Last season, the Pittsburgh Steelers had a rookie and a first-year player as their backups to Le’Veon Bell in the season opener, a running back who had literally only been with the team for about six days prior to that game being played after he stayed away throughout the offseason.
The coaching staff elected to minimize his workload, and one way in which they did that was incorporating rare use of four-receiver sets. In prior years, when they did use four receivers it was out of a 10 personnel package, which means one back and four receivers. Last year, it was the four receivers plus a tight end: 01 personnel. No Bell.
James Conner did get one series in the game, and I believe Terrell Watson got a snap or two in short-yardage opportunities. The point being, by the end of the game, Bell had only played 43 of the team’s 60 offensive snaps.
On Sunday, the Steelers continued to use that 01 personnel package to give Conner, making his first start, a breather, but for some reason they never used Stevan Ridley—a veteran who has been with the team all offseason—or rookie Jaylen Samuels for even a single snap.
If the package was used to give Conner a breather, then it seemed rather pointless, but like this time last year, I find myself wondering if this is something the team intends to continue to incorporate. We did see it a handful of times over the subsequent few weeks before it faded away. Will it be different this year?
Perhaps, or perhaps not. I will say that Ryan Switzer seems to give them some added flexibility from the 01, by appearances. Of his seven snaps in the game, two of them saw him line up in the backfield, and he was even given the handoff on one of them, rushing for eight yards. The Dallas Cowboys used him in similar fashion during his rookie season a year ago.
For what it’s worth, of the six plays out of the package that were not negated by penalty, the team averaged 7.5 yards per play, though it also produced the first interception, which was entirely on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger also hit Hunter for a 12-yard touchdown from the package that was negated by a penalty on Marcus Gilbert for illegal use of hands.
I admit that I was an advocate for continuing to use this package a year ago, and I think an even better case can be made this season, given Bell’s absence and the fact that Switzer can still offer you a run look. They can, of course, also use four receivers with a running back on the field instead of a tight end. Will the look continue into next week? We’ll find out.