With the NFL wrapping up the preseason Thursday night, and the 53+8 man roster being officially set, we have a little over a week before we finally take a regular season field. I have not watched the Carolina Panthers game, but after breaking down the Buffalo Bills game; I am confident we didn't see anything that we haven't seen already. We've already gotten the basics out of the way in Week A; and Week B, which also began analyzing plays making up a drive, as we were introduced to the no-huddle. For this week, we will continue our running tally of play types/formations, focus on 2 specific drives from the third game, and dissect some isolated plays within those drives.
Let's deal with the formation calls from Week C first, since this is what we've focused on in the first 2 weeks. We only saw one new formation, and it was only called for one play. That one play, happens to be Redman's 2 yard TD run. It started out as what we'll call I-Jumbo. With the backs lined up directly behind the QB, one TE capped each end of the line, with a 3rd TE lined up at the wing. The FB is motioned out to the opposite side wing pre-snap, creating a singleback, 4 TE set. In 3 games, we've seen one play; however, I think this will be a big part of our short yardage arsenal, throughout the season.
I-Big - (1WR,2TE, 2RB) - This set was used for short yardage/clock milking. Haley called all runs, all in run situations. One run lost 10 yards on a Holding call, while another run-for-loss benefited from a Facemask penalty. One run was carried by the fullback. (yes, you read that right) 2 carries gained nothing, but Batch ripped off a 16 yard gain, late in the game.
STR-Base - (2WR,1TE,2RB) - If we have a "base look" on offense, it is the Strong and Weak, offset-I formations. For this game, the offense relied on the STRong version. 11 plays were called in good balance; 5 being passes scattered amongst 6 runs. 3 of these running plays were originally lined up as STR-TwinWR, but one WR motioned across the formation, resulting in the Base alignment.
WK-Base - (2WR, 1TE, 2RB) - While the Weak version of the offset-I still carries the proper personnel for the run, it provides favorable situations in the pass, having a potential blocker lined up on either side of the QB. We saw this evidenced by the 3 passes called, versus the single run.
WK-TwinWR - (2WR, 1TE, 2RB) - This variation of the base, was used for 2 passing plays, and one timeout.
WK-Big - (1WR, 2TE, 2RB) - Yet another part of our short yardage package. The WR is usually a decoy; while the FB sets the tone for the run. 2 plays, both runs.
WK-3WR - (3WR, 2RB) - This flex of the base look has been used a few times. We saw it once in Buffalo, though in this case, Heath Miller was lined up as the outside, slot-side receiver; who motioned to his normal TE spot, returning to the base look. We'll see this play later in the drives section.
SB-Big - (2WR, 2TE, 1RB) - This protective set is becoming a staple of our normal offense, as it keeps with the 2 TE theme. By keeping inside this framework, opens up more of the playbook for no-huddle usage. TE's are required to block and pass, luckily for us we have 4 guys that are good at one, and, at least, usable at the other. Most TE's in the league are one, or the other. In the Bills game, we ran twice (unsuccessfully), and one play action pass picked up 3 yards through Leonard Pope.
SB-TwinTE - (2WR, 2TE, 1RB) - While only losing 3 yards on 2 running plays from this cousin of the SB-Big alignment, we saw a wide variety of results from the 3 pass plays. The first one came early, with Jerricho Cotchery lining up as the 2nd TE in the wing. He motioned halfway across the line, then returned to his spot, catching a short dump into the flat. Gain 1 yard. The third play died quickly due to a botched snap, resulting in a 7 yard sack. The one in the middle? It was a gem. We'll look at this one more closely in the Plays section, but it resulted in a TD by Derrick Williams.
SB-TwinTE/WR - (2WR, 2TE, 1RB) - Yet another flex of the Big package, because of the unbalance of the formation, it warrants its spot as a separate entity. Against the Bills, Isaac Redman turned the only 2 plays called into gains, picking up 9 yards (5+4).
