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Steelers Film Room: Roosevelt Nix’s return to could equate to a more diverse attack

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Fullback Roosevelt Nix has yet to play in 2016. Here’s a “Welcome Back” package for him.

NFL: Preseason-Pittsburgh Steelers at Buffalo Bills Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

In determining what to focus the Film Room on this week, I looked at the offensive line play vs the Eagles. The more I watched, the more depressed I became. I honestly didn’t feel like putting all that up in the Film Room. For those that are wondering, there was evidence of missed assignments, perhaps some confusion among assignments, and individuals getting beat one-on-one. I hope that suffices because I want to turn our attention to something potentially more positive.

While I watched the season kickoff opener between the Carolina and Denver, I noticed a personnel package the Broncos used with success. It’s one I’d like to see the Steelers employ with Roosevelt Nix. I’ll explain why.

The Broncos used 20 personnel. This is 2 RB, 0 TE, 3 WR. It is a personnel grouping that is not often used in the NFL. The most widely used group is 11 personnel, which is 1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR. Both use 3 WR, so besides the obvious difference in having a FB instead of a TE, how does it change the way the offense operates?

First, by using 3 WR, the defense will usually counter by replacing a LB or DL (depending on their “base” defense) with a nickel CB. Intuitively we would expect that defense to be easier to run against. Okay, since a TE and a FB are both blockers (in theory, I understand some are better/worse than others), why is it preferable to use a FB?

Running the ball is all about controlling gaps. Whether you use a FB or TE, the number of gaps the defense has to defend is the same. The key is where the gap is. With a TE at the LOS, the defense knows where all the gaps are before the ball is snapped. With a FB as a blocker, the gap he creates may be inserted anywhere (within reason) along the line. The defense has to adjust after the ball is snapped.

Let’s take a look at one of the plays the Broncos ran with 20 personnel (the receivers are off the screen. 2 WR are aligned to the offense’s right side, 1 WR to the left). You’ll see the Panthers have removed a LB and replaced him with a nickel CB. Also notice the “bubble” in the defensive front. Bubbles are natural weak areas created by how the front is aligned. The Broncos attack this bubble vs the Panthers. Denver also chose to run to the weak side (1 WR) as there are less defenders to that side.

We see the excellent design and execution of the play by the Broncos. The center and left guard execute a combo block. The center has to block the NT, who has natural leverage due to his alignment. The LG assists the center until he can reach the NT, then moves to the second level to seal the MLB. The FB squares up perfectly on the lead block. The receiver takes out the safety with a stalk block. As a general rule, you block the safety (who are normally better tacklers) and force the CB to make the tackle. The rookie CB (James Bradberry) was not up to the task, and C.J. Anderson took this run for 28-yards.

Two offensive drives later, the Broncos used the same personnel. The Panthers were in the same defensive front, with only a slight difference. The weakside LB in a “30” technique (off the ball between the guard and tackle), whereas in the first play, he was in a “10” technique (off the ball between the center and guard).

The play is successful again. Kuechly (MLB) recognizes the play and does a better job to prevent getting sealed. The receiver does not reach the safety. However, the NT is blocked, the lead block is again well executed, and the result is a 10-yard gain.

The last play we will look at isn’t run out of 20 personnel. I include it here because: 1) the FB is still used 2) the play is based off the previous plays we’ve looked at.

The Broncos face a 3rd and 1. They bring the TE in for more blocking. They still have 2 WR, but reduce their splits in an obvious run situation. The Panthers counter with their base defense, LB Shaq Thompson (#54) in place of the nickel CB. Notice the bubble in the same gap as the previous plays, as the Panthers front is in the same general alignment.

The Panthers certainly seem to anticipate the play and scheme they’ve been victimized by earlier in the game. Kuechly sees the same combo block on the NT. He steps into the “B” gap. The Broncos “sell” the run to that side. The HB fakes as though he’s getting a toss. The outside WR seals the safety as he would if there were an outside run. The Panthers defense is so fooled that DT Kawann short (#99) runs right by the FB, as does CB Bene Benwikere (#25). The play resulted in a 28 yard TD run by Andy Janovich.

By my count the Broncos were in 20 personnel for 6 plays vs the Panthers. 5 runs went for 6, 28, 10, 6, and 3 yards (total of 53). 1 play-action pass was attempted and completed for 15-yards.

I feel the Steelers could incorporate this package similarly. 6 or so plays out of the 60+ in a game is not a lot. You’re not changing the core of what you do. What this personnel package does is get your best blocker (Nix) in positions where he can be used effectively. There was talk during the preseason of perhaps seeing an expanded role for Roosevelt Nix. 20 personnel could be an ideal way to accomplish that.

Let’s finish up with a look at Nix doing what he does best. This is last year against the Colts. Nix’s block helped spring DeAngelo Williams for 21-yards: