The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: Four- and five-receiver sets will be an even bigger part of the offense in 2019.
Explanation: Under Todd Haley, the Steelers very rarely used more than three receivers at a time, and when they did, it was usually due to circumstance. Under Randy Fichtner, four-receiver sets became much more common, and he even used some five-receiver packages late in the year.
Truth be told, there is a lot to buy here. Randy Fichtner and Ben Roethlisberger clearly enjoyed using four or five receivers at a time, though they cautioned that it’s not something that could be used all the time. They did run out of five-receiver sets 36 times, with 35 of them coming in the final three weeks, and added another 72 snaps from four-receiver sets over the length of the season for over 100 total snaps.
But when your franchise quarterback and his offensive coordinator are on board with the same idea, you generally do it. And even in the absence of Antonio Brown, they have the personnel to run it. JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington or Donte Moncrief outside with Ryan Switzer and Eli Rogers as matchup-beaters in the slot is not a bad deal. They also use Switzer out of the backfield as a running threat on occasion.
Couple that with the fact that they also lost Jesse James this offseason and there is not currently reason to believe that they are going to run more two-tight end sets. Last season. When they ran four receivers, it was almost always with the back coming off the field.
While there is a lot to buy on this one, I think there are some key selling points as well, and it does start with the absence of Brown. Losing your best receiver certainly doesn’t make it more likely that you play with more receivers on the field.
In addition to that, as mentioned above, the four-receiver sets were used at the expense of the back, James Conner, who was not supposed to start, and he had inexperienced backups. The running back position is in a more stable place than it was a year ago, making it less likely that it warrants being ‘spelled’.