SB-TripsB - (2WR, 2TE, 1RB) - We have seen 2TE's in this set for the majority of it's calls, but we have seen every type of player moved around to every possible spot. We still see a WR subbed for a TE, giving a 3WR look; but the remaining TE stays up on the line, for blocking and decoy purposes. The formation itself was a favorite of Ben's, and it is still a prevalent part of our SingleBack offense. 8 plays were called (4 run/4 pass); with a myriad of intentions and results. We saw a reverse run with David Gilreath. We saw Byron Leftwich beat double coverage, connecting with Antonio Brown for a touchdown. We saw Will Johnson lined up at an outer WR slot, and the inner wingback hole. The package was already deadly because of the overloaded side; Haley's personnel usage make this set more versatile, and even more deadly.
SB-SlotStrong - (3WR, 1TE, 1RB) - When we go to the air, Ben Roethlisberger opens up the 3WR section of the playbook, which begins with the SlotStrong/SlotWeak sets. SlotStrong, used only once, brought us the fake spike play run during the pre-halftime, 99 yard TD drive (One of the drives covered later).
SB-SlotWeak - (3WR, 1TE, 1RB) - SlotWeak, due to its more balanced appearance, is definitely used more often. In this game, we saw 2 passes and 3 runs, though one run was on 3rd and 1, which was stuffed into a 4th and 1, punted swiftly away.
SB-3TE - (1WR, 3TE, 1RB) - I still love the overloaded look. This is still primarily a run set. Out of the two carries called for, Baron Batch barely crossed the line of scrimmage on the last play of the game, killing the clock. Chris Rainey crossed the line of scoreage with the other, on his 41 yard sweep scamper.
SG-TwinTE/WR(RBwk) - (2WR, 2TE, 1RB) - This flex of the SingleBack set, when used out of the ShotGun, is seeking a mismatch; as it is primarily seen during no-huddle and hurry-up drives. 1 of the 2 pass plays fell incomplete, while the other was Jonathan Dwyer pulling in a back shoulder throw, saving the drive, and drawing the praise of his sideline.
SG-3WR/2RB - We saw this alignment once during the 99 yard scoring drive, it's only appearance in the game. Because we were operating no huddle, Heath Miller lined up in the backfield as one of the sidecar RB's. The play resulted in a short pass to Dwyer, gaining 6 yards.
SG-SLst/RBwk - 7 passes were called in this alignment. Brown's pre-halftime TD came from this set; so did a nice contested, important catch by Cotchery.
SG-SLwk/RBwk - Miller caught one pass for a 6 yard gain, and Brown RAC'ed up 13 of a 3rd and 20 against a Bills' Prevent Defense.
SG-SLwk/RBst - This variation resulted in one pass, a 13 yard clock-stopping sideliner to Sanders; which also picked up a first down.
SG-TE/4WR - One play called. One 12 yard strike to Cotchery. One more first down.
For Week D's post, instead of detailing the playcalling of a game played more for player evaluation, I will be preparing a summary of the entire preseason, including the calls from the Panther game. We know better than to think that our regular season offense will use the same types of plays called. Steve Tasker made this point during the television broadcast of the Bills game. The plays run, are the plays they want game film on. The plays themselves may or may not be run during the season, but the film aids in the preparation of similar plays. First let's take a look at 2 drives, as operated by our starters (minus Wallace...sigh...) Even though the outcomes and timings were different; they provide good examples of the little things we can expect to see throughout the year.
Drive #3: The Drive following Buffalo's only TD. Mid-First Quarter.
For some unknown reason, Steeler Nation was becoming frustrated with the offense's production. I think it is more displacement of dispair due to David DeCastro's downfall. Mike Adams, who was blasted early this preseason, has been steadily improving each week. Starks will start, and we know he's fine. Foster has been around for a while, this year is an example of why. So, how does the loss of one rookie lineman, define the opportunity of success for an entire offensive unit? I have no idea, but when the Offense sputtered through it's first 2 drives, frustration was sieving out of everywhere.
My favorite part, was the beginning of that 99 yard drive. First, Ben demonstratively guided a misguided 12th player, to kindly get the hell off the field. Then after the penalty moved us back to the one, Haley called a FB run, of all things; picking up one yard and keeping the clock rolling. Roethlisberger stands alone, listening to the call through his headset. Ben's face switches to uncertainty. He looks over to the sideline, and sternly shakes his head no as he returns to the huddle. Certainly, it wasn't the gesture of a confident leader; not much assurance in a shrug and a shake. To the media, it is a sign that the Haley/Ben headbutting competition was born, as was according to their prophecy. To me, it was the sign of things to come.
