If you read one of my earlier articles today diving into the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive work against the Chiefs on Sunday through my charting notes, you no doubt already know what this article is about. If you didn’t read it, you should probably start reading our weekly charting notes series, because they contain a lot of valuable information that doesn’t necessarily make it into other articles.
I didn’t really seem to pick up on it while the game was going on, but on Sunday, the Steelers almost entirely relied upon their three-receiver sets on Sunday in, frankly, a way that I have never seen them use it before. At least not under this current offensive system.
Despite the fact that the Steelers were never really significantly trailing in the game, even if they did give up a touchdown on their opening drive for the first time all season, the offense remained in their 11 set almost all game, logging 85 percent of their snaps with three wide receivers on the field.
Their first 33 snaps of the game, in fact, all came with three receivers on the field. Over the course of the final drive of the first half—before the one-play drive that ended it—the Steelers did execute a nine-play drive, with four plays utilizing fullback Roosevelt Nix. This appeared to be the only significant portion of the game in which they moved away from the 11 without a situational need dictating it.
Now, their second drive of the third quarter saw them start pinned back on their own two-yard line. They ended up going three-and-out, but this was the lone set of three plays in the game in which they ran out of the 22 formation, with Nix and Chris Hubbard serving as additional blockers and just one wide receiver on the field.
Outside of these two drives, featuring four usages of the 21 and three usages of the 22—and excepting the final three plays of the game in the victory formation—every single other play in the game featured the Steelers executing their offense out of three-receiver sets.
In case you were wondering, every play that they ran inside the red zone was executed out of the 11, and all but one play inside the 30-yard line as well. They also only ran the ball three times on 11 plays at or inside the 20, gaining -1, 3, and 8 yards on those plays.
You might guess that there is a reason for the Steelers using the 11 on nearly 90 percent of their meaningful plays over the course of the game. Of course there is a reason, though I can only guess, and I would imagine that it was to try to keep the Chiefs in their nickel front and expose their lack of depth in their front seven after losing three starters.
Obviously, the Steelers’ run game was highly successful, and you can bet that the fact that they mostly faced five and six defenders in the box when doing so played a role in that success. It will be interesting to see how they plan on attacking the Patriots’ defense. They no doubt noticed just what I’m writing about as well.