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: After talking about it, the Steelers will really use two-back sets this season.
Explanation: The Steelers have practiced getting James Conner and Jaylen Samuels on the field at the same time together this spring, and have hinted strongly on that being something that they want to do this season. In spite of Conner saying that they practiced it last year, however, it’s something that they never ran during the season. As has been the case for many things teams have practiced in the offseason.
I would be very surprised if the Steelers did not use this look at least a few times a game, especially with the weakened tight end room following the departure of Jesse James. Samuels is not a tight end, but he provides a different matchup look and can provide certain schematic advantages that way.
When they do run this look, however, you’re not going to see them both in the backfield together often. Almost all the time, it’s going to have Samuels lined up in the slot or out wide. That is how the Steelers can best take advantage of their skill sets.
But they can do different things out of this look, and it can be in response to what the defense shows. Ben Roethlisberger should have the freedom to respond to what the defense is showing and put the backs in appropriate position. They are in a much better and more likely position to run this set than in 2015 with Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams with Todd Haley as the offensive coordinator.
Still, for as good of a pass-catcher as Samuels might be, he is still not a wide receiver, and Randy Fichtner has shown that he is not afraid to liberally use four- and even five-receiver sets. They have enough wide receivers to do that this season, as they did last year, so there’s no reason to think they won’t continue to do that.
It’s hard to come up with a lot of circumstances in which it would make sense to run this package. I don’t suspect either back is going to be asked to really be a fullback much at all. If they’re not going to even line up in the backfield, it doesn’t offer much in the way of subterfuge.