via NBC Sports
Last week, with the help of a couple of sandwiches and OpenOffice, we began discussing the breadcrumbs Todd Haley has been tossing us. Considering the importance of player evaluation this preseason, serious playcalling takes a back seat. In my first post, Tracking Haley's Steelers Playbook - Week A, I focused mostly on the formations as seen against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week A. The formations are to the offensive system, what the players are to the offense. Using them incorrectly can cause as much detriment, as they do benefit. In this week's episode, we will cover the new formations introduced against the Indianapolis Colts, how the formations we've already covered were utilized, and a few plays to demonstrate the use of the formations.
The actual plays witnessed in preseason play may, or may not, be used in regular season action. This is why preseason playcalling is an inaccurate barometer. The formations, however, do not change; nor do their effects on opposing defenses, allowing for offensive success. I will leave it up to the reader to connect the dots, I simply look to define some of those dots. Let's take a look at what Coach Haley showed us this week, which includes our first glimpse of the "No-Huddle".
If you are just joining us, I suggest you check out the Week A breakdown, listed above, as it covers everything we saw against the Eagles; and established an understanding of formation philosophy. We saw formations in Week A, that we did not see in Week B; the same can be said going the other way. This post, though it may include morsels from the Eagle game, will focus on what we saw versus Andrew Luck and the Colts.
- I Form - We saw zero plays run from any straight "I" looks. As Steel34D mentioned in the comments of the first article, Haley has never used the Straight I form much. We did see it last week, so it is an option to playcall; however, its use will most likely be relegated to goal line, or short yardage situations.
- StrongI - Our base offense will revolve around the offset "I" variations. Last week we saw a focus on the Weak I. This week, we got a heavy dose of the Strong I. We saw eight plays called for the Strong I-Base form, though 2 plays began as Strong I-TwinWR sets, with one WR motioning across the formation, resulting in the "base" look (see below). We saw some success running from the Strong I, except for one play which was called for Offensive Holding, and the two pass plays resulting in one incompletion, and one sack on a play-action pass attempt.
- WeakI - This is easily my favorite of the I forms; and it seems to be one of Haley's as well. With the learning curve wrapping the O-line in uncertainty, having an extra blocker on each side can help protect the QB. We only saw 3 "Weak I" plays called due to the focus on the "No-Huddle", and time management offenses; but each "Weak I" play was run from a different alignment.
- Big -This run heavy formation showed itself twice vs. the Colts. Both plays were passes; one resulting in a sack, and the other wound up in the hands of Leonard Pope, after a play action fake.
- TwinTE - This Big variant stands alone as it's own formation, because of the substitutions of Slot receivers into the Wingback position, as was also described by Steel34D last time, regarding the use of Larry Fitzgerald in Arizona's offense under Haley. We saw Antonio Brown line up there once against the Colts, though we will see the second TE in power running situations, as evidenced by the 4 runs called. Technically, one was a passing play, but pressure forced a scramble.
- TwinTE/WR - Yet another variant of the previous two, carries the same independence, because we also saw Antonio Brown line up in the Wingback slot for a play, forming a 3 WR set. With only one pass call, this form was a big part of our rushing attack resulting in 5 plays, including Jonathan Dwyer and his big run.
- TripsBunch - In an inadvertant homage to our former offensive coordinator, we saw more 3 WR looks this week, in addition to the 2TE look from last week. We even saw Will Johnson and Chris Rainey lined up as the outer, strong-side slot receiver; although Johnson was motioned inside to an offset fullback position. This formation appears to still be a major component of our offense, as evidenced by its use during hurry-up and time-management offenses. Against the Colts, we saw feast and famine. Brown's big TD came from this set; so did Ben's INT, and Rainey's nap time. Total Plays 8 (3 pass/5 runs)
- SlotStrong - We saw more runs (6), than passes (2), from this set. This is usually due to the fact that to cover the overloaded strong side(TE + 2WR), the defense surrenders weakness against well timed runs; whether, linebackers shifting towards the pass, or DB's exposing man coverage. However, 2 of the runs called were Ford's clock killing dives near the goal line, before the winning field goal was blocked through the uprights.