I can't say I blame Ben for his feelings on the play call. Really, coach? It's 3rd and a mile, there's less than 2 minutes left in the half. We need to try to make this drive count before we're pulled; and your answer is to throw it to Jonathan Dwyer? HA, whatever you say, Coach!
In defense of Haley to this point in the game, the lack of points in the previous 2 drives was not the fault of the design, or the playcalling. Brown muffed the first play of the game, dropping a wide open slant. The Bills improved Defensive line was getting pressure from the start, forcing a quick dump to Cotchery on second down, and a sack on 3rd. Punt by Butler. One of Buffalo's WRs Hines-Warded LaMarr Woodley out of an interception. Moorman punts. First and 10.
Second drive: Redman gained 2 yards on second down, but the passing game rang up incompletions on first and third downs. Emmanuel Sanders was running to his own drummer on the first down, back shoulder toss. Rainey dropped the third down throw. Punt by Butler. If players aren't dropping passes, these drives go further. Unless Haley was out there running post patterns, it's not his fault you didn't get us anywhere. Regardless, discussions on theory and strategy are taking place on the sideling, trying to fix something that wasn't broken. I think Haley entered this 3rd drive a little angry himself, and started issuing a message to his offense. Just do what you're asked to do, and believe in what we're doing. Through 2 games, and 2 drives, I don't think Ben got it yet, honestly. This is nothing like Bruce's O. This one has a point.
- 1st and 10 - Form: Weak-3WR - Miller lines up as outside, slot-side WR.
Todd Haley has said since day one, that the return to the running game meant the ability to run when you're supposed to run; when the whole world knows you're going to run. Why is this so important? Because teams will start putting their best run defense on the field, when you're supposed to run. Even though we had already thrown on a first down, with a similar route; the situation dictated run, and the defense played it as such. As Intended, Miller lining up outside in a WR formations, sent up obvious red flags to the defense. The LOLB moved out to man up on 83 in case of a pass, but the safety in the box showed their determination to stop a run. With a DT and DE lined up over Marcus Gilbert, and a DE and OLB lined up over Max Starks; the Bills had no intention of giving up an edge. The Middle Linebacker and Srong Safety, filled the middle, guarding whichever gap the other DT surrendered. When Miller motioned into the wing, the defense became 100% positive we would run.
To their surprise, Ben snaps the ball and immediately drops a fade over the outside shoulder of Antonio Brown, who beat his man off the line with ease. Simple design. Perfect execution and timing of the call. Eleven yards gained. First Down.
- 1st and 10 - Form: Strong-TwinWR - Brown motions across the formation, to strong side slot.
Now, we put the Bills back to watching the run. We just slapped them in their face with the glove, and now its back to work, earning the reputation that brought about the success on the previous play. After Brown motions, Isaac Redman takes the handoff behind Will Johnson and Heath Miller on the strong side, picking up 6 yards.
- 2nd and 4 - Form SB-TwinTE/WR - Pope replaces W.Johnson; plays on the line, Miller, the wing.
Continuing the theme of strong side running, the play begins as a run towards the pair of TE's on the left side of the line, back towards the middle of the field. When Redman reaches the line, he counters back towards the weak side. The defense had over-committed to the strong side fake, and found Ike running through vacated space picking up the 4 necessary yards, picking up the first down.
- 1st and 10 - Form: I-Big - Sanders exits, W.Johnson returns to FB.
Haley continues to pour on the body blows, with another first down run; out of a run formation, in a run situation. Redman ripped off a beautiful run up the gut, but Maurkice Pouncey and Willie Colon decided to body slam their assignments, Pouncey getting called for his. Minus 10 yards, replay down.
- 1st and 20 - Form: SB-Big - W.Johnson exits, Sanders returns.
This is one of those plays that sets a spark to the fuse of our frustrations. When we wanted Arians to run the ball, he would call a bubble screen. When we wanted him to pass, he would call a draw, or another bubble screen. Its now 20 yards to a first down, we just ran 3 straight times, and you want to run again? Yes, he did; out of a run formation, in a run situation. The score is only 7-0, and there is no reason to panic in the first quarter. Not only did he call a run, but there were no motions, no guises in the formation; instead they ran a delay sweep with Redman off of Miller's side. In the play's defense, Gilbert got pushed 4 yards into the backfield, and his guy is the one that was able to grab Ike before he got any positive yardage; but the lack of yardage makes it feel like it was the playcall's fault.
