Pittsburgh Steelers fans have been wanting to throw Alejandro Villanueva a pass pretty much since he first took the field. The fourth-year starting left tackle had experience at the tight end and even wide receiver positions at the high school and college level, and initially tried out for NFL teams coming out of Army as a tight end, so it wasn’t just a flight of fancy.
Well, those fans finally saw their wish come true yesterday when the Steelers ran a fake field goal at the end of the first half of the game against the Denver Broncos on fourth and goal from the two-yard line. Villanueva, who plays on the unit as a blocker, was left wide open as kicker Chris Boswell received the direct snap. It was pretty much pitch and catch from there.
“I guess I could have been the next Rob Gronkowski”, he mused after the game, “but I ended up playing tackle”. The Steelers had been running the play in practice for weeks, and Head Coach Mike Tomlin finally found the right time to use it, a play that tied the game at 10 going into the second half.
“I think it’s just one of those plays you rehearse in practice and hope it gets called during a game because it showcases a bunch of different players and takes some of the pressure off of the offense”, he said. “I’m not sure if I was the number one option”, but “all Chris had to do was throw it up. I’m 6’10” and I was wide open”.
The Steelers did once attempt to throw him the football way back in his first season on the 53-man roster in 2015. It was a fake field goal attempt against the Seattle Seahawks, but any good special teams coach would have known that they telecasted that something was afoot: the backup quarterback, Landry Jones, was suddenly the holder.
While many backup quarterbacks have certainly held for the kicker, the Steelers are not one of the teams who do that. The punter has been the holder for at least as long as I can remember, and good teams know these things.
Back in Week Two last season, when the Minnesota Vikings tried to run a fake punt against the Steelers, Tyler Matakevich knew that they were going to run a fake because they lined up a tight end across from him instead of the linebacker he was anticipating. “He didn’t even try to block me”, he said. “He was just running a route, so you knew something was up”. He ended up defending a pass in the tight end’s direction.
The Steelers learned from their past mistakes this time, as the touchdown pass set up pre-snap exactly the way any field goal attempt would, giving no indication that some trickery was coming. It’s just too bad such a cool play had to be spoiled in a losing effort.