The offseason is a magical time in football world, where names of prospects rise and fall in popularity, names of newly drafted rookies are trumpeted as the next big thing, and names of rookies and veterans alike are ranked in training camp battles. It happens every year; this year even more so with a brilliant draft and several not-too-shabby drafts in the years past yielding a fine crop of noteworthy names. There's something else going on this offseason, though, that doesn't happen every year. The names that are involved here are things like sweep64hot and 99stretchR. No, these aren't screen names, they're play names (actually they're names that I made up to sound like play names). A new Offensive Coordinator means a new play-caller, and the biggest changes this offseason might not be in the names of the personnel but in the names of the plays called. In fact, how well the players perform will depend largely on how they're used. So let's talk x's and o's (and I don't mean hugs and kisses). Here are ten plays I'll be looking out for that could have a major impact this season.
10. The Reverse.
Not the reverse exclusively, but similar sorts of gimmicks. Nobody will probably use gadgets as much as Whisenhunt did, but look at our team speed and tell me that doesn't just scream reverse. Direct snap to Chris Rainey. The defense is already a step behind and they know they don't have a step to lose if they want to seal the edge on Rainey; they're after him like teenage girls after Justin Bieber. Too bad Rainey just handed the ball to Mike Wallace headed in the opposite direction. Reverses and other gadgety stuff, mostly involving Rainey, will keep defenses off balance all season.
9. Stop and go
You could just as easily make it a hitch or an out and up, but I expect Haley to capitalize early in the season on Brown's reputation as a possession receiver and skill set as an all around receiver. He'll give opposing CB's plenty of opportunities to try and jump a short route by Brown only to find out that he's actually going deep. Ben's great pump fakes will make these work even better.
8. Bubble Screen
Not to frighten anyone, but though we might not see 5 per game anymore, the days of the bubble screen are far from over. Mike Wallace is still going to see ridiculous cushions, Antonio Brown is still good at making people miss, and on top of that we have Chris Rainey who is also really good at making people miss, and we're still going take advantage of that. Whether a fully developed bubble screen or just a quick turn and catch, we'll continue to see these guys get the ball in their hands at the line of scrimmage and pick up a couple easy yards or potentially make a big play if the first defender whiffs.
7. TE curl
With dynamic receivers like Wallace and Brown on the outside I envision we'll see plenty of zone coverage, possibly cover two, and Miller will find plenty of soft spots in the middle of the field to exploit. Miller is under-rated by most of the league and won't be perceived as a threat by many teams, and with an upgraded OL he should be available to run more routes instead of blocking this year. I don't see a TE driven offense like the Cheatriots' in our future, but we'll have plenty of great opportunities for a TE and a great TE to take advantage of them.
6. Busted plays.
It's not actually a play call, but what the players are instructed to do if the play falls apart. Whether because of play design or because of his famous bravado, we've seen Big Ben far too often taking a sack rather than making a short completion. Roethlisberger will still hold on to the ball until the pocket collapses, he can't help it, but this year when that happens we're more likely to see big offensive plays than the familiar 15 yard sack. For one thing, Haley will probably chew him out for foolish sacks where BA just said, "we'll get 'em next time buddy." Secondly, an improved OL will mean that teams will more often have to blitz to get pressure, and when they do blitz they won't necessarily get to Ben about at the same time the ball does. This will open up holes in defenses and an extra half-second to get the ball out and make a play.
The third thing is that Chris Rainey is absolute lighting in shoulder pads. Even if teams remember to account for him, there's no guarantee there will be someone close enough to tackle him when Ben eludes the oncoming blitz just long enough to toss the pigskin into his waiting hands, and when that happens Rainey will be off to the races. My bad. As more of a specialist, Rainey probably isn't going to be on the field and available often enough to catch many improvised passes. Batch and Mendenhall (later in the season), will probably be the guys in that position more often. Bottom line is that this year when Ben is pressured he may be looking more often at short passes to RB's than long bombs to WR's, which will result in fewer long sacks and potentially as many or even more long gains with the RB's we have available.
5. Running to the "weak" side
Colon will be manning Faneca's old LG spot this year, and as a former OT you have to think he's got the feet to get out well when asked to pull, but that won't necessarily be the Steelers' bread and butter power running play this year. David DeCastro is quite the pulling guard himself, and he brings the relatively rare ability to pull to the left. If nothing else, that means defenses can't stack up on the "strong side" because the Steelers can direct a power run to either side. Redman will have DeCastro out in front of him running off LT and Colon in front of him running off RT. Sounds pretty strong to me either way.
4. Slot receiver short out
No, I'm not talking short out like the lights at Candlestick Park. Fast receivers like Mike Wallace often tend to open up things underneath, and we've got the slot receivers in Cotchery and Sanders to take advantage of that space. Sprint upfield 7 yards, head fake left, hard cut right into the area cleared out by Wallace's fly route, catch the ball and step out of bounds. I love out patterns for keeping yourself in manageable down and distance. The Patriots nibbled us to death with them in 2010. Haley may have a different favorite, but with the personnel we have he's not going to ignore the passing game, and he's not going to be shooting for the endzone on every play like someone else we all know. We'll see plenty of high percentage short passes.
3. Screen passes/delayed draws.
Haley may have some psychological issues, but he's not the special kind of insane that led BA to repeatedly call long developing plays with 5 step drops when everyone knew a blitz was coming. I expect at least once to see that screen/draw called at the perfect time where the blitz runs right past it resulting in a big play. More than that, though, I expect to see a less aggressive pass rush because as defenses learn to beware the possibility that they're being suckered in.
2. Running up the middle.
Haley is bringing back the fullback. 230 pound Isaac "Redzone" Redman is our primary back. We've upgraded both OG positions. We're talking goal line, 3rd down conversions, running out the clock in the 4th quarter, ramming the football down the defense's throat. If you're not excited to see some good old fashioned running right at the defense and daring them to try and stop it this season there's something wrong with you. Maybe you need to buy a Seahawks jersey. My blood is pumping just writing about it; this prospect alone would make the season exciting to look forward to.
1. Play action pass
Nicely falling on the heels of the power running game is the wonderful world of actually pretending to run but really passing instead. The guy who liked to go empty backfield on 2nd and 1 after gaining 5 yds/carry on five consecutive running plays is mercifully gone. Not to beat a dead horse, but it's like he would go out of his way to make sure the defense knew when he was going to pass. A good play fake is the perfect complement for a fast receiver like Mike Wallace who could haul in more deep passes running fewer deep routes as defenses are taken by surprise by an unpredictable attack. Effective use of play-action even helps the running game because defenses have to wait an extra split second to make sure it really is a run and not a play fake before they commit.
Obviously, I'm no expert, but the potential changes in play calling this season open up a host of interesting and exciting possibilities. What plays are y'all interested in seeing?