The journey toward the Super Bowl is now well under way with the Pittsburgh Steelers back practicing at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, still informally referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility. With the regular season standing in their way on the path to a Lombardi, there will be questions for them to answer along the way.
We have asked and answered a lot of questions during the preseason and through training camp, but much of the answer-seeking ends in the regular season, and teams simply have to make do with what they have available to them. Still, there will always be questions for us.
You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments for as long as they push on through the postseason, looking for the answers as we evaluate the makeup of the Steelers on their way back to the Super Bowl, after reaching the AFC Championship game last season for the first time in more than half a decade.
Question: How close to 100 percent will Antonio Brown be by kickoff on Sunday, and how much will it matter?
It was just a short time before Antonio Brown suffered his calf injury that knocked him out for a few weeks that he played in a game with a toe injury that threatened to sideline him as well. In spite of the injury, he put up very good numbers. And he also did it against a team that has often done well in containing him: the Cincinnati Bengals.
As he works his way back from a calf injury, preparing to face the best cornerback tandem in the league, this data point seems to me relevant. Even at less than 100 percent, Brown is still capable at performing at a high level.
So the question is then two-fold. The first part: how close to full health will he be after missing the past several week recuperating from his injury. The second part: how much would being less than 100 percent limit his ability to excel?
There is no greater challenge in terms of one-on-one matchups that Brown can possibly face returning from his injury than the pairing of Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye, though even back in Week Five against this Jaguars team, however, Brown had 10 receptions for 157 yards.
It should go without saying that both of these teams have evolved since that game in early October, and I think it would be fair to say that the biggest area of growth since then on either side of the ball would be the Steelers’ offense becoming much more potent.
Even if Brown is somewhat limited, the offense has other options in JuJu Smith-Schuster, Martavis Bryant, Vance McDonald, and Le’Veon Bell who can do damage, and all of whom have been playing better football than they were at the time of the last meeting between these two sides.