Over the course of the past three games, the Pittsburgh Steelers have run a total of 199 snaps. They have run out of the 11 personnel formation with three wide receivers on the field on just 98 snaps, or 49.2 percent of the time. Given the fact that they even with those games included are averaging over 60 percent of their total snaps with at least three receivers on the field, that shows that there has been a clear shift in personnel strategy in recent weeks.
That shift did coincide with a fourth consecutive loss, and the Steelers have compiled a three-game winning streak since then. Over that span, they have greatly expanded their use of the fullback, as well as sets that require multiple tight ends. The use of the tackle-eligible has also significantly increased.
It should probably be little surprise that the Steelers have also seen running back Le’Veon Bell rush for over 100 yards in each of those three games, which is, in fact, the first time that he has accomplished that feat in his four-year career. Of course, these past three games have also seen the three highest totals in terms of rushing attempts on the season as well.
In the past three games, Bell has run the ball 80 times. He has run the ball 180 total times in nine games. That means that 44.4 percent of his rushing attempts have come in just 33.3 percent of his season, over the course of the past three games.
It would seem that the Steelers are making a concerted effort to present a more balanced offensive front going down the home stretch of the season, which is certainly a logical approach if you take into consideration their wide receiver situation, as they have been operating for about half of the year now with effectively only three wide receivers capable of meaningfully contributing, one of which came from the practice squad, with the other having never played in an NFL game before this season.
Of the Steelers’ past 199 plays, 89 of them have come with at least two tight ends on the field, but about a third of those snaps have also featured three tight ends. The vast majority of the snaps run from the 13 or 23 looks have made use of Chris Hubbard as the tackle-eligible tight end.
If you really think about it, the Steelers have, at best, four wide receivers, but they have six players that they use at tight end or fullback, so even from a simple numbers perspective, it makes a great deal of sense that we are seeing an increased usage of the likes of 12 or 21 formations.
And of course the Steelers have been finding success using this approach. They have not exactly lit up the scoreboard—although that is at least partially attributable to the fact that their drives are lasting longer, which results in fewer total drives, and thus fewer opportunities to score points. But I don’t see them changing something that has been working at this point.