Ever watch the Pittsburgh Steelers with someone as they repeatedly declare the team should run play-action passing plays more often? "They need to run play-action here!" "A play-action pass would work great here." You know the type. As pretty as they are when they work, play-action passing plays revolve around many different factors.
First, is the threat of the run. Prior to Le'Veon Bell's coming out party, the Steelers weren't much of a threat to run the football. When the defense doesn't have to stop the run, faking the run won't cause much change in the defense, in all actuality it is nothing more than going through the motions.
Second, since the play takes longer to develop, the blocking has to hold up. Think back throughout Ben Roethlisberger's career and how many times a play-action passing play has resulted in one of Roethlisberger's numerous Houdini acts where he eludes pressure and completes the pass on a broken play down the field.
Lastly, and this is something Bell does extremely well, is stay involved in the play. This could be as a blocker or as a safety valve if the options down the field aren't open. Fans were able to witness Bell get himself into position to catch the ball, and gain chunks of yardage after the catch as the defensive backs were pressed down the field in pass coverage.
In 2014, the Steelers ran play-action passes 22-percent of the time, only a 1-percent increase over the league average of 21-percent, according to Football Outsiders.com. When the Steelers ran a play-action passing play, it resulted in an average of 8.8 yards per play with a DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) of 58.9-percent. When the Steelers didn't run play action, they saw a 7.4 yards per play average with a 46.5-percent DVOA.
Some might see the numbers above and think I am going out of my mind. After all, the Steelers gained over a yard more on play-action plays than they did without play-action, but the reality of the situation is play-action passes are designed for big plays. Think of the Ben Roethlisberger 94-yard touchdown pass to Martavis Bryant against the Cincinnati Bengals in 2014. The play-action pass resulted in a huge play, and a huge chunk of yardage. On the flip side, think about the many bubble screens the Steelers run without play-action which result in a 5-yard gain, which are essentially seen as an extension of the running game.
The Steelers 22-percent play-action percentage ranks them 15th in the NFL in terms of the statistic. The team doesn't rely on play-action as many teams do, and they would be wise to continue such a trend in 2015. With the emergence Bell and the addition of DeAngelo Williams, the team's running game will be effective enough for play-action to work when called, not relied upon on a weekly basis. The Steelers gain plenty of yardage without play-action, and keeping these numbers where they are could spell success and more big plays in 2015.