When it came to the ground game, the Pittsburgh Steelers remained fairly traditional in attacking the Cleveland Browns’ front seven in the season opener.
Even on Dri Archer’s one carry of the game, there was little trickery involved, with a simple toss on an inside zone run that went for four yards.
Excluding a couple of scrambles by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, all the heavy lifting was left to the heavy hitters, Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount.
But Todd Haley got more creative against the Baltimore Ravens, breaking out several end arounds to his wide receivers.
In all, Markus Wheaton and Antonio Brown combined for 32 yards on four end around runs. Wheaton also had another end around carry that went for 21 yards, but it was called back on a holding penalty.
The only one of these plays that wasn’t particularly successful was when the Steelers chose to run Brown on an end around on third and four inside the 10-yard line and toward the short end of the field, on which he gained one yard.
In spite of the ill-advised red zone run to the short side, I do like quite a bit the decision to incorporate these elongated runs into the offense.
It’s a useful and intriguing new component to the offense, another wrinkle to work with that cause defenses to study for as the season progresses.
The more you can force the defense to stretch horizontally, the more vulnerable the interior of the defense becomes, forcing them to prepare for a sideline threat.
Accordingly, the Steelers also frequently motioned receivers behind the quarterback to keep them guessing.
More importantly, however, utilizing these horizontal runs simply takes advantage of the skills of their offensive playmakers.
The Steelers’ two starting wide receivers are under six feet, but they’re both fast and quick, with elusive qualities and vision with the ball in their hands. It’s why Brown in particular is so successful as a returner.
While of course these traits are also an asset in their traditional roles as the starting outside receivers, it also makes them legitimate threats whenever they get the ball in their hands.
Brown and Wheaton can make people miss out in open space. Whether they get that through a pass or a handoff is really inconsequential.