start. Good to stack wins despite him right now. Defense haven’t given up more than 18 points.

  • WreckIess

    I didn’t think it was ad-libbed because it wouldn’t make much sense for Brown to be mad if it was. He was more than likely the primary read on that play and Ben has to make that throw.

  • The Sun is Pro-Black

    Looked ad-libbed to me. Never seen a slant and go that deep into the middle of the field. The only thing that makes me think otherwise is AB’s reaction. But he can’t be mad at the QB for not throwing the ball after breaking off his route. He broke open for maybe 1 second before Ben decided to throw. No blame either way, just unfortunate.

  • The Sun is Pro-Black

    But it did come out once AB passed James…

  • Sam Harris

    Haha Dave hates when people ask stuff about what is already included in the article

  • At first I thought it was ad-libbed, but the gif clearly shows it wasn’t. In fact, Brown plants a foot and begins to cut up-field behind Jesse James even before Jesse has passed him by. My guess is that Brown can either continue underneath [like he did to ice the playoff game in Kansas City] if his defender drops back to avoid the rub. Against the Ravens, his defender tried to stay in his hip pocket, so AB cuts sharp upfield behind Jesse knowing there was no way his defender could follow. If it’s designed that way, and it looks to be, it’s brilliant and virtually uncoverable in man-to-man.

  • MintDragon

    just to the left of the sticks. There is a quick blip cirlce around Haley’s credential pass on his chest.

  • RickM

    It’s tough to know if it’s ad libbed. But there’s no question that Ben is looking down the right side of the field initially. He seems to take a quick peek at the center of the field when his primary target isn’t open. But AB has two guys around him so Ben moves to Bell.

    As Cris Carter said, this happens more than one thinks in the NFL, i.e. guys breaking open later in their routes after the QB has just decided mentally to go to another guy. It’s only a big deal because AB made it into one.

  • SkoolHouseRoxx

    Wish they could have connected with that. I want AB to get as many catches and yards as possible.

  • Steelerfan4lifeinAZ

    It’s man coverage and you know there is a rub off on the crossing route underneath and you have AB on the outside. Common sense tells you in Single High Safety to the short side that you will see no safety help were AB is split out wide. It’s a shame that Ben couldnt recognize this. Think he may need to play more on Madden to understand coverage again.. smh

  • Rob S.

    Only thing I can say in Ben’s defense is he saw the safety over the top doubling Brown and decided (prematurely) not to throw it.

  • Joe

    Doesn’t happen to guys like Rogers, Brady and Brees. But Ben isn’t in that

  • NinjaMountie

    I’ll be darned. Crud! I was wrong because I thought it was ad lib and have said it multiple times. I apologize

  • Paul Rainey

    I believe it was Ben’s orders to get Bell as many touches as possible.

  • Mark

    Stop it, Ben could’ve easily slid to his left and a wide open Antonio.

  • Joe

    It’s 3rd down, first read is AB. Ball should be out of his hands as Brown makes his cut up field so the “pressure” is not an issue. He simply gives up on the play. Instead he throws to Bell who is two yards behind the LOS and is well covered (it would have resulted in a failed conversion). That explains Haley’s reaction and Brown’s disgust. This is the amusing part, later in the game he tries to hit AB in triple coverage yet he is telling us all that his focus is not to turnover the ball. Really!!! Your job is simple – take what the defense gives you, in other words, hit the open receiver.

  • Mark

    Totally agree, we all get upset when Ben isn’t included in the top 5 and then he plays like this. The play was called to go Antonio and he didn’t have the patience to make it happen. A 14 year 2 time Superbowl winner is supposed to make this play, especially against a rival in your division.

  • Mark

    I personally think Ben is done after this year, just doesn’t look like he’s into or committed to the game anymore. He’s try to escape injury and/or hits.

  • KiJana Haney

    Well damn……………… I am surprised that they have that play in their playbook. It also takes advantage of double coverage that could follow brown. Lets see what happens in the future for this but Ben has not played as well. Maybe you can argue that he is beginning to decline at times but I think it will just take him a longer time to get his mojo going. He needs to be better but as usual the team gets better as the season goes on. There is nothing to worry about.