- SlotWeak - Speaking of Jason Ford, he ripped off 2 big runs from this set; which due to it's balanced pass options, tends to soften up the middle, as defensive lines try to get outside position on the weak side tackle, and linebackers spread wide to be in better position to defend the pass. Rainey also ripped off a 5 yrd run, the only other play called specifically from this set.
- SlotWk/RBStg - This set might be cursed. Of the 4 plays called for this form, only 2 saw the center snap the ball, as the other 2 died of False Starts. The plays that survived? 1 run, 1 pass
- SlotWk/RBwk - We saw some big gains out of this set. Of the 8 plays called, only one was a run.
- SlotStg/RBwk - 2 passes and 2 runs were called from this set, including Ben's naked bootleg, which I never want to see, again.
New Formations Introduced
- SG-3TE/RBwk - I don't expect to see this one often. It was only used once on the last offensive play before Hrappman's assisted kick, for a Rainey draw sweep trap...thing. The play design was actually quite comical when realizing it revolved around Rainey's size.
- SG-3WR/2RB - This set is really just a personnel change from the 2WR/2RB/TE set covered last week, which we did not see this week. The 3rd WR lined up in the TE wingback spot, usually sliding over about 4 steps, to create space for a route. We saw 4 passes, and 1 run that was called back for a Offensive Holding penalty.
- SG-TwinTE/WR(RBwk) - We saw this variant of the SingleBack formation for 2 passing plays. This set doesn't make as much sense as it's SB counterpart, but it does provide a longer line to protect the QB, plus a RB for protection or receiving.
- SG-TE/4WR - We finally saw our first 4 WR formation against the Colts, for 2 passes; although, Heath Miller was lined up as one of the WRs for one play. I feel pretty safe in saying that the coaching staff hopes we don't see these types of formations much. With no run threat, defenses are able to focus on pass defense.
On the second offensive drive of the game, the No-Huddle offense made its debut. I wanted to take a second to focus on this drive, because it draws a nice picture of what we can expect throughout the season. During the first drive, we saw guys lining up in unusual positions. I think they were warming up for this No-Huddle drive, as players were lining up everywhere. The whole point of going No-Huddle is to prevent the defense from substituting players, because you run with the personnel on the field. Judging by the play calls, we will see mostly SB and SG formations during these series.
- 1st and 10: SB-TripsBunch(2TE) Play result: Batch run up the middle for 2 yard gain.
As the play begins, Miller motions halfway across the line, then returns to his original position. This fake motion had the defense guessing weak-side run. Then, Baron Batch takes the handoff on the weak side of center, only to cut it back to the strong-side, after the transition. This move drew the defensive line, even more, towards the back's initial direction, allowing Willie Colon and Maurkice Pouncey to drive their guys further that way, out of the play. Marcus Gilbert stood up his lineman, as did Pope his linebacker. Miller hesitated on the block, because either his linebacker was disciplined enough to not overrun the play to the outside; or, because Gilbert took the wrong guy. Batch was forced to choose either the hole between LT and LG, or take it outside. Because the design of the play intended Miller to be a lead blocker, I would imagine the call was to stay inside. Get the clock rolling. Because Batch took it up the middle, Miller had a LT and a DE, between himself and the ILB he was supposed to be blocking. ILB beats Miller to the running Batch. Clock rolling...
- 2nd and 8: SG-SlotStg/RBwk Play result: 2 yard gain on QB run. (facepalm)
I'm all for running the ball. I'm all for running the ball smart. I'm not all for running the ball smart with my fragile, franchise QuarterBack. I have no problem with a play like this during the season, or the playoffs. I don't want to see it in the preseason. Too much at stake, in my opinion. Run this play with Jerrod Johnson, not Ben Roethlisberger. Sorry for the rant; back to the play. The formation itself, presents a strong side presence, with Pope at the TE spot, and Miller at the slot WR position. Considering we just ran the ball to the strong side on the previous play, it is understandable why the defense bit so hard on the fake handoff to Batch. The line did it's job, selling the run; including a nice layout by Gilbert. With open field ahead, Ben took off. I'm sure Ben would run this play a bit harder, if the game was on the line; but for this game, he settled for the 2 yard gain, and walked away healthy.
