Steelers’ Use Of 4-Receiver Sets Not Fading As Season Progresses

One of my growing obsessions has been the Pittsburgh Steelers’ flirtations with the four-receiver offensive sets over the course of the past few seasons. They have briefly toyed with it in the past, typically breaking it out for specialized purposes and often as it related to an injury at the running back or tight end positions.

With Le’Veon Bell missing the offseason a year ago, however, offensive coordinator Todd Haley seemed to actively use 01 personnel—four receivers and one tight end—during the first couple of games of the regular season as a way to spell the running back.

I was curious to see how long it would last, but it was not long. They only used it for a couple of snaps in scattered games for the remainder of the year. The first season under Randy Fichtner, however, has been a different story.

Through the first nine games of the season, the Steelers have already run 52 plays out of the 01 personnel grouping out of 646 total offensive plays. That is an average of about six plays per game, and roughly eight percent of their total offensive snaps.

Consider the fact that they haven’t used the 12 personnel grouping—typically the second-most common grouping around the league—for many more total snaps this year, just 63 in total. The 22 grouping has seen 61 snaps, while the 13 and 23 looks have gotten 25 and nine, respectively, with the addition of nine snaps in victory formation.

So the 01 look has become about as common as any that the team runs outside of their base 11 personnel package, a regular part of their offense, varying in usage from game to game and seeing a resurgence in recent weeks.

Over the past two games, for example, the Steelers have run 15 plays out of 01 sets out of roughly 140 combined snaps, so the look has been used more than 10 percent of the time in that span. Back in Week Four, they even gave the look an entire series, ultimately lining up with four receivers for 13 snaps.

I should probably mention by now that the Steeler are averaging 5.1 yards per play from this package. Often used in short-yardage situations, they have yielded 24 successful plays out of it, meaning that they produce a positive play over 46 percent of the time.

That is on an upward trend, with five of seven plays run against the Panthers resulting in positive plays. Ryan Switzer has been a key element in the prominence of this package, playing on 50 of the 52 snaps and being targeted 16 times, with the addition of a carry and participating in a reverse sweep.

It should also be noted that Vance McDonald has been the designated tight end in these looks, seeing 42 total snaps and the last 39—all since Week Three.

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