In Week 1 against the New England Patriots, the Pittsburgh Steelers racked up over 450 yards but were able to tally only 21 points. In Week 2, the Steelers gained less than 450 yards, yet they scored a whopping 43 points. There were several differences, but one which can't be ignored is the team's efficiency in the red-zone.
The Steelers were a perfect 5-5 in the red-zone against the 49ers, and today in the Steelers Film Room we are going to look at just how the Steelers improved their red-zone efficiency, as well as answering the question on whether the Steelers can continue on this route in the coming weeks.
The biggest difference in the Steelers' red-zone success against the 49ers had nothing to do with the plays called; it was all about the formations deployed by Ben Roethlisberger and Todd Haley. The team ditched its "jumbo" goal-line package which saw Alejandro Villanueva being deployed as an extra blocker and took the fullback off of the field. Doing so gave the team something they didn't have with the jumbo package: options and versatility.
As you can see before the snap on this play, the Steelers have a bunch-formation to the left of the line with Antonio Brown as the lone wideout on the right side. Roethlisberger is in the shotgun with DeAngelo Williams flanking his right side. Before the snap even takes place, the 49ers' defense has to account for Heath Miller, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Markus Wheaton in that bunch-formation, Williams is a potential runner or receiver out of the backfield and, of course, there's Brown. Talk about options.
As you can see in the GIF above, the team runs a very basic "rub" route, or a pick-play. When Roethlisberger drops back to pass, his eyes immediately go to the rub, and it works to perfection. Once Heyward-Bey interferes with Miller's defender, it leaves one defensive back trying to cover two receivers. At this point, Roethlisberger could throw the football either to Wheaton or Miller, and he decides to throw a bullet to Miller for the touchdown.
Great patience by Roethlisberger, but a better play design/formation called by Todd Haley.
Just at the onset of this play, one thing should pop off of the screen. The Steelers are in the same formation as the previous play, except Roethlisberger is under center and the bunch-formation is on the right side of the line, compared to the left. This is the perfect example of how formations can play a role in red-zone efficiency. The Steelers don't have the muscle up front to power their way into easy touchdowns, so sometimes you have to outsmart the opponent with variations such as this.
In this play, you can see just how detailed the blocking of the offensive line can be in terms of yielding success. Combine that with a running back having great vision and cutting ability, like Williams, and you have a recipe for short- yardage success. Note the Steelers' formation and the options they have every time they snap the football in such a formation.
Certain football plays can be described as beautiful and, to me, this would be one of them. At first glance, it looks like just another goal-line running play, but watch the offensive line react and counter-react, to the 49ers' defense. Then watch Williams read the blocks, find the seam and take the plunge for a touchdown. Fans rarely get to see the end-zone view of the game but, on plays like this, you see how football truly is the ultimate team game.
Does this formation look familiar? It should because it's the same bunch-formation as in the previous two plays, and the same formation as the first passing play that we broke down to Heath Miller. The only difference is the formation is flipped and the bunch is on the right side of the line.
We have talked a lot about options and versatility here, and this goes to show how many options can come from just one formation. The options are slightly different as the rub route run by Heyward-Bey on the right side doesn't impact the play as much as a goal line play considering the cushion the defenders are giving off the snap. However, on the left side you can see perfectly illustrated in the GIF how the option pass to DeAngelo William causes the cornerback to hesitate, which leaves Brown wide open in the back corner of the end zone for an easy pitch and catch.
If the cornerback hadn't hesitated and simply stayed with Brown, Roethlisberger likely would have thrown to Williams who would have walked into the end zone for a touchdown. Again, it is all about options, and in these bunch formations the Steelers have plenty of them.
The Steelers were smart in their formations and play selection in the red-zone in Week 2, and the Steelers most certainly should continue to duplicate this to type of versatility against the Rams in Week 3, and beyond. Deploying formations which can be both run and pass certainly are advantageous in certain areas on the field, and the red-zone might be the best time to utilize such a weapon.
The Steelers finally got around to using their weapons, and they'll get another weapon back in their arsenal when Le'Veon Bell, the best pass-catching running back in the NFL, returns to the lineup on Sunday. Want to talk about versatility? No. 26 is the epitome of the term. Nonetheless, if the Steelers are capable of continuing this red-zone success, they will be a tough team to beat...regardless of the opponent.