It will be four weeks on Sunday since Steelers receiver Antonio Brown suffered a partially torn calf muscle that landed him at a local hospital (possibly to monitor him for the development of compartment syndrome). Reports consistently have indicated that he’ll be available to play during the playoffs. The question is whether he’ll actually play.
Brown could be a decoy, drawing attention from the Jacksonville defense and opening up other areas of the field until they realize he’s not his normal self. Even if it helps to soften up a stingy defense only for one or two drives, forcing the Jacksonville defense to obsess over the best receiver in football could allow Pittsburgh’s other weapons to thrive.
Or maybe Brown isn’t a decoy, but the Steelers simply want the Jaguars to think he is. Under that scenario, the Jaguars would not shade coverage in his direction until he proves he’s still the guy he was. Which will make it easier for him to do just that.
Whatever Brown’s health and status, others will need to step up. The good news for the Steelers is that veteran running back Le'Veon Bell, who had skipped all of the offseason, training camp, and preseason, has performed much better than the Week Five game involved the two teams. (Bell had 47 yards rushing on 15 carries in the loss.) Likewise, receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who had only four catches for 58 yards, has performed better and better since then.
But Brown bedeviled the Jags for 10 catches for 157 yards. While they don’t need that same level of performance to beat the Jaguars (again, that didn’t make a difference last time), the offense collectively needs to perform better than it did the last time around. But that’s obvious.
What isn’t obvious is whether and to what extent Brown will be able to make a significant contribution against the Jaguars. We’ll find out in five days.