If there is one ‘benefit’, should you so choose to put it that way, to having a quarterback other than Ben Roethlisberger under center, it is that it pretty much guarantees that it will produce a higher percentage of snaps from, you know, actually under center, rather than almost exclusively out of the shotgun. And, generally correspondingly, it will produce a higher percentage of passes off of play action.
For the past several years, going back to 2012, nobody in the NFL with a decent number of snaps has thrown passes off of play action less frequently than has Roethlisberger. Play action used to be a strength of his game, but it was largely left in the background from that point forward. And it wasn’t because of Todd Haley, because he talked up its usage that offseason.
Perhaps it was Roethlisberger’s physical decline. He preferred to work in the shotgun, preferred not having to turn his back to the defense. But the simple fact of the matter is that he, and by extension the Steelers, were left way behind the curve as the play-action pass only expanded in usage around the rest of the league.
With Mason Rudolph, they can, should, and will make play-action passing a bigger part of the offense. Not just 10 percent of the time or less, which was typically where Roethlisberger finished by the end of any given season, but perhaps 20 percent or more. 30 percent, even. Whatever works.
Especially if they can establish the running game.
In his first game action last Sunday, Rudolph attempted seven passes off of a play-action motion, which includes the flea-flicker that he completed to JuJu Smith-Schuster for a 45-yard gain, the first completion of his career. He completed five of those seven passes in all for 53 yards, including the three-yard touchdown to Vance McDonald, the final offensive play of the game.
Equally as notable as the success rate itself is the usage rate. Rudolph dropped back to pass 20 times during the game, attempting 19 passes and scrambling one time. He used play action on 35 percent of his dropbacks as a result.
Expect that to continue. Especially if the Steelers intend to have any sort of deep passing game this year, the play-action pass will be vital to their success. Rudolph has historically, at the collegiate level, been an accurate downfield passer, but windows tighten at the NFL level. Play action opens them just a bit wider.