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Film Room: Steelers Keep Backfield Presence In WR-Heavy Sets

One of the things that new offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner has done this season has been to make four-receiver sets—and now even five-receiver sets—a staple of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense. Through 14 games, the Steelers have run a total of 89 snaps from 00 or 01 personnel, averaging over six snaps per game and accounting for about nine percent of their total offensive snaps.

One of the reasons that they have become comfortable doing this is because they have found in Ryan Switzer primarily, but occasionally others, a player other than a running back that they can check into the backfield. Over a third of their snaps with four or more receivers on the field have utilize somebody in the backfield. Switzer has been that primary player, but as shown below, he hasn’t been the only one.

Take this play at the end of the first quarter to begin the Steelers’ drive. Coming out of 00 personnel, Switzer lined up out of the backfield from the team’s own eight. That got the Patriots into their dollar defense, and Switzer was able to carve out a lane for eight yards on the play. unfortunately it would be negated by penalty.

On the next play, it was Eli Rogers moving into the sidecar next to Ben Roethlisberger, in his first game back on the field since January. He merely swung out into the left flat as Roethlisberger looked for JuJu Smith-Schuster over the top, incomplete.

In the middle of the second quarter, during a touchdown drive that was run exclusively out of 00 personnel, Switzer got more work out of the backfield, on this example getting another carry for three yards. The play was slow to develop, asking Alejandro Villanueva to pull all the way over from his left tackle position.

That made it second and seven and this time Roethlisberger swung the ball out to Switzer in the flat coming out of the backfield. He was able to beat the cornerback to the sticks for a first down and eight yards in all.

Later in the game, the Steelers even put Antonio Brown out in the backfield to give the Patriots that look, but they motioned him out into the slot just before the snap. He has lined up in the tailback spot before, however, including this season, doing so against the Broncos.

By the time the season finishes the Steelers should have run about 100 or so plays with four or more receivers on the field, and it has been met with some reasonable success when they have turned to it. Part of it has been their ability to keep the minor threat of a backfield presence in the defense’s mind. It will be interesting to see if Fichtner and crew expand on this further in 2019.

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