Only a small menu of plays worked for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense last season. They couldn’t run the ball. They couldn’t push the ball downfield. Only the one and three-step pass game proved to be effective and eventually, figured out by defenses.
With Najee Harris and a brand new offensive line, the Steelers hope to run the ball better. And Ben Roethlisberger hopes the aerial attack can be more vertical, too. With an increase of play action coming, where the Steelers have lagged behind for years, Roethlisberger thinks he’ll take more downfield shots in 2021.
“Potentially,” Roethlisberger told reporters Thursday after practice. “I mean, some of that is, when you have some playaction, you can’t really playaction and throw kind of a short one. You gotta go down the field a little bit. I’d like to think we’re going to have a good mixture of things.”
Roethlisberger and the Steelers threw the ball downfield more often than what’s perceived, though it’s also worth pointing out they just threw the ball a lot in general last season. Relatively speaking, they probably didn’t do it enough last season though it was woefully ineffective in 2020. Playaction is one way to create better downfield matchups. Through what we’ve seen and camp and has been charted through the first two games (Roethlisberger didn’t play in either, to be fair), playaction rates should finally get out of the basement this season.
Through two games, they’ve used play action almost one-quarter of the time, more than double their rate last season under Randy Fichtner.
Roethlisberger also made it clear there will be plenty of quick throws this year too.
“We’re still going to have plenty of plays with the ball getting out quick. Because that’s smart. You’ve got guys that when you get the ball in their hands, amazing things can happen. So get the ball in their hands really quick and let it happen. So I really do believe you’ll see a good mixture of things this year.”
Diontae Johnson is a YAC threat, JuJu Smith-Schuster a matchup issue against smaller slot corners, while Chase Claypool is one of the most physically gifted wide receivers in the entire league. Reasonably so, the offense will give those guys the chance to do damage after the catch, especially behind a questionable offensive line that may not protect as well as past years. But better balance and efficiency will be important for the offense to grow from last year.