- 3rd and 6: SG-TE/4WR Play result: No Play-False Start(#77)
I only mention this non-play, because of the personnel alignment compared to the player usually employed by this formation(see above). Miller is the strong-side slot; Batch is the weak-side slot.
- 3rd and 11: SG-TwinTE/WR(RBwk) Play result: 18 yard gain on Roethlisberger pass to Brown.
This play is why offenses are operated as "systems". I covered formations, and why they are used. This drive began with 2 runs, which had the defense focused on the double TE's in each set. This time, the defense is expecting a pass, because we already ran twice; but playing man against this set, would leave you vulnerable against a strong-side run. Instead, the Colts chose to blitz, playing zone behind. This played right into the offense's hand. The TE's both stayed in, providing a larger pocket for Ben to operate in. Emmanuel Sanders takes his defender deep, drawing the safety. Batch swings out into the flat, occupying that zone. Antonio Brown, after sidestepping his defender at the line, works the area in between, finding a hole in the zone, picking up a first down as he steps out-of-bounds. Clock Stops. Ben waves off huddles and substitutions. Back to the line.
- 1st and 10: SB-TwinTE Play result: 3 yard run by Batch
Still the same personnel, playing a simple run up the gut. This gets the clock rolling, while picking up 3 yards.
- 2nd and 7: SG-SltWk/RBwk Play result: 3 yard pass from Roethlisberger to Pope.
Heath Miller lines up in the slot WR position of this formation, balancing the alignment. Batch remains in the backfield to pass protect. The WR's run deep routes, drawing the top of the defense downfield; though I'm unsure of the actual routes they ran, due to the poor camera angle. Regardless, Miller and Leonard Pope cross each other, in front of the center. Ben hits Pope on the run, but he had a defender draped across his back already. Clock rolling. Back to the line. Even though this play didn't result in big yardage, it does mentally "back-up" the defense; putting them on Red Alert for the passing game...downfield...
- 3rd and 4: SB-TripsBunch(2TE) Play result: 57 yard TD pass from Roethlisberger to Brown.
Granted, the TD is accredited to the downfield blocking, and the Antonioness of Brown. The play call itself, would have most likely secured a first down, even if Brown hadn't taken it to the house. At the snap, Batch starts towards the weak side, as does Ben, simulating the beginning of a handoff. As the defense bites on the movement, Pope and Miller slide wide right, while Brown backpedals to the sideline, and awaits the screen pass. Ben spins completely around and hits Brown quickly. Haley fired a shot at the Colts with Arians' gun: the bubble screen. The biggest difference between Arians' bubbles, which were usually blocked by WRs, and Haley's; is the use of TE's for blockers, and the timing of the call. The defense never saw a bubble coming. They had dealt with jab, after jab; before finally getting knocked out with a blindside haymaker.
- As it has been said before, you can't rely on preseason playcalling; however, the No-Huddle drive gave us a good template. Haley showed that they will run any formation, with any personnel grouping; all the while operating through the method behind the madness.
- Still zero 5 WR sets, though with our TEs and RBs, its not really that big of a deal. We may not see any outside of Hail Mary situations.
- I'm liking the fact that fake handoffs aren't the only form of Play Action.
- Ben does seem to be getting the ball out of his hands quicker; despite the number of sacks he's suffered already.
- We still have yet to see the first string offense working in the Red Zone under duress. These pages of the Playbook will not be opened until the season has begun. Same can be said for the Goal Line offense.
We have been introduced to most of the formations Haley will employ. We have seen the way he plans to use his personnel throughout those formations. Tonight, against the Bills, we will see the starters in full action. Perhaps, we will get a clearer picture of what an average, Steeler offensive drive will look like.