The Pittsburgh Steelers completed their 17 point comeback, tied for the largest of the Mike Tomlin era, with JuJu Smith-Schuster’s 25 yard touchdown Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts. It came on a beautiful design to get Smith-Schuster behind the Colts’ secondary and great execution by Ben Roethlisberger and JuJu. And it’s become one of the Steelers’ most popular red zone concepts this season.
It’s Smith-Schuster’s third TD on the over route concept this season.
Pittsburgh did a great job exploiting the Colts’ two deep zone on this play. 2×2 formation pre-snap. To the boundary side, Diontae Johnson runs a dig route. To the bottom, Smith-Schuster runs an over route, a long, bending route across the field.
Roethlisberger looks left on the snap to Johnson’s side. He pump fakes to hold and freeze the safety underneath. In doing so, Smith-Schuster runs his over route behind him. The backside safety has a lot of ground to make up and can’t close in time to make a play on the ball.
Here’s a look at the whole play.
Trying to make that throw against a two-deep look would be a dangerous play. The only way the over route opens up is if the safety is taken out of the question. This almost works like a “smash” concept, a high/low read. If the safety continued to get depth, throw the dig to Johnson. If the safety creeps up (as he did), hit the over.
This is also a really good route by Smith-Schuster. Good feel for zone coverage to find the soft spot. And this is a heck of a throw from Ben Roethlisberger. Check it out from the end zone angle. Dime.
This isn’t a new concept to the offense, though it’s dressed up a little differently. Two other examples of it this year. Week One against the New York Giants. This is a concept that can beat man or zone coverage. Against the Colts, it was zone. Here, it beats man. Simply out-leveraged the CB and ran away from him into the end zone.
Versus man, Smith-Schuster uses a “rocker step” to press vertical and then change directions at the top of his route, creating space between him and the corner at the break point.
And again versus zone like in the first clip. Week 10 matchup against the Bengals. Bending his route across the field, find the open window, and Roethlisberger leads him perfectly.
These concepts have two core components.
1. JuJu Smith-Schuster running an over route from the slot. This can beat man or zone.
2. To the backside of Smith-Schuster’s route, a route/concept that holds the backside CB and/or safety.
Against the Colts, that was Johnson on the dig. Versus the Giants, that was keeping the TE to pass protect. And in the Bengals’ game, that was running Diontae Johnson away on a shallow cross and Jaylen Samuels on an out route to occupy the corner, giving Smith-Schuster space to run behind.
Creating and having go-to plays in the red zone is critical. This is the most important area of the field to make plays. It’s also the toughest area of the field to make plays because vertical space is constricted by the back of the end zone. If you’re going to go far in the postseason, you need to put up points, and that means finishing drives. These over routes to Smith-Schuster are one of the team’s most successful red zone plays.
It propelled them to victory Sunday. It could happen again in the playoffs.