One of the things that we have learned about Randy Fichtner as an offensive coordinator is that he is not afraid to toss the ball around. He is also conscious of trying to avoid growing stagnant, as we have seen with his schemes varying over the course of the season.
The latest wrinkle that has taken on a significant role over the course of the past two weeks has been the incorporation of the 00 personnel package, or five wide receivers. They used it for 17 snaps against the New England Patriots last week, and then another 15 times against the New Orleans Saints this past Sunday. They have averaged about seven yards per play on those snaps, including one touchdown.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has seemingly been a fan of the look, though that’s not surprising since it makes it pretty hard to run the ball, and it gives him five players who are skilled at winning individual routes, which is especially valuable if you can create a mismatch, something that he talked about earlier this week.
“You get a lot of weapons on the field”, he told reporters about the incentive behind using the package while taking tight ends and running backs off the field. “It’s a different look. It’s hard for defenses to match up when you have five wide receivers on the field. It’s just something that’s been good for us because of the guys we have”.
The five guys the Steelers have to run the five-receiver set this year have been Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Eli Rogers, James Washington, and Ryan Switzer. And it’s probably not a coincidence that they have been using this package since Rogers has been activated from the Physically Unable to Perform List. he has become their number three receiver after missing the first 13 games.
The weapons available to them to run the package, however, have not been the only factor dictating its usage. It’s also partly influenced by the weapons they don’t have, and that has included running back James Conner. The five-receiver set has largely replaced the four-receiver set, which they had already used to give Conner a break.
With only Jaylen Samuels and Stevan Ridley available to them, the usage of four- and five-receiver sets has increased even more in recent weeks, but with Conner likely returning—and with a less high-powered offense playing across from them—there will be less incentive to go so receiver-heavy in the finale.
It will be interesting to see whether or not the Steelers continue to pick up where they left off with these looks next season. In recent years, they only experimented with four-receiver sets outside of emergency situations and they quickly faded from use. This year, however, it’s been a constant.