On Wednesday, Matt Bowen, an NFL analyst for ESPN.com, posted a great article on different personnel groupings used during the 2018 season and which teams excelled in each of them. Bowen went on to show in his post how the Pittsburgh Steelers led the league in plays last season that utilized both 00 and 22 personnel groupings and how they also performed well while using both. In this post, we’ll go over Bowen’s findings concerning the Steelers use of those two personnel groupings and dig a little deeper into them as there certainly are a few things that weren’t covered and laid out fully.
As for the Steelers heavy use of 00 personnel last season, which includes five wide receivers on the field, below is what Bowen wrote about that.
The team that ran it most: The Steelers were one of two teams to use the five-wide receiver look in 2018, running 32 snaps and completing 24 of 30 pass attempts. The only other team to run five wide? The Buffalo Bills, with four snaps.
The team that ran it best: Pittsburgh is the easy choice, and the pass yards per attempt tells the story. With the Steelers averaging 6.7 yards per attempt, that tells us the ball was coming out quickly.
According to our offensive charting from last season that was done by Matthew Marczi, the Steelers ran 31 plays with five wide receivers on the field. On those plays, Marczi has Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger down as going 24 of 29 passing for 202 yards with 1 touchdown. That equates to a 6.97 yards per pass attempt. Additionally, 20 of those completions resulted in successful plays.
The one thing that Bowens did not reference in his Wednesday post, however, is that a majority of those 00 personnel grouping plays last season came in the Steelers Week 15 and Week 16 games against the New England Patriots and the New Orleans Saints. In fact 28 of the 31 plays that the Steelers used 00 personnel came in the games against those two teams. Keep in mind that Steelers wide receiver Eli Rogers didn’t get removed from Reserve/PUP until Week 15 and he was on the field for 30 of those 31 plays. Had Rogers been healthy all of last season perhaps we would have seen even more 00 personnel used.
If the Steelers decide to carry six total wide receivers on their 53-man roster in 2019, could we see even more 00 personnel run by the offense this upcoming season? It’s definitely possible, but even so, I wouldn’t expect the total snap count be more than 60.
Now let’s look at Bowen’s findings when it comes to the Steelers heavy use of 22 personnel last season. Below is what he had to say on that particular grouping.
The teams that ran it most: The Los Angeles Chargers tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers with 90 snaps out of 22 personnel. Looking at the Chargers, with fullback Derek Watt in the game to dig out daylight for Melvin Gordon, the L.A. running back checked in at fourth in the NFL with 5.3 yards per carry on 27 attempts out of 22 sets.
The team that ran it best: It’s close here with the Chargers, Steelers and New Orleans Saints, as all three teams have the ability to run downhill while using the pass game out of 22. But I’ll go with the Steelers, for whom running back James Conner led the league with 43 rush attempts and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger completed 15 of a league-high 19 pass attempts with 22 personnel on the field.
A deeper examination of Marczi’s offensive charting from last season shows that the Steelers only ran 78 offensive plays out of 22 personnel, which includes two running backs and two tight ends on the field at the same time. So, why do we not have the Steelers down for 90 total snaps like Bowens? I believe he may have forget to subtract the victory formation plays as Marczi has 12 of those charted for the Steelers using 22 personnel. All 12 of those plays need to be thrown out because all 12 were kneel-downs.
In total, we have the Steelers running the football on 58 of those 78 plays with 2 of them being quarterback sneaks by Roethlisberger. We also have running back James Conner down for running the football on 47 plays for 241 yards and a touchdown last season out of 22 personnel, an average of 5.13 yards per carry. However, only 22 (46.8%) of those 47 runs were successful ones.
We also have Roethlisberger down as completing 16 of his 20 total pass attempts out of 22 personnel for 168 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. 16 of those plays featured two true tight ends being the field as well.
Something else to keep in mind last season in regard to the Steelers heavy usage of 22 personnel is the fact that 43 of the 78 total plays included then-rookie tackle Chukwuma Okorafor being the field and essentially playing one of the two tight end positions. The Steelers ran the football on 39 of those plays that Okorafor was in for. Roethlisberger was 2 for 4 on the other four passing plays
The other notable nugget from the Steelers heavy assuage of 22 personnel in 2018 is that tight end Vance McDonald was only on the field for 5 of the 78 total plays. McDonald is not an awful blocker and thus it would be interesting to know why he wasn’t on the field more when 22 personnel was used last season.
With tight end Jesse James now no longer in Pittsburgh and the Steelers tight end depth chart lacking quite a bit as a result of that, it will be interesting to see if McDonald plays more in 22 personnel groupings in 2019. Was his back an issue all of last season? Do the Steelers think less of McDonald as a blocker than many of us on the outside do? Maybe Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin will be asked questions about McDonald and his limited 22 personnel grouping usage when he meets the media at the start of training camp.
Personally, I don’t mind heavy usage of 22 personnel groupings by NFL offenses as long as it mainly includes two true tight ends that can be threats in the passing game in addition to being avble to run block. Such usage can give offenses quite a bit of play-calling flexibility depending on the defensive personnel on the field. Remember how successful the Patriots offense was for several seasons using two tight end groupings?
As our charting stats show, the Steelers used 22 personnel an average of 5 times a game in 2018 and that’s about what you can probably look for the average being in 2019. Will we see that 22 personnel grouping sometimes include Conner and fellow running back Jaylen Samuels in 2019? That’s what the two running backs want you to believe according to what both said during the offseason. Even if the two do wind up being the field at the same time some during the 2019 season, I don’t expect we’ll see that happen a lot. In fact, an average of once a game sounds like a possible high side.