Two weeks ago, in the Wildcard round, the Pittsburgh Steelers, having lost DeAngelo Williams and been thrust into a position of needing to rely upon the inexperienced and largely untested Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman, broke with their convention and turned several times to a four-wide receiver set so that they could give their young backs a break on the sideline.
During the regular season, the Steelers only used either the 01 or 10 personnel—one tight end or one running back, respectively—on 13 snaps, with a bit over half of those reps involving no running back. The majority of these snaps came in the games immediately following Le’Veon Bell’s injury.
After Williams was lost, the Steelers resorted to the four-wide receiver package—all without a running back, on over 10 percent of their offensive plays against the Bengals, and that theme likely would have continued into the Divisional round, had Pittsburgh not suffered the loss of Antonio Brown.
Brown, the Steelers’ top wide receiver and arguably the best in the game today, suffered a concussion on the final offensive play of the Wildcard round and was unable to pass through the concussion protocol in time to face the Broncos eight days later.
Without their top wide receiver, obviously, it goes without saying that the four-wide receiver package became significantly less enticing against the Broncos, even though they also remained without the services of Williams.
In fact, the Steelers only used the package twice in Denver, and did so in very similar situations. both snaps came relatively early in the game, on third down, and with a medium to long distance to go for the first down. Each snap also occurred deep in their own territory.
The first usage of the package came very early, in fact, on the third play of the game, with the Steelers quickly facing a third and eight. They took Toussaint off the field and replaced him with rookie third-round wide receiver Sammie Coates, who had not played in months, nor even been active for a game in quite some time.
That first play ended up being a bubble screen intended for Markus Wheaton, which the Broncos read well and stopped for a loss, and forced the team to punt from its own 20-yard line.
The second and final time the Steelers used 10 personnel against the Broncos came early in the second quarter from their own 20-yard line, facing a third and five. again, Toussaint came off the field, replaced by Coates as the offense turned to a spread, five-wide formation. This time, however, the play was actually a success, with Darrius Heyward-Bey being left open due to a defensive mistake, producing a 58-yard gain.
By and large, however, the team was not successful, either in the regular season or in the postseason, on plays in which they used four wide receivers. No doubt that is among the reasons that it was scarcely used, though the fact that it was chiefly employed in unfavorable down-and-distances circumstances also contributes to the negative results.