  • Romel Roze

    You will have Big Ben apologists that will see what they want to see. You are spot on.

    Haley knew it was a TD and fell to his knees in disappointment when Ben did not hit the wide open WR as designed.

    Haley can only design the play, he can not execute it for the players.

  • Joe

    He has been impatient since week one. Unacceptable! Time people stop making excuses for him.

  • Joe

    You are correct, sir.

  • Joe

    That’s what I keep saying. Players need to execute!

  • Joe

    Agreed. Once you start looking at the rush and not downfield, reading the defense, it’s OVER!! Hope we are wrong!!

  • falconsaftey43

    This makes it pretty clear it was by design. Especially with how quick AB makes his cut.

  • JohnB

    If that’s a designed play we need more of it! Drags seem rare though in the Haley system.

  • PaeperCup

    Probably a little of both. Maybe that is his secondary route depending on the rub in question.

    Either way, Ben wasn’t in position to make the throw. He could of with some effort, but he wasn’t looking that way.

    I get Browns and I guess Haley’s reaction, I might think it’s more of a missed opportunity anger rather than a threw it to the wrong guy anger.


    Last week all the chatter was about Ben throwing too much to AB….I highly doubt Ben is purposely avoiding him, or is he?

  • PaeperCup

    Taking another look, still could be him breaking his route when seeing the defense develop. But I was wrong abotu Ben not looking his way. Looks like he did, but didn’t see the angle the defense was taking or something, he looked off of AB. Shenanigans.

  • walter

    We dont have anybody better so Im afraid you and other Ben haters will have to get used to it.

  • walter

    Ben was criticized for looking too much for AB and is making an effort to spread it around..

  • Dshoff

    Yep, it sure looks like a designed play. At least that’s what I thought when I watched the game again last night. I don’t think we will ever know for sure.

  • Steeler-Drew

    Good luck to you guys being a Steelers fan if they have to go another 20 years between franchise QB’s.

  • Hec

    I think Ben is actually scared somewhat to sit in the pocket and take a hit while throwing the ball. He did cite the concussion issues while contemplating retirement. AB did break free on the play Ben took a peek at him and decided to overthrow it to Bell. Another thing is defenses are teeing off on Ben’s eyes as he stares down his intended targets too long. Ben has to make the adjustments to read and react to the plays in front of him.

  • Ken Krampert

    Great job on this article. It sure looked like he was adlibbing when I first saw it. Still doesn’t excuse his reaction and I still think he should apologize. Ben didn’t throw a Gatorade fit when AB mishandled a catch causing an INT.

  • Don

    Come on. Of all the criticisms that can be laid at Ben’s feet, fear of taking a hit is nowhere on the list.

  • Don

    Totally agree. I have issues with Haley sometimes, but have also commented that a lack of execution makes it more difficult to judge the playcalling.

  • Don

    Actually, the way this play is designed, I think it would HELP if he stared him down. Draw the coverage toward the crossing pattern and really set up the break upfield.

  • Don

    Great point about making this a read-play.

  • Don

    Ben could’ve reacted like that on the INT, but at the refs, not AB.

  • John Pennington

    Hubbard was getting beat on the play but Ben acts like he cant move its like he has lead in his legs. He not moving enough in the pocket he is not seeing the field at all,MB had his man beat he didn’t see that either all on one play. Ben looks like he is playing scared or there is something wrong with his legs. He is not stepping into his throws all arm action he is not moving around like he use to he cant move to get away from the rush like a dead duck back there.Something is wrong with Ben he is not the same qb as last season.

  • SoCal Steeler

    I didn’t see the gif before commenting the first time but after watching it now I can see that it definitely was designed and nicely designed at that. It looks like some initial pressure was sealed off and he would’ve had time to go to A.B. but he got spooked by that initial pressure and looked to dump it off to Bell and as you noted even if Bell catches it he’s not getting the 1st down.
    The old Ben (younger) definitely would’ve hung in there and hit A.B. At least we got a big win in a place where they’ve been hard to come by and I’m sure we’re going to see that play again and hopefully for a big gainer or a TD next time. It’s also nice to see some ingenuity out of Haley for once. I hope it’s a sign of more to come.

