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As Webb predicted, Brown has become Steelers' top receiver

FootballPro FootballPittsburgh SteelersAFCNFLBaltimore Ravens

Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb created a bit of a stir two years ago when he delivered a candid impromptu scouting report about the Pittsburgh Steelers' wide receivers.

Despite considerable hype at that time surrounding now-former Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace, Webb was convinced that Pittsburgh wide receiver Antonio Brown was the superior player in every facet of the game.

Despite the last-place Steelers' 1-4 record heading into Sunday's game against the Ravens at Heinz Field, evidence suggests Webb was correct in his bold assessment, with Brown representing the primary bright spot for the struggling AFC North franchise.

Brown is tied for second in the NFL with 41 receptions and ranks third in the AFC with 498 receiving yards, averaging 99.6 receiving yards and more than 8 catches per game with two touchdowns. He has vastly outshined Wallace, who has just 22 catches for 281 yards and a touchdown for the Miami Dolphins since signing a $60 million free-agent contract with them in March.

Webb smiled last week when reminded of his comments about Brown, which generated headlines at the time.

"Man, Antonio's a great wide receiver, a great return man," Webb said. "He's having a nice season for them. He's a great receiver, but his return skills are very explosive. He's one of those guys who can beat you on one play. He has those assets."

Since the beginning of the season, when Brown reportedly got into a confrontation with offensive coordinator Todd Haley about not being involved enough in the game plan, the Steelers have made him a focal point of their offense.

Brown has been targeted 53 times, nine more times than fellow wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders.

Brown caught nine of 11 passes thrown to him during a win over the New York Jets last week, gaining 86 yards. The previous week against the Minnesota Vikings, he caught a season-high 12 passes on 13 targets. And he caught nine passes for 196 yards and two touchdowns against the Chicago Bears.

"He's a fast dude," Ravens rookie free safety Matt Elam said of Brown. "You've got to get your hands on him and keep him in front of you. You've got to bring him down."

Whatever transpired between Brown and Haley has apparently now been resolved.

"I just think he gave me more opportunities and put me in position to be successful," Brown told Pittsburgh reporters last week. "Coach Haley is doing a good job of mixing up the formations, getting me inside, moving me a little bit in the slot so guys can't get a bead on me. Those are things we're going to have to do."

Dalton on a tear

By his standards, it's been something of a rocky season for Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton.

Although he has thrown eight touchdown passes, Dalton has already been intercepted six times.

However, Dalton displayed signs of progress during a narrow win last week over the Buffalo Bills, during which he completed 26 of 40 passes for 337 yards, three touchdowns and one interception, earning him AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors.

"We feel like we've got a lot of weapons," Dalton said during a news conference. "For me, it's just getting the ball to the guys. You saw what they can do once they have the ball in their hands. You don't know how it's going to happen each week. The more versatile we can be, the more we can spread the ball around and get guys the ball, I think the better we'll be."

Now, the Bengals are bracing for a physical encounter against one of the most feared defensive linemen in the game: oft-fined Detroit Lions tackle Ndamukong Suh.

"He's an aggressive guy. He's a disruptive guy," Dalton said. "So you've got to find ways to slow him down. We know where he's going to be. It's a big challenge for us."

Browns' Little wins back job

Benched earlier this season after struggling on and off the field, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Greg Little has regained his starting job.

Little, who has caught 16 passes for 161 yards and one touchdown, is hoping to jump-start his season.

"My performance itself was a wake-up call," Little told Cleveland reporters when asked whether being replaced by Davone Bess affected his approach. "I just want to continue to get better every week and continue to make game-changing plays."

Little has been cited for a series of traffic violations in Ohio, including driving with a suspended license. He wrecked his car while drag racing in April, admittedly driving at 127 miles per hour in a 55 miles per hour zone.

Little has also been part of several trade rumors, which the Browns have repeatedly denied, as the Oct. 29 NFL trade deadline approaches.

An athletic 6 foot 2, 220-pound, 2011 second-round draft pick from North Carolina, Little has 130 career receptions for 1,517 yards and seven touchdowns in three NFL seasons.

"No, it doesn't," Little said when asked whether he's upset he's been linked to trade speculation. "I haven't heard anything from participants that matter, so I'm just going to continue to play hard."

awilson@baltsun.com

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