- 2nd and 20 Form:SB-SlotWeak - Pope exits, Cotchery enters as 3rd WR
The entrance of the 3rd receiver signals pass, but with the Steelers running so heavily, the defense has to worry about the run again. The corners played every single running down, up on the line, playing press against the WRs. For this play, they backed off a bit, trying to give a zone facade. As the snap count winds down, the defense stakes their claim. The SS moves forward, to defend another run, and provide double coverage on Brown. The other CB tracks Sanders, while the NickelBack moves in on Cotchery, also putting him position to aid on an outside run, to his side. The strong side Linebacker charges the line, to plug the unmanned gap, and force any runs to the SS charging from the flat. When Heath Miller runs an out into the flat upon the snap of the ball, the SS and Brown's CB hesitate. Cotchery had the FS preoccupied with his deep post; and Sanders kept his corner out of the way, by stopping his route short of the tackle box. The remaining linebacker had 3 receivers to choose to cover, and ended up late getting to Brown, due to his flat footedness, and Ben's quick delivery. Brown got inside both of his defenders, cutting a slant just in time for a Roethlisberger bullet....only to drop it. Not that it was an easy catch, but he's made more difficult catches. What would have been a 3rd and 10; was now a 3rd and 20. Another case of the player letting down the offense, not the offense letting down the players.
- 3rd and 20 - Form: SG-SLwk/RBwk - No motions, No substitutions
Just prior to the snap, the Bills Defense dropped everyone back to the line of first downage, intent on keeping everything in front of them. Miller ran a skinny post, and Brown ran a curl underneath of Miller. Because there weren't any defenders for another 12 yards, Ben hit Brown quickly, and Miller transformed into a lead blocker. Because the defense outnumbered the blocking, the play died 7 yards short of a first down. The special teams made the entire drive worthwhile, by downing the punt on the Bills one yard line. Upon further review, Curtis Brown was touching the endline, moving the ball out to the 20. Despite the outcome, this drive set the tone for every subsequent drive. When you think we're going to run, we're going to run right at you. When you think we're going to pass, we're going to run right at you. When you know we're going to run right at you, We throw TD passes. Speaking of TD passes, lets look at the pre-halftime drive that actually put points on the board, a much more obvious measure for success.
Drive #8: Last drive before halftime. Offense starts on it's own 2 yard line.
Frustration festers, infecting even the healthiest team body. The next drive came crashing to a halt, with 2 consecutive Sanders drops. The drive after that stalled, when Dwyer failed to pick up a 3rd and 1. We finally got on the board on the following drive, with Redman running behind a FB, and 3 TE's (see illustration towards the top). However, it wasn't a long orchestrated drive; starting with a short field after C.J. Spiller fumbled the ball. The Bills punted, ending their next drive.
With the offense starting from its own 8, a Redman loss on first down, and a sack on second; the 9 yard gain by Cotchery was still 5 yards too short for the 3rd and 14. The Bills defended the 3rd and long, the same way they did in the 3rd drive. They sent everyone deep. Haley's been paying attention. The Bills ensuing drive stalls, and Brian Moorman drops the ball neatly at the 2 yard line. Ben and company take the field, with less than 2 minutes remaining.
- 1st and 10 - Form: SB-Big - Defense stacks up against the run.
Dwyer takes a simple shot up the gut, trying to create some space for his QB to get out of the endzone. Unfortunately, on the next play, someone tried to make a late substitution, and we were flagged for too many men. Ben makes his infamous gesture toward the sideline. I don't think he was frustrated because a young player made a mistake in a preseason game. Ben obviously wanted to make the most of the first unit's time. He wanted to operate a nice long drive, develop a rhythm; instead the offense had been choppy, and ground-based. The media took this as evidence of a rift between QB and OC; and in the heat of the moment, Ben was beginning to, also. In attempting to protect his guy who came on-field incorrectly, he scolded the sideline, for allowing it to happen.
The penalty moved the ball back to the one yard line, and Haley's call in response to the failed first play, was a Fullback run. Will Johnson was able to get back to the original line of scrimmage, but that's all. Now its 3rd and 10, from the 2. Ben received the play in his helmet; sends a disdained look towards Haley(above), shook his head, and returned to the huddle. Ben read the play of his armband, giving specific instructions on what to do if this play actually worked. The offense walks to the line.
