After Week 4 of the season, I was beginning to grow tired of the lack of creativity on offense and the attempts to do the same thing over and over on defense. After attending the Falcons game, I felt much better with how everything was going. In fact, I feel Randy Fichtner is really coming into his own as a first year offensive coordinator. As an example, I’m going to break down one play in particular from Week 6 which shows that Coach Fichtner is coming up with some great schemes.
The particular play that I would like to look at occurred with 11:56 left in the third quarter in Cincinnati. At the time, the game was tied 14–14. The Steelers had the ball on their own 19 yard line and were facing a 3rd & 3, which is an interesting distance with there still being the option to either run or pass.
The Steelers deployed a 22-personnel package. What this means is the Steelers have two running backs (one of which was a fallback) and two tight ends on the field. With a quarterback and five offense of lineman, the last position was a wide receiver. The Bengals countered with a run–heavy defense the consisted of four defensive linemen, four linebackers, and three defensive backs (two corners and a safety).
The specific players on the field for the Steelers were RB James Conner, FB Roosevelt Nix, TE’s Jesse James and Xavier Grimble, and WR Antonio Brown. Instead of lining up in “I” formation and a run heavy alignment, the Steelers went shotgun with an empty set. Conner, Nix, and Jesse James were in a bunch to the left side of the formation while Grimble and Brown were in a tight twins-right alignment.
The Bengals defensive alignment was a standard four–four alignment with the corners in tight lining up on the outside receivers. The initial look had the Bengals in a cover–3 defense with the three defensive backs each covering 1/3 of the field.
In order to get a better read of what the defense was going to play, Antonio Brown motioned to the left just outside of Roosevelt Nix to give four receivers in a bunch to the left with Grimble alone on the right.
The defense reacted with the corner (who was lined up on Antonio Brown) flowing across the field as Brown went in motion. This player basically replaced where the other CB was as he came closer to the line of scrimmage to help in case the Steelers ran a quick screen. Additionally, the two LB‘s shifted to their right as Brown motioned across. With the lone safety having to hold position in order to take away anything over the middle, Xavier Grimble was left with only a linebacker lined up well to his inside.
The Bengals appeared to be somewhat confused as to who exactly was going to take each receiver from the bunch to the Steelers left. There is a good chance either a screen or a quick pass to any one of those receivers based on their route could have netted the first down. Instead, Ben Roethlisberger saw no defenders outside of Grimble on the right. Ben called for a quick snap and tossed the ball out to Grimble towards the sideline for an easy completion.
The first defender to get to Grimble was the safety, and it was already after a 12 yard gain. Grimble was able to make the safety miss the tackle as he ran down the sidelines. Although giving a stiff arm to the pursuing linebacker freed him up for a longer gain, Grimble stepped out of bounds at the 41 yard line. Regardless, it was a gain of 22 yards and a first down.
This was a very pivotal play in an important spot of the game. If the Steelers failed to convert, they would have gone three and out on their first drive of the second-half. Instead, they continued the drive which ended in a field goal after the apparent touchdown by James Conner.
The combination of personal package and creative alignments based on those players is a great way to catch a defense in the wrong personnel. If Coach Fichtner continues to improve on the schemes such as this, the offense is only going to get better. I am personally a big fan of passing out of what is typically run personnel packages, and rushing from pass-heavy packages. These give a great matchup against the opposition’s defense.
The other advantage of running this pass play out of the 22 personnel is if teams decide to counter with nickel (five DB’s) or dime (six DB’s) defense, the Steelers can simply shift into a new power-running formation and run the ball right at their opponents. The key to the success of these types of plays are having versatile players at given positions. This play is just one example where having TE’s and an FB that can both block and catch gives the Steelers the choice of how to attack the defense for increased success.