Antonio Brown was the biggest and best offseason acquisition for the Oakland Raiders. The wide receiver enters the season with high expectations and joins an offense that saw its fair share of struggles last year. An integral factor in Brown’s success this season will be his performance against divisional opponents. Below is a look at how Brown has performed against the AFC West during his time in Pittsburgh.
Brown has squared off against the Broncos three times in his career, combining for 29 catches, 330 yards, and two touchdowns. That makes for a per game average of 10 catches and 110 yards, which is pretty impressive. Oakland is hopeful that Brown can continue this success against Denver; however, the matchup he faces will be a key factor.
Since AB is the best receiver on the Raiders roster, the best cornerback for the Broncos, Chris Harris, will likely cover him. Including the playoffs Brown and Harris have faced each other four times, but the first two matchups were in 2011 and 2012. In those first two contests, both Brown and Harris were establishing themselves, so you can’t place a lot of weight on those games when analyzing them.
The series between Brown and Harris is tied up at one “win” each. In 2015, Brown had 12 catches for 137 yards and two touchdowns against Harris; that’s a win for Brown. This past season was a different story, however, as AB only managed 3 catches for 18 yards, which constitutes a win for Harris. The Monday night season opener will serve as the rubber match for these two and you can expect to see Harris shadow Brown all game long.
Kansas City Chiefs
In six games against the Chiefs, Brown has accumulated 38 receptions for 563 yards and four touchdowns. Six catches and 93 yards a game is nothing to scoff at, especially if he can continue to have two touchdowns every three games. Given this success, AB could have some big games against the Chiefs because their secondary does not project well in 2019.
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While Kansas City broke the bank for safety Tyrann Mathieu (3 years $42 million), he has been rather average these last few seasons. In the last three seasons, the Honey Badger has posted PFF coverage grades of: 70.6, 69.1 and 60.4. Last season Mathieu allowed six touchdowns, five while playing his natural safety position and that number is tied for fourth most amongst all safeties. Since Mathieu seems to lack the coverage skills to stay with Brown, the Chiefs may try and put their best corner, Kendall Fuller, on AB and let Mathieu play over the top. However, Fuller is primarily a slot corner and Brown only took about 16 percent of his snaps from the slot last season. That means all offensive play caller Jon Gruden has to do, is put Brown on the outside and Fuller will either be covering him out of position or not covering him at all. Either way that’s an advantage for Brown and the Raiders.
If the two names mentioned above aren’t apart of Kansas City’s plan of attack against Brown, the next options would be cornerbacks Bashaud Breeland and Charvarius Ward. Neither Breeland nor Ward* played a full season last year and the two corners weren’t very effective in coverage, with PFF grades of 57.2 and 65.5 respectively. Mr. Big Chest should be excited to square off against Oakland’s biggest rival.
Los Angles Chargers
Out of all the teams in the division, the Chargers seem to have the most success in stopping AB. In his career, Brown has played against Los Angles/San Diego three times and managed to put up 17 catches, 234 yards and two touchdowns. While he maintains the two touchdowns every three games pattern, Brown has only managed 78 yards per game against the Chargers. For a typical receiver, 78 yards per game would be decent production but Brown has set a high standard for himself and that number is over eight yards below his career average.
Within the division, one of the best cornerbacks Brown will face off against is Los Angles’ Casey Hayward. In three years as a Charger, Hayward has posted PFF coverage grades of 74.5, 92.1 and 83.6. While the cornerback has found success against the majority of the NFL, Brown got the better of Hayward in their matchup last year.
While this wasn’t necessarily all against Hayward, in 2018 Brown tallied 10 catches for 154 yards and one touchdown against the Chargers. Unsurprisingly this was one of Hayward’s worst games in coverage last season, as he finished with a coverage grade of 53.1. The Charger will likely be looking to avenge this game and prove that he is a top tier corner by shutting or at least slowing down Brown. This should make for another interesting divisional matchup.
Overall, Brown has put up 84 catches, 1,127 yards and 8 touchdowns in 12 games against the other AFC West teams. These are very encouraging numbers for an offense that only managed to put up about 16 points per game against divisional opponents a year ago. You can expect to see a more productive and dynamic offense in 2019.
*Ward played in 15 games, including the playoffs, but only took snaps at corner in 6 of those games.