Breaking Down The Steelers 2011 Wide Receiver Bubble Screens

One of the biggest gripes you will hear from Steeler Nation concerning the play calling of Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians is his use of the wide receiver bubble screen. Everyone screams bloody murder when one goes for negative or minimal yardage and to hear the fan base talk, Arians uses it 10 times a game and 10 times too much.

The bubble screen is predominantly used as a run game alternative and is effective in getting the ball in the hands of your best play makers using a high percentage throw. The use of it can help in keeping defenses honest in regards to over-committing to the run and potentially setting up the defense for future one-on-one matchups outside should they choose to press the outside receivers.

This post is not so much looking at what the bubble screen is or isn\’t used for in setting up other plays or defensive alignments as much as it is looking at the results the Steelers had using it. Only Arians truly knows how it fits into the game plan and how it sets defenses up for future play calls. I will leave that for now to all of the so-called offensive coordinators who read this post.

I went back through all of our game charting and re-watched all of the true wide receiver bubble screens called in 2011 and came up with 45 non-penalty plays that it was used on. I should note that I did not include the interception at the end of the first half against the Tennessee Titans in week 5 as I am not sure if anyone knew what that play call was and that includes Arians and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. We will just call that play, DOH!

Looking at the numbers below you will see that 45 breaks down to 2.65 a game, a far cry from the 5 or even 10 times a game that fans claim that Arians or Roethlisberger calls it during a game. According to my charting there were 4 games that it wasn\’t used at all in, so even removing those games from the average it was used 3.46 times a game. 25 times the play produced 4 or more yards and 33 of the 45 times it produced positive yardage. 20 times it produced a first down and the yards per attempt average was a respectable 6.09. There was the 1 interception against the Baltimore Ravens on a nice play by Terrell Suggs and 4 fell incomplete. 1 of the 45 went for a touchdown by Mike Wallace against the Cincinnati Bengals.

When you look at the 2011 bubble screens by target you see that Hines Ward was targeted 11 times for a 4.55 yards per target. How many of these were game planned in to get him some “easy catches” during his march to 1,000 we will never know, but you have to think quite a few were. Those catches accounted for nearly 25% of the balls he caught this past season. Wallace was targeted on 17 of the bubble screens for a very healthy 8.35 yards per attempt. Maybe they didn\’t throw it to him enough based on those stats. Outside of the 2 incompletions and the interception, Wallace was only held to less than 5 yards on the bubble screen twice and none of the completions went for negative yards.

What about the usage by downs? To hear many talk the Steelers used it multiple times on 3rd down when it fact it was used just once, and that was in the Wild Card game against the Denver Broncos. 18 times it was used on 1st down and 26 times on 2nd down.

So now you have the facts as far as the wide receiver bubble screens went in 2011 for the Steelers and as you can see it dispels many of the myths and false accusations surrounding it.

Let me know if you think I have missed any and I will go back and look at the play in question.

