Life Without Big Ben: How Michael Vick Affects Antonio Brown's Potential

Was Antonio Brown's Thursday night performance against the Ravens a sign of things to come without Big Ben?

On Thursday night, Antonio Brown got a good look of what life without Ben Roethlisberger would be like on the field for the next few weeks, and it wasn't pretty.

Brown snapped his 36-game streak of catching at least 5 receptions for 50 receiving yards after catching 5-of-9 targets for 42 yards from backup quarterback Michael Vick. It also snapped a 15-game streak of at least 7 receptions and a 5-game streak of 100 or more receiving yards.

While a part of this falls on Brown himself -- who dropped a sure 36-yard touchdown in the second quarter -- stat lines like the one above may be the norm for him with Vick under center.

Last night, Vick accounted for just 129 yards through the air and a touchdown for an abysmal -0.36 Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back. To put that into perspective, this number would not only have been worse than that put up by the least efficient quarterback last season of all those with at least 200 attempts in rookie Blake Bortles (-0.18) but would also be the second-worst mark of all qualifying quarterbacks since 2000, ahead of just Jamarcus Russell's disastrous 2009 campaign.

For those unfamiliar, NEP is our signature metric here at numberFire. If you contribute to your team's chances of scoring above expectation you receive a positive NEP, and a negative score when you do the opposite.

So on average, every time Vick dropped back to throw the ball, he was taking potential points off the board for the Steelers at an incredibly bad rate. To make matters worse, this was against a Ravens squad playing without safety Matt Elam, edge rusher Terrell Suggs and, before last night's game, was ranked as the 19th most efficient defense against the pass according to our strength-of-schedule adjusted metrics.

And this doesn't seem to be a case of first-start jitters for the veteran quarterback, either. Last season with the Jets, Vick compiled -0.23 Passing NEP per play on his way to 135 yards per game and 3 passing touchdowns and an interception in his 3 starts with the Jets.

Contrast this with the stellar play of Big Ben, whose 0.56 Passing NEP per drop back had him leading the league among all quarterbacks with at least 30 pass attempts this season and was a big part of Brown's early season success as the second-leading receiver in the league through the season's first three weeks.

What makes matters worse is Vick is terribly inefficient compared to Roethlisberger at throwing to the same areas of the field that Brown thrives in.

In 2014, Brown caught 36.0% of his passes and collected 56.8% of his receiving yards on throws made 11 yards or more beyond the line of scrimmage. This season those figures were up to 48.1% and 76.3%, respectively. Roethlisberger was excellent in completing these deeper passes, averaging a 51.3% completion rate in 2014 before improving to 67.6% this season.

Vick on the other hand owned not only a sub-par 52.9% overall completion rate in 2014 with the Jets but also saw that number drop to 23.5% on throws greater than 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. And while Vick could blame this inaccuracy on his supporting cast in New York, with a team that was averaging 350 yards per game through the air in their two full games with Big Ben (and without second-year wideout Martavis Bryant), no such excuses exist in Pittsburgh.

All this suggests that while Brown's on-field talent and athleticism will never be in doubt, the play for him at quarterback certainly will be, and it's going to be a bumpy ride for him until Roethlisberger returns to the lineup.