Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Martavis Bryant has been inconsistent throughout much of the 2015 season, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is doing what he can to light a fire in the second-year star before the team's Wild Card Round game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Saturday.
"He needs to understand that, and this is coming from love from me and other guys, that this time of year, you've got to toughen up," Roethlisberger said Tuesday in an interview on 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh (via ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler). "You've got to get tough and you've got to make tough plays and you've got to make tough catches and you have to find ways to do everything you can to help this team."
After missing the first four games of the year due to a suspension, Bryant hit the ground running, catching six passes for 137 yards and two touchdowns in a 25-13 win over the Arizona Cardinals in Week 6. He's had just two 100-yard games since then, however, and in the last two weeks he has combined for two receptions for six yards.
Bryant's poor performance in the Steelers' regular-season finale against the Cleveland Browns might have been the result of a neck injury he suffered in the first quarter, according to ESPN's Josina Anderson.
Normally, criticizing a teammate before a big playoff game isn't advisable, but Roethlisberger is a two-time Super Bowl champion and the Steelers' unquestioned on-field leader. Plus, his comments about Bryant were more encouraging than they were critical.
Roethlisberger knows Bryant could be important matched up against a Cincinnati pass defense that ranks 10th in the NFL, according to Football Outsiders. In his four career games against the Bengals, Bryant has 16 receptions for 228 yards and two touchdowns, one of which went 94 yards, as noted by the NFL:
Backed up on the six-yard line? No problem. Big Ben + @ThaBestUNO can just do this for the other 94. #PITvsCIN https://t.co/viqIxbtDBL1/5/2016, 9:00:05 PM
When he's at his best, Bryant is the kind of dynamic downfield threat who can burn an opposing secondary deep, especially with Cincinnati focusing most of its attention on slowing down Antonio Brown.
Pittsburgh's hopes of advancing past the Bengals don't hinge solely on Bryant's performance, but the 24-year-old could undoubtedly be a major X-factor for the Steelers.