  • SoCal Steeler

    Yeah, watching the gif you can see that’s true but I think he got spooked by what appeared to be initial pressure on the left but was quickly sealed off. I think this new idea (for Ben) of taking what the defense gives you is going to be a work in progress. In that on this play he should have stayed on Brown who was wide open a second after he looked away and on the one he threw to Brown into triple coverage that should’ve went somewhere else (although that one was reminiscent of the one Brown caught to seal the win against the Browns)
    It was a greatly designed play though that I’m sure we’ll see again.

  • Carl Mendelius

    This incident is one more proof that Haley is not doing a good job. AB was very upset with Haley and also with the fast declining Ben. AB is playing in a much higher level than those two. Bottom line: I hate to say it but the. Steelers are in deep trouble next year with Ben in the end of his career and no prospect to replace him and a very poor OC in Haley. The Steelers are on the verge of becoming the post-Bradshaw Steelers, a nightmare.

  • Wayne’O

    Ben heard footsteps.

  • francesco

    Yea..i agree. He is not an athletically fit quarterback. He makes Eli Manning and Brady look like Olympic sprinters.

  • Hec

    Say what you will, but being aware of taking a hit that might leave him concussed is a fair criticisms for quarterback who contemplated retirement and said one of his concerns was CTE. Concussions are serious concerns for quarterbacks. If you don’t think they are then take a good look at the history of the best quarterbacks who retired early in their football careers because of it.

  • dp4

    That’s alright to be on tape. Im guessing this is an option route for AB if he reads double coverage and sees the safety jump the crossing like Weddle did. Teams seeing this will have to be wary of jumping that route and it *should* lead to AB being wide open across the field.

  • dp4

    Why is this proof Haley didnt do a good job? He called a play that had 2 guys wide open if Ben actually makes the correct reads. Bryant is wide open on his go and we all see AB. How is that Haley “not doing a good job” when he called a play with 2 TD’s in it?

    There are a billion reasons to be mad at Haley…this play isnt one of them…

  • I wonder if it’s an option route where he has a 2 way go depending on the coverage?

  • falconsaftey43

    Care to explain how this shows Haley is bad? It’s a unique and creative route concept that got AB wide open, that’d seem to indicate a good job by the OC.

  • Ken Krampert

    AB still lost handle of the ball causing the bad call/INT. Point is that no one is perfect and temper tantrums do no one any good. Ben has helped make AB the great receiver he has become, so his behavior is childish and ungrateful.

  • Ralph Wagner

    Maybe Tomlin should sit Roethlisberger, yeah I know am I nuts? Noll sat Bradshaw when he wasn’t playing up to standards. Upon returning to the starting lineup Bradshaw suddenly picked up his game. Sadly when a person talks about retiring he is retired. Could this be Ben’s problem? Hopefully Ben Roethlisberger get out of his funk and has a breakout game.

    Go Steelers

  • falconsaftey43

    It’s two sides of the same coin. Problem isn’t Ben throwing to AB too much. It’s him not throwing to the correct (open) WR often enough. That includes him throwing to AB in tight coverage when there are others open, and plays like this where he prematurely dumps it off short to Bell (missing him) where he’d have little chance of converting, instead of throwing to the wide open AB on a play where it really looks like that’s where it was designed to go. Ben has to start reading the play better.

  • Aj Gentile

    This actually doesnt show that at all

  • Don

    That’s fair. I’m not sure that’s his problem so far, but it’s certainly a possibility.

  • AndyR34

    Me too! Why bother commenting if you haven’t read the article?

  • Thanks, Don! Another thing I just noticed is it looks as if a Ravens safety had charged forward aggressively to pick up AB’s crossing route after the rub. It looks like this was their plan for countering the play, and it would have been effective if the CB tailing AB had seen the rub coming and dropped downfield to again pick up AB when he did what he did.