Obviously, Ryan Switzer isn’t as talented as Le’Veon Bell. Not even close. But he’s not Wes Welker either, like what a lot of people are telling me. Yeah, he’s short, white, wearing a wide receiver’s number. Switzer isn’t the high volume, bigger-play threat like Welker. Beyond what they look like, they’re not comparable.
Switzer, believe it or not, is the Pittsburgh Steelers’ current version of Bell. They’re being used in similar ways in the pass game, and Switzer actually has many carries as Stevan Ridley. Today, I want to look at Switzer’s versatility, how it’s similar to Bell, and the ways he helps Ben Roethlisberger – and this offense.
First one is really simple. Switzer lines up in the backfield and then motioned out to the slot into an empty set. Runs a “Hank” route over the middle of the field, a five yard curl sitting down over center, getting square, and showing Ben Roethlisberger his numbers.
Nothing available downfield for Roethlisberger and he quickly checks it down to Switzer for a medium gain. Just like it’d be for Bell out of the slot or releasing out of the backfield.
The next is getting Switzer involved in the screen game. Third quarter, Switzer out of the slot in an empty set, they run an angle screen, breaking back towards the middle of the field with linemen working out in space. It’s an 11 yard completion, one of the few positive plays of the second half.
Same concept the Steelers have run with Bell, like this 12 yard pickup last season against Green Bay. They throw the angle at the top of the screen. And like Haley and Fichtner led offenses, it’s a dual screen with the bubble opposite.
Finally, there’s the value to Roethlisberger beyond just having another eligible receiver. There’s the value of being able to ID the defense. How? Use of motion. You can do that with any receiver but it works really well for the slot receiver/running back.
Teams commonly use “orbit/return” (terminology changes) motion, meaning a player starts at one spot, motion them, and then motioning that player to his original spot. If a defender follows? Good chance you’re facing man coverage. No one does? You’re probably seeing zone.
It’s not a guarantee, defenses aren’t stupid and they know how to try and combat it, but it’s a way to make the best guess possible, combined with film study, to know the coverage you’ll see post-snap. Let’s look at how they used orbit motion with Switzer Sunday.
Here’s Switzer orbiting from the slot, halfway across the line, and then back to the slot. No defender moves with him, tipping off zone coverage. And that’s what the Ravens are running. Cover 6, #1 vertical at the bottom expands the cornerback responsible for the flat, and Switzer makes the grab running an out route.
Steelers do the same thing with Bell. This time, they’re simply motioning Bell into the slot and an empty. Linebacker walks with him, that tells you man coverage is likely, which means Roethlisberger knew he had Antonio Brown one on one with the slot cornerback.
The Chiefs are running man and it turns into an AB touchdown, though that’s largely thanks to a spectacular catch. Still, it’s valuable information and told Roethlisberger where to go with the football.
James Conner has been awesome out of the backfield and I’m not trying to take anything away from him. Valuable checkdown option, similar to Bell. But Switzer is in that same boat. Even in passing game alone, you need more than one guy to replace Bell. These two compliment each other well.
Let’s be clear though. He’s not Welker. Switzer is averaging only five yards per catch. That’s a running back number, and a low one at that (he’s 155th out of 157 qualifiers in YPC).
But his route tree, crossers, quick outs, the screen game, all resembles a back. And it’s providing a unique element to the offense until, or if, Bell returns, helping to make up for what’s loss in the passing game without #26.