Steelers Film Room: Antonio Brown The Decoy

By Alex Kozora

Throughout the rest of the offseason, we’ll examine specific plays from the Pittsburgh Steelers 2013 season. We won’t be focusing so much on individual play, though that inevitably comes with any breakdown, but instead, we will focus on concepts used in the pro game to show not just what happened, but why it happened.

This will be an X’s and O’s series focusing on both sides of the ball. The good and bad of the Steelers of last season.

In line with our last couple of articles, looking at multiple plays that illustrate a concept in lieu of a lone one.

Today is about showing the need to be creative with your skill players. It’ll shed a little light on how Dri Archer might be used in 2014.

The biggest playmaker in 2013 was, and still is, Antonio Brown. Although rare, there were moments where Todd Haley got creative with him. It confused defenses and created plus matchups without Brown ever touching the ball.

The first instance came in Week 6 against the New York Jets. Brown is lined up like a running back in the backfield. Le’Veon Bell is offset like a traditional fullback.


Ben Roethlisberger fakes a toss left to Brown. It causes the Jets’ front seven, most notably weak side linebacker Demario Davis, to cheat and take a step that direction, fearful of the pitch. Ben pivots and hits Bell open in the flat for a 12 yard gain and a first down.




Second example comes in Week 17 against the Cleveland Browns. Steelers in shotgun with Brown aligned in the backfield, sidecar to Big Ben. Unusual look. On the snap, Brown is released into the flats.


The pass isn’t thrown his way but the alignment causes the Browns’ secondary to peek into the backfield. Buster Skrine is in man coverage against Jerricho Cotchery. Even pre-snap, he has his eyes in the backfield. The. Whole. Time. Roethlisberger throws in a pump fake to AB for good measure.



Cotchery running a go route, is able to blow past him. He isn’t able to get his feet inbounds to make the catch, but he certainly didn’t get open because of his speed – it was thanks to Brown.


Seriously, really get a good look at Skrine. Eyes in the backfield, flat footed the whole way. He doesn’t have flat responsibility and it isn’t the safety’s responsibility for carrying anything vertical. Skrine is so worried about a simple flat route that Cotchery might as well not exist. He only reacts after Ben has thrown the ball. That’s how powerful the decoy is.

What do both plays have in common and why does Brown make the play work? He’s lined up somewhere unusual. It’s an alert to the defense. But when you, as an offense, lull them into that thought and then use Brown as a decoy, you create some plus mismatches. Use the defense’s keys (skill player lined up somewhere rare) against them.

It can only be used seldomly so the novelty of it doesn’t wear off. But with the addition of Archer, who will likely only play 10 or so offensive snaps a game, Haley can use him similarly to the way Brown was above. The extra benefit of Archer is you’re not taking away snaps from someone’s true position as was the case with Brown. That should allow Haley extra comfort and flexibility with Archer.

Dynamic players don’t have to always have the ball in their hands to be effective. The threat of the threat can be enough.

Previous Film Room Sessions
Putting Pressure On Rookies
Facing The 46 Defense
Fake Wide Receiver Screen
The Steve McLendon Myth
Cover 2 Man
The Wildcat
Cover 1 And Forced Throws
Slant Flat In Red Zone
Divide Routes
Zone Blocking Scheme
Scrape Concept Versus The Read Option

About the Author

Alex Kozora
Full-time blogger from mom's basement. Marrying tape and statistics. Chidi Iwuoma is my favorite Steeler of all-time.
  • PA2AK

    So THATS how Cotchery was able to look fast sometimes!

  • steeltown

    Exactly. Just the threat of him on the field should make Defenses 2nd guess at times, which should only benefit A.Brown, Wheaton, Miller and Moore

  • cencalsteeler

    This is a great article for all of the Haley naysayers to actually see and realize we have a great offensive coordinator. Haley’s use of Brown as a decoy is brilliant. That is why he’s been campaigning for a scat back. Archer will open up the playbook for Haley, for that, is his missing piece to his puzzle. Just Archers presence will create so many opportunities for others to get that added separation and keep defenses off balance. I’ll bet Haley loves the fact Ben can pump fake the way he does. It should provide even more opportunities for Todds bag o tricks.

  • blackandgoldBullion

    On that 2nd play Heath, I believe, is also open over the middle for an easy 6. But, no matter, you points are excellent. Now with Archer AND AB in there, defenses will be in a panic as to who they will cover, meanwhile Wheaton will be wide open long for another easy TD. Can’t wait!

  • mem359

    It helps that Ben’s normal throwing (or toss) motion is the same when he pump fakes. That’s some serious hand strength not to lose grip of the ball.

    I like Bell’s fake in that second image, leaning to the left. The player opposite him comes to a stop, thinking about how he will get around the “block”. The guy had no chance to catch up to Bell, or even to pressure Ben.

    Who was the receiver on that side, Sanders? He was faster than the CB covering him. The safety who made the tackle was backpedalling to give deep help, so that was a little extra yardage on this play.

  • Jesse Murray

    Watch Ravens II on Cotch’s TD at end of game, AB took all the coverage away from Cotch. On very next play Ravens tried to adjust and it allowed AB to beat single coverage, unfortunately Ben went his first read, had he merely glanced at Ab that game is in OT.

  • Alex Kozora

    Yup, broke down that play in my slant/flat article. Though it really had nothing to do with Brown than it did the route and poor communication by the Ravens. Just a breakdown mentally for Baltimore than anything the Steelers did right.


    Check out the Wideout on the other side. David Paulsen! Todd Haley gives the extra bluff of having him go in motion to position for run blocking for Brown.


    Did I see them play at Woodstock?

  • Jesse Murray

    Ravens did have a mental breakdown but you need to ask why? Imho the answer is easy: AB. Ravens know he is their biggest threat, he was in their heads. A great player often causes tunnel vision for opponents and allows others to benefit as a result.