Dolphins vs. Steelers: A game where play action passing shouldn't be expected

Michael Steele

Neither the Steelers nor the Dolphins utilize play action passing much in their offense, likely due to a variety of reasons. Ben Roethlisberger and Ryan Tannehill both excel in it (Tannehill in particular), but stalled running games and no huddle offenses make it harder to incorporate.

Understatement of the Day: The NFL is all about the quarterback.

It makes one wonder, though, is the lack of success in running the football - an issue with both the Steelers and the Dolphins, two teams that will square off at 1 p.m. Sunday in Pittsburgh - due to inability, or a lack of desire?

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been playing the head game very well over the last few weeks. He hasn't thrown an interception in his last 150 pass attempts, and has only been sacked once in the Steelers' last three games. He's releasing the ball on schedule, and his time to throw, 2.62 seconds, is a third of a second slower than the king of the quick release, Peyton Manning.

What's been missing, though, has been play action. The Steelers have used play action less often than any other team in the league with a quarterback who's taken 50 percent or more of his team's snaps. Roethlisberger is completing better than 69 percent of his passes off play action, and has a yards per attempt of 8.8, yet, Pittsburgh is only using it a rough average of five times a game.

Miami is similar to this with Ryan Tannehill. The Dolphins only use play action on 15 percent of their throws (25th in the NFL), but Tannehill is one of the league's better passers off play action. He completes roughly 64 percent of his throws with 9.4 yards per attempt. His passer rating in play action is 118.4 (fifth best in the NFL) but falls to 76.4 without it.

The Dolphins average just south of 89 yards a game, which is 25th in the league. Pittsburgh is barely out of the basement of the NFL at 76.8 yards a game.

Play action doesn't really work if a team can't run, but flip that around - running out of passing formations could have something of the same effect. The Steelers had some success with running back Le'Veon Bell taking a few snaps and running simple inside zone out of a shotgun formation. Considering the strength the Dolphins have up front, the Steelers may expand on that direct snap to Bell package Sunday.

The Steelers' offensive line is now too depleted to think they can just line up hat-on-hat and move the Dolphins off the ball. But judging by the numbers, anything they can do to get Miami thinking they can have some success on the ground will open up the oft-ignored play action sets.

Another reason this may serve as a strategic advantage is because of the no huddle Roethlisberger enjoys. It's going to be exceedingly difficult to run a no huddle with two new starters inserted into their lineup due to injury. Mike Adams will start at left tackle, and Cody Wallace will take over at center. There is a lot of rhythm involved, and 11 players being on the same page is necessary to execute it effectively. That's hard to do when 40 percent of the line hasn't started a game since Week 4 - when they weren't using the no huddle very often.

Perhaps this is a game the Steelers can get back into play action. Then again, that would require them to use Roethlisberger under center consistently - something that may not be all that appealing, considering the pass rush the Dolphins have.

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