When watching a football game, the novice follows the football. We all were there at one point in our lives, and then, whether by way of playing the game, or by someone teaching us, we began to watch more of the field. It probably started with the receivers and running backs, and developed into the offensive and defensive line play.
It was at this time the world of football became clear to us, and our lives were likely never the same. I still remember teaching friends how to spot holding calls on pass plays, how to see pulling guards on those incredible trap plays and even how to keep an eye on the jockeying between receiver and defensive back off the line of scrimmage. Just typing that gets my football juices flowing.
One of the aspects of football I've enjoyed the most as I've matured is the formations offenses use, when they use them, and the specific options they create out of them. When watching the Pittsburgh Steelers and Washington Redskins on Monday Night Football in Week 1, I couldn't help but notice the same formation, with a slight variation, used repeatedly in short yardage situations.
Needless to say, it is what spawned this particular Film Room article. I plan on focusing on the three plays the Steelers used this formation, all in short-yardage situations, and were successful, in three different ways.
The first play was one which caught the attention of the nationally televised audience. Faced with a 4th and 1, the Steelers elect to bypass the Chris Boswell field goal, and go for the first down. Notice the formation. Antonio Brown split wide to the left, with trips bunched to the right (Jesse James, Eli Rogers and Sammie Coates). DeAngelo Williams is the single back in the formation.
Immediately, Roethlisberger has options. This is what Jon Gruden was calling during the broadcast a RPO (Run, Pass Option). Roethlisberger could change the play at the line of scrimmage, and it all depends on the defensive alignment.
As the Redskins crowd the box and show pressure, in anticipation of a run, Roethlisberger goes with the pass option. What happened next, well, you saw it. What was surprising was to see Roethlisberger overlook two wide open receivers, Rogers and Coates, and throw to double-covered Antonio Brown. As you see below, it all worked out.
On the next play, the Steelers offense again faces a one-yard to gain situation, but this time on third down. Converting these plays are huge. Notice the formation. The Steelers took Coates and Rogers off the field, and in their place have three tight ends anchoring the right side of the line of scrimmage. Besides Jesse James is David Johnson and Xavier Grimble.
This is a run play from the start, but again, Roethlisberger could have taken advantage of the RPO. The Redskins crowd the box, and the Steelers run it down their throats. Could Roethlisberger have gone deep again? Absolutely, especially with Brown one-on-one at the bottom of the screen.
Same formation, different personnel, same result -- success.
The next time fans see this situation is another 4th down play. 4th and 1, and the Steelers stay aggressive and don't elect to kick the field goal. Same formation, different personnel. Instead of Sammie Coates as the outside receiver, this time it is Darrius Heyward-Bey who takes over those duties.
If you want, re-watch the first GIF in this article and you will see it is the same exact play. Brown takes his man deep, Heyward-Bey runs a post route and Rogers drags across the middle of the field. Roethlisberger does a simple play fake to Williams out of the back field, then simply flip the football over the line of scrimmage to set up a 19-yard gain by Rogers.
Almost looks too easy, doesn't it?
This is what makes great offenses truly great. Not just options, but the ability to go back to the well, and keep getting water.
The Steelers offense is one of the best in the business for a lot of reasons. Their skill positions players are superb, but their depth is almost equally as impressive. This formation worked in Week 1 against the Redskins, but Todd Haley and company will likely have something new up their sleeves for the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 2.
Keep an eye for this formation again, they have a lot of options out of it, and sometimes the perfect play can beat the perfect defense.
GIF Design: Nate Bodnar / Text: Jeff Hartman