- 3rd and 10 - Form: SG-TwinTE/WR(RBwk) - no motions, no audibles
As the play begins to develop, one can understand Ben's apparent lack of faith in the call. Miller and Pope, 2 of the 5 possible receivers in the formations, were kept in to block as the line slid towards the receiver side. The twinned up receivers, ran deep routes, taking everyone not blitzing, with him. Only 2 people remained. A linebacker, and the running back he was covering; Dwyer. No defense is spying Dwyer as a receiver. They should've been. At the snap, Dwyer starts toward the flat, turning his defender sideways. As the defender corrects his angle, and moves in, Dwyer cuts his route upfield, keeping the defender just off his right shoulder. Ben, almost ashamedly, releases the back shoulder throw perfectly. With all the weapons available to this offense, Haley called his shot with Dwyer...
...and Dwyer caught it. Before even a single fan in attendance had concluded the play had been made, Haley announced his back's success to the world with a 24" vertical, and a "YEAH" that could be heard above the thousands in attendance. There was a complete turnaround in visible team attitude. Players were running to the line, almost amazed that they weren't punting. Within the confines of the playclock, the players realized the gravity of what had just happened, and realized they had to make the most of the opportunity before them. Suddenly forgotten were the melodramatics staged in the shadow of a safety. Now, the team was focused forward, and making the most of every second.
- 1st and 10 - Form:SG-SLst/RBwk
Cotchery got the memo, and proved it, making a difficult catch over the middle, taking a lick from multiple defenders, before jumping up, surrendering the ball to the ref, and hurrying back to the line. He reminds me of Ward more and more every day. Ben had seven blockers again on this play, and had plenty of time, to find Jerricho in the middle of the field, after Brown and Sanders had taken the top off of Buffalo's zone.
- 1st and 10 - Form: SG-3WR/2RB - Miller lines up as the 2nd RB.
The offense is on the prowl, and the defense has its focus, solely on the downfield pass. Buffalo has given up man coverage for zone, and this time play a 3 deep shell, slanted towards the overloaded side, containing Cotchery, Brown, and Miller. Because the DB on Sanders side is playing a deep third, the closest man is LB Nick Barnett. Once Sanders enters Barnett's zone, there is no one left to cover Dwyer in the flat. The ILB, who was worried about Miller, but should've taken Sanders, was left watching from an empty zone, in center field. Ben takes advantage of this prevent-style defense, by hitting Dwyer on a quick out, picking up 6 yards.
You can't really blame Buffalo for losing some composure here. Haley and Ben, were slowly picking them apart. The Bills could barely stop the run with their pass rushers in the game, and they couldn't stop the pass, because they had no answer for the personnel/formation mismatches. Because time is winding down, the offense kept the pressure on through the no-huddle. However, because Dwyer fell out of bounds, the clock stopped, allowing for substitutions. In come 4 fresh pass rushers, and a runner named Rainey.
- 2nd and 4 - Form: SG-TE/4WR - Rainey, in for Dwyer, lines up as weak side slot receiver
The Steelers spread it out this time. Sanders and Brown go vertical, taking their manned up corners and deep zone safeties with them. Miller, Rainey, and Cotchery rake across the under-covered, underneath zones, where Cotchery snags another important catch over the middle, gaining 12 more yards and a first down. Another case of too many receivers entering too few zones, someone is always open. Ben could have taken any of the 3 throws, but had the time to find the deepest guy in Jerricho, whose closest defender was chasing Miller across the field. The ball is now at the Buffalo 30, with the clock still rolling. Ben hurries the offense back to the line, signaling that he wants to spike the ball, and stop the clock.
- 1st and 10 - Form: SB-SlotStrong - hurried set
Why spike the ball to stop the clock, when you can hit your receiver with a quick out, stopping the clock as he steps out of bounds? This is the question Ben asked himself, right before he threw the ball. I would say this was intentional, and Sanders just turned around way too late. Incomplete pass stops the clock anyway, which now stands at 0:40 left; but this is an example of a good play to have on tape. A similar play might come in handy some day, but the timing has to be correct.
