Terry Bradshaw and Lynn Swann. Joe Montana and Jerry Rice. Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin. We, as fans, always want to try to figure out which player made the other better.
Over the weekend I polled many different Steeler fans and asked them one simple question. Does Ben Roethlisberger make Antonio Brown? If you were to give Brown an average quarterback in 2013, does Brown put up similar stats? How has Roethlisberger done without Brown? Does Brown make Roethlisberger an elite quarterback? The more you dig into the stats, the cloudier the answer becomes. But that’s the answer we will try to find a conclusion to today.
The first thing I wanted to look at is how Brown has done with and without Ben Roethlisberger as his quarterback. Unfortunately, Brown is still in the early part of his career and the sample size is very small. But here it is via Rotoviz.com:
This chart is pretty simple to understand, but extremely useful. In the “In Split” column are stats when Antonio Brown has played with Roethlisberger while the “Out of Split” are his stats when he hasn’t. The first number is what Brown averaged with Ben and the second number is that stat prorated over 16 games.
But as you can see, Brown is much more productive with Roethlisberger as his quarterback than not. And you would expect that. When Ben isn’t starting for the Steelers, there is a major drop off at the quarterback position.
So the decreased stats shouldn’t be a huge concern. But how does Roethlisberger fare without Antonio Brown? Is he a worse passer? This will give us some more insight as to who makes who better. Here are Ben Roethlisberger’s passing splits since 2009:
As you can see, Roethlisberger’s stats are nearly identical whether Antonio Brown plays or not. If you believe Roethlisberger makes Antonio Brown, remember that chart and save it on your computer somewhere.
That could be a good stat to use at the water-cooler anytime someone says Roethlisberger needs Brown to be successful. Let’s continue and take a look at how Brown compares to Roethlisberger’s other number one receivers throughout his career:
You could argue that Antonio Brown’s 2013 year was the best that a Roethlisberger reciever has ever had—although, Mike Wallace’s 2010 season was pretty impressive considering that he saw 65 fewer targets than Brown in 2014:
Say what you want about Todd Haley as a head coach or as a coordinator, but he gets the most out of his wide receivers. Since Haley joined the Steelers in 2012, he created a scheme that gets the ball into Brown’s hands quickly and allows him to use his play-making ability.
An AFC personnel man told CBS Sports Pete Prisco that Brown ” Is a good player who is a really nice No. 2. Alone, he doesn’t scare you that much, but he fits the scheme in Pittsburgh very well.”
I think that last line is the most important. He is a perfect scheme fit and that allows him to put up really good yardage totals every year.
My final conclusion is this: We all agree that Ben Roethlisberger is an elite quarterback and has been one without Antonio Brown, and the stats back that up. I believe that Brown is a really good receiver, but Ben Roethlisberger and Todd Haley help turn him into an even better player and not the other way around.