Steelers Film Room: Play design sparks quick passing game

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley tailored a game plan largely based in quick passes, and the Steelers' offense had a good deal of success against Cleveland. They may have even left a play or two on the field.

The Cleveland Browns entered Week 12 against the Pittsburgh Steelers having 31 total sacks as a defense. The Steelers had allowed 37 sacks. This was a match up that heavily favored the Browns pass rushers.

To counter this, Pittsburgh needed to utilize quick passing heavily, and that is exactly what they did.

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger ended the night 22-for-34 for 217 yards, yet he only attempted six passes longer than 10 yards in the game. Those quick passes were picking up some extra yards after the catch and it was mediated by some excellent play concepts and route designs.

The biggest match up of the game was Antonio Brown against the exceptional Joe Haden. Brown was helped out greatly in this match up by Haley's play design.

To help Brown get a free release off of the line of scrimmage the Steelers utilized a variety of tools. One of these was the use of the bunch formation. On this play, tight end Heath Miller (who is lined up at the top of the bunch) will run a deep route. Brown (on the outside of the bunch) will wait for Miller to carry the defenders off the line and with run a drag route underneath. The corner has to run deeper to get around Miller's route and because of this Brown is open with room to run. After catching the pass the play design allows him to do what he does best.

This play is particularly lethal against many types of defenses. Against man Brown's drag route will almost always be open. Against Cover 2, the post route will become open. Against the Cover 3 or Cover 4, Emmanuel Sanders (inside the bunch, off the line) will likely be open in the flat. It is up to the quarterback to make the right read. Roethlisberger did, and released the ball quickly.

The play design also particularly effective in the redzone as seen by the play below.

This play puts a new spin on an old philosophy the Steeler had been using for the last few years, The play is originally a running play. Roethlisberger presnap sees the off coverage the CB has on Sanders and decides to attack that. Unlike the past run plays that had quick routes built in on the back side, this play utilizes a two receiver crossing route to rub the defender.

Brown will run straight at the CB. As the play starts Sanders takes a few steps up allowing Brown to get in position and then slants underneath. The CB has two options, slip under Brown's route or run over top of it. Neither will prevent the touchdown as Sanders secures the pass and walks in for the score.

It wouldn't have been a Todd Haley quick passing game plan without the screens play. Haley ran some of the same he ran in the past but he also modified a few of the screens finding new ways to get his receiver the ball with blocking while having space to make a play. One modified route is below.

Frequent readers of this site should recognize this plays as one similar to the one highlighted in last week's breakdown. There are a few key modifications. The first is the set up. Last week the screen was ran to Brown as the outside receiver to the TE side when the receivers were bunched. This meant that the receiver getting the ball would likely be in a three on four scenario having to make two people miss. In this version, the receiver getting the screen is in the slot and away from the three-receiver side.

Brown is the outside receiver. He runs an out, taking the cornerback out of the play. The key to success here is the center and RG. Both will quickly fake the block then release up-field. Ideally, Bell will pause then run a quick slant underneath DeCastro who is going for the CB on Bell. The center should be looking to the safety. This gives the offense a three-on-two advantage.

There are two mistakes on this play. The first is DeCastro can't make the block in space against the cornerback. Also, Velasco is unsure who to block. Neither the LB nor the safety flow to the screen quickly. Velasco mistakenly looks to the far side LB who is in no position to make the play. He fails to go to the free safety, and Bell can't make him miss. He is taken down after an 11 yard gain. Had Velasco picked up the safety,  Bell would have big play. It's likely Haley will have this play saved after he sees the film. It was one executed block away from a monster gain.

Roethlisberger wasn't sack at all against the Brown. While the Steelers once again used some no-huddle, it was the quick passes that were responsible for this feat. This quick passes aren't effective unless they are designed to get the receiver cleared from his defender quickly. Haley did an excellent job of designing route combinations that did just that.

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