When Mike Tomlin or Todd Haley were asked how having Landry Jones at QB vs. the Patriots might alter their game plan, they both gave the same message. Tomlin and Haley said that Landry Jones had an understanding of entire the playbook, having been with the team 4 years. In that, the Steelers weren’t going to be limited in what they put into their game plan.
An integral piece of the Steelers offense is the deep ball. Although there are times that long pass plays occur because Ben Roethlisberger extends a play with his scrambling ability, the majority of the time those plays are part of the game plan. Let’s take a look at how the Steelers implemented deep shots with Landry Jones at QB.
I’m sure you’ve seen this plenty of times: after a turnover the offense tries to capitalize on the momentum with a big play of their own. The Steelers did just that after recovering a fumble on the Patriots 45-yard line:
There are a couple things to take note of here. First, this is a 2 receiver route. The Steelers keep everyone else in to block (max protect). A deeper throw is going to require more time. Haley and Co. maximize the potential success of the play by providing adequate protection for Landry Jones.
Second, this is probably the ideal coverage to throw this route combination against. It looks like the Patriots are in Cover 3. With Hey-Bey’s post route occupying the safety in the middle, there is nobody in position to interfere with Antonio Brown on the deep in. I, of course, have no knowledge of Haley’s game plan. I would have to think, however, that the Steelers were expecting that coverage in that situation, as they called a perfect play to take advantage of it.
The Steelers would take another shot 2 possessions later. They were down 14-0 by that point. A big play would certainly be a boost, and perhaps lead to some points. Landry Jones threw incomplete on the first play of the drive. On 2nd and 10, Haley dialed up this:
Jones hit AB for 51 yards. The play did provide a boost, and lead to the Steelers first points, as they scored a TD 3 plays later.
Note that this again is a 2 receiver route. Haley wants to max protect in order to give Landry time and give the play the best chance for success.
The Patriots are in man coverage here. While the first play was designed to work against Cover 3, this one is better suited to beat man coverage. Had this been Cover 3, the safety in the middle would’ve had Hey-Bey, while the CB to the defense’s left side would’ve dropped deep to that side and have been in position to cover AB. The route design vs man has Hey-Bey streaking down the seam, taking his defender with him, as well as occupying the safety. AB’s route angles, in steps, across the field. The time it takes allows Hey-Bey to clear out for him. Once again, I feel that Haley anticipated this coverage, and called a play that could beat it.
The Steelers again were looking for a boost on their first possession of the 3rd quarter. The defense came away with a 3 and out to stop the first Patriots drive of the second half. Down 14-10, the Steelers offense moved to the Patriots 34 yard line. On 1st down, Haley called a play designed to provide that boost:
It appears the Patriots are in Cover 2. The Steelers max protect and Jones does have plenty of time. We can see that neither of the deep options on yet another 2 receiver route are open. Finally, Bell leaks out to provide a checkdown option. It seems on this play the Steelers were anticipating a different coverage, as this play had virtually no chance for success against Cover 2.
I don’t know if these type of plays were what Landry Jones was referring to when he said he was going to be "cautiously aggressive." I do think these plays fit into that category. Strictly from memory, these type of plays also fit into the normal scheme of the Steelers offense (AB’s 38 yard TD catch vs the Chiefs comes to mind).
My conclusion is that Todd Haley did not have to adjust his offense for Landry Jones. In addition, the deep plays in the game plan were well designed to provide chunk yardage, while doing so with minimal risk.