Play action passing rare for Steelers in 2013

Justin K. Aller

The rebuilding process of the Steelers running game looks to boost rushing stats. The side effect is an expanded options list of plays involving play-action - something they ran less than 12 percent of passing plays last year.

Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers led the reasonably equipped Chargers through an offense without any play-action opportunity. He threw off play action 13.1 percent of the time this season, just a shade below the equally decent running Titans (13.3 percent with Ryan Fitzpatrick) and the run-allergic Baltimore Ravens (13.3 percent with Joe Flacco).

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw out of play action on 11.6 percent of his throws, the lowest figure among quarterbacks who took 50 percent or more of his team's snaps this season.

Talking about the run game and working on the game and doing everything possible to save a floundering run game is all fine and good. Noble pursuits. If those pursuits do not result in a significant uptick in that statistic, though, the point won't be fully realized.

Perhaps this is cause-and-effect, though. Roethlisberger had a passer rating of 93.9 - the seventh-highest mark in the NFL - throwing without play action. His rating fell to 78.7 off play action, leading only Geno Smith, Matt Schaub, Robert Griffin III and Eli Manning.

Still, looking at Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, who absolutely shredded teams off play-action, likely largely benefited by a dominant rushing attack, sat on top of the league with a ridiculous 134.9 rating. Peyton Manning, for all the throwing he did, ripped teams off play action, throwing 18 touchdowns to just three interceptions.

The value of play action can be enormous or nominal, depending on the kind of offense a team is running. A good quarterback will have a large amount of success in a rushing offense that can set up play-action, like the offenses in Philadelphia and Seattle (Russell Wilson threw 13 touchdowns and amassed a 9.5 yards per attempt from play-action).

Those kinds of numbers are certainly achievable for Roethlisberger. Nevermind coordinators or receivers or age, in 2012, Roethlisberger was 61-for-86 (70.1 percent) for 701 yards off play-action. Probably not a coincidence that was also Heath Miller's best statistical season.

A healthy Miller will help a rebuilt running game, and all of that will help Roethlisberger improve on a solid but heavily unbalanced 2013 season.

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