Just like the 53-man roster, game plans are fluid throughout the season, varying game by game based on opponent, availability, and internal development. With the injury to wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and the natural maturation of rookie Pat Freiermuth and third-year Zach Gentry, we are also seeing the Pittsburgh Steelers employ more 12 personnel into their offense, getting two tight ends on the field at the same time.
“It seemed like it was in the game plan a lot heading into this week”, Gentry said about the 12 personnel package, speaking to reporters today, via the team’s media department. “I think it makes our offense a little more balanced. They don’t know if it’s gonna be a run or a pass, obviously, and then we can do different play-action stuff out of it. I think that it was something that was utilized for their big defensive ends as well. It turned out good for us”.
The Steelers were preparing to face a Cleveland Browns team that boasts not one, but two former first-overall edge defenders in Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney, both of whom have gone on to Pro Bowl-level careers—particularly the former, who leads the league in sacks this season.
Pittsburgh utilized two-tight-end groupings on 24 plays yesterday in Cleveland despite only dressing two tight ends, and without using a lineman as an eligible, meaning Freiermuth and Gentry were both on the field together. 16 of those plays came in the second half, though their success rate on plays run out of those groupings was disappointingly poor, with just seven deemed successful.
But it’s a young pairing that hasn’t played much together. Freiermuth, this year’s second-round pick, is of course still very much in development. Even though Gentry is in year three, he’s spent most of his first two seasons as a healthy scratch while he learns how to play tight end after converting from quarterback in college.
Gentry talked about using the tight ends on the edge to provide chips against bigger ends, “getting just two tight-end bodies on them and trying to two-for-one and get up to a ‘backer and stuff like that”. But he also talked about the benefits of the two-tight end sets from a receiving perspective.
“When Pat or somebody gets out on a route, it’s better to have the bigger-bodied me on some of those guys”, he said. “That’s just part of the deal, having to deal with two big d-ends like that”. And the Browns are certainly not the only team the Steelers will be facing that pose that particular problem.
We are just one game into the post-bye offense, however, so we will have to see how this evolves, and how much it might vary from game to game. Obviously, they’ll be using more two-tight-end sets when they’re leading and running the ball well.