- 2nd and 10 - Form:SG-SLwk/RBst -
Sanders makes up for his poor timing by catching the next pass, and getting out of bounds, to stop the clock again. The Bills are on their heels, and reeling. With Cotchery clearing out the middle defenders with his double move, Sanders snags the sideline hook. Ball now sits on BUF 17, 30 seconds remaining.
- 1st and 10 - Form: SG-SLwk/RBwk -
Miller catches the next pass on a quick out, stopping the clock, by stepping out. 6 yard gain.
- 2nd and 4 - Form: SG-SLst/RBwk - Ball sitting on the BUF 11, 25 seconds remaining.
Pressure forces Roethlisberger to abandon the pass, and scramble forward to the 6 yard line, where he slid and called a timeout. (I'm very proud of Ben for finally learning how to slide.) 0:18 remains.
- 1st and Goal - Form: SG-SLst/RBwk - Antonio Brown proves he's one of the NFL's best route runners.
Upon the snap, Brown sprints inside, emulating a slant, taking his defender inside. Heath Miller and Jerricho Cotchery cleared out the middle of the defense, which was more focused on the middle of the endzone, then the outer edges. Brown's defender almost falls down trying to match Brown, who stopped on a dime, and cut the route out. Ben hits Brown perfectly, just out of reach of the outstretched defender. TouchDown, Steelers. Show'em the dance AB...
The Bills' defense had been beaten with the run, and the pass. Ben, finally having receiving threats coming out of the backfield, was figuring out mid-drive exactly where Haley's system was supposed to go. No one was trying to do anything their way; everyone was working within the system, and the system worked as a result. Runs set up the pass; crossing routes set up open receivers, including the final TD. For an offense that was being labeled as dysfunctional in it's own endzone, looked like an unstoppable, cohesive force. Everyone was on the same page. Our infantile offense just grew up, and is ready to take on the regular season.
The offense got a glimpse inside the mind of Haley on this drive; and Haley got a glimpse of what his Steeler offense can do. Tempers may flare, but tempered steel is indestructible. The frustration Ben showed over the illegal substitution, revolved around the verbage differences spoken to, when Haley was hired. Obviously, someone misunderstood the call, and thought they needed to be on the field. Mistakes will happen. Sometimes, a lineman misses his block, or a receiver drops his pass. However, any mistake can be overcome, as long as you never let it overcome you. We run when we run for a reason. We pass when we pass for a reason. Before any success, there must be failure, by which successes can be measured. Haley began defining what the opposing defense could do, through the run, and his run-look formations and motions.
- Only one 4WR play, and even it was run with Rainey in for the 4th receiver. Wallace's return to the fold, will make these plays a bit more desirable; however Rainey's presence adds a nice wrinkle to any 3WR set including Miller, Wallace, Brown, and Sanders.
- Speaking of Miller...3 preseason games, Zero plays without a TE on the field. Yet, people wonder why we only kept 4 WR's on the 53. It is for the same reason the FO didn't bend over backwards to meet Wallace's demands. One more receiver is not as valuable in this offense. One can be an asset, but the presence of one does not simply make it better.
- Of the receivers, Brown is sent in motion more than any other. I expect this to continue when Wallace returns. In 3 WR sets, Sanders will play outside, while Brown moves into the slot.
- I wanted to go over some of the individual motions, and play designs; but I will save those for the last report in WeekD.
- I feel the starting field position had a hand in the early offensive struggles, as well. Moorman was pinning us inside our 10 repeatedly. Facing a defensive line involving Mario Williams and Kyle Williams doesn't make it any easier, either. Our offensive line is struggling with outside speed rush, more than inside bull rush. Although, in response to prior fears about our struggles versus 4-3 D's; we handled this test well enough. There are still sacks, but overrall, Ben is better protected than years past; even without David DeCastro.
I realize this whole post may seem irrelevant, due to its appearance after the 4th game. As you can tell by the length of the post, there were a lot of things to see in this game, as the first unit took the stage for their final dress rehearsal. I had no intention on breaking down the 4th week individually. Instead, as I stated in the beginning, the WeekD installment, well be more of a summary; giving analysis to things, such as: run vs pass ratio, situational reaction, and personnel usage. I will also break down some of my favorite, individual plays from this finally ended preseason.
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