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Free Plays Have Been Big Plays For Steelers, But Big Ben Worries They Won’t Get To Run Them

A surprising area of focus for the Pittsburgh Steelers in recent years has been to take every opportunity to allow your opponent to hurt themselves, and the primary way that they have accomplished this has been to utilize hard counts while on offense to cause the defense to jump offside.

Provided that he is not called for encroachment or is not unabated to the quarterback, the result will be a ‘free play’ in which the officials will allow the play to be run, with a flag being thrown. At the conclusion of the play, the offense can decide whether or not to accept the penalty based on whether or not the result of the play was more advantageous than the penalty.

As an added benefit, the defense is generally caught off-guard when this occurs and throws them into a fight-or-flight mode. The offensive players also understand that the play call changes when a free play is available, which generally means post patterns.

During the 2016 season, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was able to induce defenses into seven offside penalties. They were able to run plays on six of them, though only two of them resulted in positive plays. He connected once each on deep passing plays to Eli Rogers and Sammie Coates, both for 22 yards.

Last season, he drew another seven offside penalties, and again was able to run the play on six of those occasions. This time, he was able to connect on three passes successfully, including one to Martavis Bryant on a deep pass for 51 yards. He also connected with Antonio Brown twice, one for eight yards to the one-yard line, and another for a 41-yard touchdown.

To be clear, this is not including encroachment penalties. He was able to draw encroachment penalties on more than one occasion that allowed the offense to convert to a new set of downs on third and five or fewer yards to go.

But Roethlisberger said that, while it has been a valuable part of the offense in recent years, it might not be so effective this season, for one specific reason. “A point of emphasis this year is that they’re going to try to blow it dead sooner, so we might not get that opportunity, but we got some chances tonight”, he said.

Now that is not exactly going to make or break the season. Over the span of the past two regular season, it has resulted in five total completions, even if four of them were explosive plays, two for 40 or more yards, and one went for a touchdown.

But it always presents the potential for that big play, which we saw earlier this preseason when Landry Jones connected with JuJu Smith-Schuster for a deep pass on a catch-and-run touchdown. Roethlisberger induced another offside penalty in the Tennessee game that the officials didn’t let run, and he was clearly frustrated.

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