We all know the saga by now. Bryant, mad about not seeing high volume targets lashes out on Instagram saying he is better than the rookie on his team who has had a better season to date. Bryant was suspended for one game, and in that game, Smith-Schuster broke records and won fantasy leagues with a primetime performance that put him on the offensive rookie of the year train. While some saw that as a victory of Smith-Schuster over Bryant, that makes no sense, as the Steelers almost always play with three wide receivers now. It was pretty obvious that Smith-Schuster was in their plans longer term than Bryant when they drafted him in the second round, so he really did not win anything last week. The two are not directly tied to each other. With Bryant set to return to the lineup, and needing to have a much better second half than first, can he outperform the rookie statistically?
Over the first eight games, they both have been targeted 36 times. Bryant has 18 receptions for 234 yards and one touchdown. Smith-Schuster has 24 receptions for 424 yards and four touchdowns. There is no way around it. Smith-Schuster was better through the first half.
Having a better catch rate, and in turn, more receptions on the same number of targets are no surprise, Smith-Schuster is targeted on short, higher percentage passes more often than Bryant. However, the yards and the touchdowns are where the rookie’s dominance over Bryant could not have been predicted. Bryant was supposed to be the big play performer, who put up yards in chunks and touchdowns.
In fact, moving forward, he still could be. The real issue behind Bryant being so far behind Smith-Schuster statistically has been Ben Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger used to be one of the best deep passers in the NFL. It is what helped Bryant explode onto the scene. However, this season he is just 24 of 73 throwing deep with three touchdowns to six interceptions. It has been a bad decision to go deep.
As shown, Bryant has gotten open, and Roethlisberger has missed him on passes that could have put Bryant right back on track to perform better statistically.
The Steelers have realized that Roethlisberger should not throw deep as often. The team has not thrown as often in general over their three-game winning streak. However, the opposition is going to begin to notice this. They are going to begin to start creeping in. That could be when the Steelers hit them with the big play. The separation that Bryant got could be amplified by sucking the defense in and going over the top. Roethlisberger would no longer be forced to lead Bryant with the ability to run. He would just have to get it out in the area and watch the athlete do his thing.
When moving forward, if they have the same number of targets in the second half, or Smith-Schuster has more due to the short passing be predominant, he obviously will finish with more receptions. However, if they are able to have an offense clicking on full cylinders moving into the playoffs, it would be Bryant putting up more yards, and potentially more touchdowns over these next eight games.
What does Sunday’s win mean for the Colts?