If you feel like the Pittsburgh Steelers haven’t used much playaction this year, you’re not wrong. According to this graphic tweeted out by ESPN’s NFL Matchup has the Steelers running playaction only 27 times this season, by far the fewest in the league.
For our friend @evansilva: Teams running the most/least PLAY ACTION and their yards per attempt when doing it.
— NFL Matchup on ESPN (@NFLMatchup) October 23, 2018
What’s even more interesting is how effective it’s been for Pittsburgh. They’re averaging 11.5 yards per play off it. While not every team in the NFL is shown in that graphic, of the 15 teams listed, the Steelers only trail the LA Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (who are tied for second-fewest). There’s actually a really good article from Optimum Scouting that shows the Rams have bucked the trend of dropback passes from under center because of their ineffectiveness.
You could argue the fact the Steelers use it so infrequently makes it all the more a surprise to defenses. But other teams who only sprinkle in playaction, like the Detroit Lions or Oakland Raiders, haven’t had that kind of success. So that argument isn’t perfect.
Thanks to the brilliant charting done by our Matthew Marczi, who can locate all the playaction plays Pittsburgh has run in 2018. The last chunk play gained off of it came on Antonio Brown’s 47 yard touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons. Other big plays off it this season include:
– 67 yard gain to JuJu Smith-Schuster in Week 1
– 21 yard gain to JuJu Smith-Schuster in Week 2
– Two yard touchdown to JuJu Smith-Schuster in Week 2
– 19 yard gain to Roosevelt Nix in Week 2
– 38 yard gain to JuJu Smith-Schuster in Week 4
That’s a lot of yardage to Smith-Schuster, obviously.
The Steelers simply aren’t under center very often with Ben Roethlisberger and even when he is, prefer him to drop straight back. Those reasons aren’t totally known but some can be inferred. It’s harder to read the defense with your back turned. And Big Ben works out of the gun so much because of a decrease in his mobility over the years.
Still, given its obvious success, it would be nice to see Randy Fichtner use playaction a little more the rest of the year. I’ve always wondered why the team hasn’t used more pistol formations, a mesh between working under center and out of the gun. It offers a downhill run game with the ability for playfakes. Mike Munchak has openly talked about wanting to use it in the past but even with the OC change, it doesn’t seem to be in the cards. Though it’s in the playbook. We’ve seen them run it a handful of times in the preseason and during training camp.