When Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley talked about not letting too much out of the bag during the preseason, he wasn’t joking. Just taking a look at the variety of personnel packages that they used in the season opener will give an indication of that.
One interesting thing to note is just how frequently the Steelers ran out of the 11 personnel. Second tight end Matt Spaeth logged only 14 of 72 snaps, while fullback Will Johnson hardly played at all. Justin Brown logged 56 snaps.
On the first play of the game, the Steelers went five wide, with Spaeth and Heath Miller both lined close up to either side of the offensive line and Le’Veon Bell split out to the top. Markus Wheaton lined up in the slot with Antonio Brown on the outside. The pass went to Bell for a five-yard gain.
On second down, they took the tight ends off the field and put Justin Brown and Antonio Brown in the slot on either side of the formation. To Justin Brown’s left was Darrius Heyward-Bey, replacing Wheaton, presumably for blocking purposes, and Bell. To Antonio Brown’s right was Dri Archer. With Archer’s speed drawing coverage, Brown had room to work underneath and turned in a catch and run of 41 yards.
A few plays later, following a false start penalty, the Steelers ran out of a rare 20 personnel with both Bell and Archer lined up in the backfield and Brown, Wheaton, and Justin Brown at receiver, the latter in the slot. Prior to the snap, Archer motioned behind Ben Roethlisberger, almost as though he were preparing to receive a direct snap. It was all misdirection, as the pass went to Bell on a screen that went for 23 yards.
On Pittsburgh’s following drive, facing a third and six, they turned to what has become their base, the 11 personnel, only for this play, they aligned Antonio Brown in the slot up top with Justin Brown the lone receiver outside on the bottom. Antonio Brown caught the pass on a crossing route over the middle for a first down.
Early in the second quarter, following a Browns punt, the Steelers went empty set after Archer motioned out of the backfield and lined up to the left, outside of Justin Brown. Antonio Brown and Wheaton lined up on the opposite side, with Miller hugging the line. The Steelers ran a screen to Archer, though it didn’t work out well.
Later in the second quarter, on a third and seven play, the Steelers broke out a true empty set for what I believe was the first time, putting five wide receivers on the field, including both Browns, Wheaton, Heyward-Bey, and Archer. Before the snap, Archer motioned to fake an end around, drawing coverage away from Antonio Brown, who came up just short of the first down on a six-yard reception.
These are just a few of the looks that I picked up on while reviewing the game, and serves as an example of the multiplicity of sets the Steelers ran, even while using the no huddle. The third tight end didn’t get used at all, and there were two receivers down as well, so that will only add to the possibilities in future weeks.