Over the course of the 16-game regular season, the Pittsburgh Steelers ran just 13 plays from either 10 or 01 personnel—that is, either one running back or one tight end on the field along with four wide receivers. All but three of those plays came from Week Nine on, after Le’Veon Bell’s injury.
In eight of those 13 sets, the Steelers ran with no running back, with the other two involving no tight end. Seven of those 10 snaps occurred in the first three games following Bell’s injury, with the remaining three each coming in separate games. Curiously, none of those plays were run after DeAngelo Williams’ injury in the season finale.
But the Steelers clearly had time to adjust, and to plan, after losing both Bell and Williams, and that resulted in Todd Haley turning to running the 01 personnel on about 11 percent of the offense’s snaps, or eight out of about 75 plays.
Of course, Pittsburgh was without their top two backs, and were starting Fitzgerald Toussaint from the backfield, a second-year former undrafted free agent who was signed to the practice squad following the preseason, and spent the last six games of the year on the 53-man roster, active for the last five after bypassing Jordan Todman on the depth chart.
As much as the coaching staff may have shown trust in Toussaint—and Todman, for that matter—during the game, however, they still turned to creative means in order to help limit their workload to help avoid the risk of overwhelming them, the former in particular, with a level of responsibility they haven’t been accustomed to after hardly playing all season.
That meant simply running a handful of plays without a running back on the field at all, though on four of those plays, either Markus Wheaton or Antonio Brown (each doing so twice) lined up in the backfield before running a route.
As should go without saying, all eight of these plays were passing plays, as it is rather difficult to run the ball without a running back on the field, but the truth is that this package was far from successful. In fact, it didn’t particularly work well at all.
To begin with, two of the eight plays produced two of the Bengals’ four sacks, including the Vontaze Burfict sack that injured Ben Roethlisberger and still runs the risk of derailing the Steelers’ playoffs hopes.
On the six plays in which a pass was thrown, four were completed for a total of just 17 yards, a yards per pass attempt of under three yards. Only one play resulted in a first down. It is worth noting that all were plays with a long distance to go for a first down.
With Brown out for the next game, of course, and with Williams still out, this greatly complicates the strategy of using more four-receiver sets, if that was indeed the plan, and that would involve putting rookie Sammie Coates on the field. This will be something to watch for during the game tomorrow.