<
>

Ben Roethlisberger, Martavis Bryant need each other to get deep ball going

play
Tomlin: Reported Bryant trade request 'a non-issue' (0:40)

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin says he had no reaction to a report that Martavis Bryant had requested a trade, adding that he's had good, fluid communication with the wide receiver. (0:40)

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers' deep passing game used to be about attitude. For now, it's an afterthought.

Pittsburgh's offense is hitting the deep ball at about a 12-percent clip through six games, with Ben Roethlisberger targeting Martavis Bryant on a large percentage of his 17 attempts of 30 or more yards.

A few more attempts might just help quell Bryant's concerns in light of the reports of a trade request.

Despite the emergence of JuJu Smith-Schuster, who's acquitted himself well with an all-around game, Bryant is still -- by a considerable margin -- the Steelers' best vertical threat alongside Antonio Brown.

That remains Bryant's role, though privately, the core of his issue are the inconsistencies with his role. He believes he has No. 1-receiver ability, and though Brown is clearly in that role in Pittsburgh, Bryant wants a healthy dose of snaps and targets. So far, the Steelers are playing Bryant about 70 percent of the snaps (252 for the season, according to Football Outsiders) and have targeted him 34 times, behind Brown (74) and Le'Veon Bell (39).

The passing numbers tell the rest of the story. On attempts of 30 or more yards downfield, Roethlisberger is 2-of-17 through six games, including 0-of-9 on targets between 31 and 40 yards.

That 11.8 percent success rate is a sharp decline from 27 percent last season (10-of-37) and 39.4 percent in 2015 (13-of-33). Gain an extra 80-100 yards and maybe the Bryant story doesn't surface.

To be sure, Bryant admitted to stopping short on one deep ball in Chicago that would have gone for a long gain, and overall the chemistry with these two has been off.

But that 2015 number highlights the otherworldly pace Roethlisberger was on not too long ago. Big Ben averaged a league-high 328 yards per game and punished any defense in sight. Bryant was a big part of that.

Roethlisberger averaged less than 300 yards last season, but he still led the league with 13 deep-pass touchdowns. Roethlisberger and Brown perfected that quick-deep ball, where Roethlisberger takes a short drop and fires a lob as Brown beats press-man coverage.

Those plays just haven't been there. Two of Roethlisberger's seven passing touchdowns are classified as "long" (at least 25 yards), but both Bryant's 29-yard score in Week 2 and Brown's 51-yarder in Kansas City featured yards after the catch.

Launching deep balls for fun isn't exactly the recipe for NFL offensive success. Timing, defensive looks and the right personnel all contribute to the process. But Roethlisberger is a willing long-tosser, and with Bell cooking once again, a few shots off play-action should be there Sunday.

During practices, Bryant looks just as explosive as in 2015. Yet his 48 yards after the catch is very unlike the player who scored 15 touchdowns in his first 21 NFL games.

He aims to change that. And several Steelers who tried encouraging Bryant behind the scenes this week aim to help him do that, too.