PlayerATTRECYDSYPATDINT
Mike Wallace17141428.3511
Antonio Brown1311503.8500
Hines Ward1111504.5500
Emmanuel Sanders44328.0000
Totals45402746.0911
Week #Play By Play
Week 11-10-PIT 20 (6:01) 7-B.Roethlisberger pass short right to 86-H.Ward to PIT 23 for 3 yards (21-L.Webb).
Week 12-7-PIT 23 (5:19) 7-B.Roethlisberger pass short right to 17-M.Wallace to PIT 32 for 9 yards (25-C.Carr).
Week 12-10-PIT 28 (8:05) (Shotgun) 7-B.Roethlisberger pass short left to 84-A.Brown to PIT 27 for -1 yards (29-Ca.Williams).
Week 11-10-PIT 48 (12:22) (No Huddle, Shotgun) 7-B.Roethlisberger pass short left to 17-M.Wallace to BLT 26 for 26 yards (29-Ca.Williams).
Week 22-10-PIT 33 (13:01) 7-B.Roethlisberger pass short right to 86-H.Ward to PIT 34 for 1 yard (52-M.McCoy).
Week 32-7-PIT 37 (14:20) 7-B.Roethlisberger pass short right to 86-H.Ward to PIT 37 for no gain (23-T.Johnson).
Week 32-11-IND 47 (12:09) (Shotgun) 7-B.Roethlisberger pass incomplete short right to 84-A.Brown.
Week 31-10-PIT 35 (7:29) 7-B.Roethlisberger pass short right to 88-E.Sanders to PIT 38 for 3 yards (27-J.Lacey).
Week 61-10-PIT 40 (2:06) 7-B.Roethlisberger pass short right to 86-H.Ward to JAX 41 for 19 yards (51-P.Posluszny).
Week 72-15-ARZ 36 (12:04) (Shotgun) 7-B.Roethlisberger pass short left to 84-A.Brown to ARZ 20 for 16 yards (31-R.Marshall).
Week 72-5-PIT 22 (14:11) (Shotgun) 7-B.Roethlisberger pass short left to 84-A.Brown pushed ob at PIT 33 for 11 yards (58-D.Washington).
Week 72-10-ARZ 40 (6:36) 7-B.Roethlisberger pass short right to 88-E.Sanders to ARZ 35 for 5 yards (53-C.Haggans).
Week 72-11-ARZ 43 (2:00) 7-B.Roethlisberger pass short right to 88-E.Sanders to ARZ 32 for 11 yards (21-P.Peterson).
Week 81-10-NE 22 (11:19) 7-B.Roethlisberger pass short right to 84-A.Brown to NE 23 for -1 yards (24-K.Arrington).
Week 81-10-PIT 28 (6:12) 7-B.Roethlisberger pass short right to 84-A.Brown to PIT 27 for -1 yards (32-D.McCourty).
Week 82-10-PIT 48 (3:56) 7-B.Roethlisberger pass short left to 17-M.Wallace to NE 41 for 11 yards (27-A.Molden; 51-J.Mayo).
Week 82-5-PIT 49 (11:33) (Shotgun) 7-B.Roethlisberger pass short left to 84-A.Brown to NE 43 for 8 yards (55-B.Spikes, 27-A.Molden).
Week 82-1-NE 26 (14:27) 7-B.Roethlisberger pass short left to 84-A.Brown to NE 24 for 2 yards (25-P.Chung).
Week 81-10-PIT 33 (8:48) (Shotgun) 7-B.Roethlisberger pass short right to 17-M.Wallace to PIT 49 for 16 yards (25-P.Chung).
Week 91-10-BLT 14 (10:42) (No Huddle, Shotgun) 7-B.Roethlisberger pass short right intended for 17-M.Wallace INTERCEPTED by 55-T.Suggs at BLT 20.
Week 102-4-CIN 37 (11:25) 7-B.Roethlisberger pass short right to 17-M.Wallace to CIN 31 for 6 yards (27-G.Wilson; 91-R.Geathers).
Week 102-7-CIN 30 (5:20) 7-B.Roethlisberger pass short right to 86-H.Ward to CIN 20 for 10 yards (53-T.Howard).
Week 102-4-PIT 38 (7:30) (Shotgun) 7-B.Roethlisberger pass short left to 17-M.Wallace to PIT 47 for 9 yards (58-R.Maualuga; 27-G.Wilson).
Week 102-5-PIT 49 (2:00) 7-B.Roethlisberger pass short left to 17-M.Wallace to CIN 44 for 7 yards (22-N.Clements).
Week 122-12-PIT 16 (9:47) (Shotgun) 7-B.Roethlisberger pass short left to 86-H.Ward to PIT 16 for no gain (47-J.McGraw).
Week 122-7-PIT 42 (2:08) 7-B.Roethlisberger pass short left to 88-E.Sanders to KC 45 for 13 yards (50-J.Houston).
Week 121-10-PIT 48 (11:35) 7-B.Roethlisberger pass short right to 86-H.Ward to 50 for 2 yards (50-J.Houston).
Week 122-4-PIT 31 (7:56) 7-B.Roethlisberger pass short left to 17-M.Wallace to PIT 39 for 8 yards (23-K.Lewis).
Week 131-10-PIT 13 (3:32) 7-B.Roethlisberger pass short right to 86-H.Ward pushed ob at PIT 18 for 5 yards (23-K.Jennings).
Week 132-6-PIT 13 (12:16) (Shotgun) 7-B.Roethlisberger pass incomplete short right to 17-M.Wallace (53-T.Howard).
Week 131-19-CIN 19 (3:35) (Shotgun) 7-B.Roethlisberger pass short right to 17-M.Wallace for 19 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
Week 131-10-PIT 31 (1:21) 7-B.Roethlisberger pass short right to 86-H.Ward to PIT 31 for no gain (23-K.Jennings).
Week 142-7-CLV 44 (7:34) 7-B.Roethlisberger pass short left to 84-A.Brown to CLV 32 for 12 yards (52-D.Jackson).
Week 142-1-CLV 21 (13:34) 7-B.Roethlisberger pass short left to 86-H.Ward to CLV 15 for 6 yards (56-K.Maiava). FUMBLES (56-K.Maiava), RECOVERED by CLV-24-S.Brown at CLV 15.
Week 142-3-CLV 31 (8:28) 7-B.Roethlisberger pass short left to 17-M.Wallace to CLV 29 for 2 yards (51-C.Gocong, 52-D.Jackson).
Week 152-8-SL 35 (8:11) (Shotgun) 16-C.Batch pass short right to 17-M.Wallace to SL 24 for 11 yards (55-J.Laurinaitis).
Week 151-10-SL 11 (6:14) 16-C.Batch pass short right to 17-M.Wallace to SL 6 for 5 yards (51-B.Poppinga; 57-C.Chamberlain).
Week 151-10-PIT 23 (5:19) 16-C.Batch pass short left to 84-A.Brown to PIT 20 for -3 yards (26-R.Hood).
Week 151-10-PIT 37 (7:42) 16-C.Batch pass incomplete short right to 84-A.Brown.
Week 151-10-SL 31 (5:28) (Shotgun) 16-C.Batch pass short left to 86-H.Ward to SL 27 for 4 yards (55-J.Laurinaitis; 94-R.Quinn).
Week 162-17-CLV 38 (13:18) (Shotgun) 7-B.Roethlisberger pass short right to 84-A.Brown to CLV 36 for 2 yards (27-E.Hagg).
Week 161-10-CLV 23 (10:58) (No Huddle, Shotgun) 7-B.Roethlisberger pass short right to 17-M.Wallace to CLV 12 for 11 yards (52-D.Jackson).
Wild Card3-7-DEN 29 (11:58) 7-B.Roethlisberger pass short right to 17-M.Wallace to DEN 27 for 2 yards (25-C.Harris).
Wild Card2-8-PIT 49 (8:34) (Shotgun) 7-B.Roethlisberger pass short right to 84-A.Brown to DEN 46 for 5 yards (25-C.Harris).
Wild Card1-10-PIT 23 (8:12) 7-B.Roethlisberger pass incomplete short right to 17-M.Wallace (24-C.Bailey).

