Ben Roethlisberger referred to Ladarius Green as a “brand-new Ferrari in the impound lot,” that he was “just looking through the fence at.” That was back in mini-camp, when Green was sidelined, recovering from ankle surgery. 5 months later, the engine still hasn’t started. That is about to change, as Ben has finally been handed the keys to the sports car.
First, a few numbers. For the first 6 games he played last year, Green was productive. He totaled 26 receptions for 304 yards, 11.69 YPC, and 4 TD. Prorated over 16 games, that works out to 69 receptions, 810 yards, and almost 11 TD. Ladarius injured his ankle early in a Week 8 game vs the Ravens, exiting that contest, and missing the Chargers next game. Ladarius returned to the lineup the following week, missing only 1 more game (season finale). He was listed on the injury report for the remainder of the season, however, and his production dropped to less than 50% of his pre-injury numbers.
Size and speed. That’s what Ladarius Green brings. That’s what the Chargers chose to utilize with Green. Perhaps, though, not in the way many think of.
Speed can be used vertically. It can also be used horizontally. San Diego used Green on shallow crossing routes, or “drag” routes consistently. In fact, they had Green run this route more than any other. It was highly successful. The first play we’ll look at shows this concept, with perfect results:
Make no mistake, this play was designed to go to Green all the way. The deep routes cleared it out to the right side. The Raiders do an absolutely awful job on defense. It appears they blitzed and played zone behind it. The void left by the blitz, combined with the LB biting on the other crosser, left Green wide open. Once the catch is made, the safety doesn’t seem to take the best angle on Green. That is all beside the point, though. This play shows Green using his speed across the field, and after the catch.
The Chargers also found ways to utilize Ladarius’ size. Next, we’ll look at a play they also ran with some frequency. This one comes against Cleveland:
Note how, just as in the first play, Green is aligned in a two-point stance, rather than with a hand in the dirt, as a traditional TE. This allows him a quicker release downfield. By using an empty set, with the RB motioned out wide, it allowed Philip Rivers to identify the coverage. With the Browns in man, with no deep safety, he knew exactly where he wanted to throw the ball once it was snapped.
Although the pass was slightly under-thrown, Ladarius uses his height advantage, and makes an excellent adjustment to come down with the ball. The Chargers used this play several times though out 2015, usually in or just outside the Red Zone. Green scored another TD from it vs Green Bay, and had yet another vs Oakland overturned on replay.
Size and speed. The Chargers found ways in their offense to utilize these skills of Green’s. How would that fit into what the Steelers do under Todd Haley?
First, we will look at a couple of plays (using still frames) from 2016 that show similar concepts to what the Chargers did. This one is a shallow cross run by Antonio Brown vs the Patriots. The play is designed to get the ball in AB’s hands with WR’s downfield to block:
This came on a 3rd and 13 play. Unfortunately for the Steelers, Jesse James (#1 in the picture) was further downfield when the catch was made, past the nearest defender to him. This allowed the DB to slow down AB and he only got 9 yards. This does show, however, the Steelers use of the drag route as a primary route, with receivers downfield to clear out, and/or block.
The next play we’ll look at shows Todd Haley using the TE in a one-on-one match-up in or around the red zone:
You may remember this play from one of our Film Room articles. Jesse James motioned away from Xavier Grimble prior to the snap. This caused the Bengals deep safety to widen out towards James, leaving Iloka in man coverage on Grimble. Ben made a high throw that Grimble leaped to snag, then made his way into the end zone.
Again, here is an example of how Todd Haley could easily incorporate Ladarius Green into the Steelers offense, taking advantage of his size. But where’s the seam patterns you ask? Surprisingly, the Chargers did not utilize Green much at all in that manner. I did find a couple plays that the Steelers use that would seem to be tailor-made for Green.
This one is from Week 16 vs the Ravens last year (I know, we all want to forget that one). The Steelers are going to run an RPO (run-pass option). In an RPO, the O-line blocks for the run play that’s called. The QB decides whether to stick with that call or go with the pass play based on what he sees from the defense pre-snap:
This RPO with a swing/seam option is a Todd Haley staple. Ben decides on the pass play. As he sees the defender react toward Markus Wheaton on the swing route, Ben goes to Heath (say it with me, “Heeeeeeeeath!) up the seam. Note how Heath is detached, and in a 2-point stance, just as Ladarius often was in San Diego.
The last play will look at is also from 2016; also from a game most would rather forget. This is from the Divisional Playoffs in Denver. It was the first play of the fateful drive in the 4th quarter. As a drive starter, I love it:
The Steelers run a fake of that fan-favorite, the bubble screen. James heads out as if to block. When he turns upfield, he is wide open (the LB was flagged for holding on the play, grabbing James as he went by). Note again, how James begins in a 2-point stance.
These last two plays both went for 20+ yards. It is certainly not a stretch to think that had Ladarius been on the receiving end of either of those passes, there would’ve been potential for a good bit more yardage.
I hope this gives a good idea of how Ladarius Green’s skills, as utilized in San Diego, can translate into Todd Haley’s offense in Pittsburgh. The wait is over. Now we just have to watch.