 

I am, I'm me. 40 something, retired and a life long Steelers fan.
  • Brockwaydoug

    Next level analysis. Forget ‘the dean’ this site is the authority on the steelers for the true fan.

  • Kenneth Wilt

    While 45 doesn’t seem like that much, when you compare it to the number of catches we had at the RB position, it is apparent that the RB is not part of our plan for catching the ball. 48 catches for the entire running back group…the whole group. We had 226 completions to the WRs this year. That works out to one out of every 5 completions is a bubble screen. 1 out of every 5!

  • SteelersDepot

    Backs were targeted 64 times through 17 regular season games. that’s more than the bubble screens through the Wild Card game. HTH

  • Kenneth Wilt

    Can you do one that shows how many of those throws were planned to the RB and how many were emergency dump offs? I would love to see those numbers.

  • Davebb1952

    Thanks for the facts Dave. I guess I’ll have to find something else to gripe about…LOL!!

  • Pete

    I think one of the complaints I hear by many in Steeler Nation is the lack of RB screens in Arians’ playbook and an inability to do them well. Don’t know if it’s true.

  • Jefferson St. Joe

    I have no problem with the bubble screen.

  • Pittdrum

    A couple observarions about the data
    1. If you look over the whole season the yards per individual play shows a downward trend. Also, as individuals only Sanders showed a positive trend in terms of yardage as the season went on. Could be that defenses were playing against the bubble screen better.

    2. It seems like an all or nothing kind of play. If you look at the individual players: Ward, 8/11 catches 5 yards or less. Brown, 9/13 5 yards or less. Sanders, 2/4 5 yards or less. Wallace 6/17 5 yards or less (by far the best). Overall that is 25 out of 45 for 5 yards or less. Without Wallace it is 19 out of 28 for 5 yards or less. The remaining plays over 5 yards do average out to almost 12 yards per gain so that is pretty good. It would be interesting to see the average yards gained with other play calls.

    It is what it is. Stats can be made to say a lot of things. If you look at the play as an alternative to running the ball it probably stacks up pretty good. I don’t know how it would do against “standard” passing plays.

    I am not for it or against it really, but I could see maybe cutting back a little as the season goes along since it seems like teams started adjusting to it.