Film Room: William Jackson III Helps Ruin Play Action For Steelers

I don’t quite know why, but for some reason the Pittsburgh Steelers’ failure to find much of any success in recent years while using play-action passes has fascinated me. I wrote a number of articles about it during the offseason, in fact, much to the chagrin of some.

But it just occurred to me that I haven’t ever actually taken the time to properly present the nuts and bolts of their play-action attempts in an article, so that was the germ of the idea behind the article that you are now reading.

So let’s have a look-see, shall we? By my numbers, the Steelers used play action on five of 25 dropbacks on Sunday, which is actually a high proportion of throws at 20 percent. Problem is it didn’t do a damn thing for them. One completion for three yards on second and seven.

So how bad was it, really, and now close were they to actually finding success? Let’s take a look.

Their first attempt from play-action was their lone completion from the look, late in the second quarter. On second and goal from the seven, Ben Roethlisberger lined up under center with three receivers on the field. Off play action he threw to Martavis Bryant, but he was immediately tackled after three yards. William Jackson III did good job on this play of not getting picked playing in man.

Actually, you will be seeing a lot of the Bengals’ 2016 first-round draft pick here. Early in the third quarter, he did an excellent job of sticking to Antonio Brown over the middle of the field and knocking the ball away in front of the receiver.

Later in the third quarter, Jackson drew Brown one-on-one on a go route, the defender never even registering the play action. Brown looked like he might have the jump for a score, but again, the talented defender played the pocket and won.

There was one play that could have worked. Perhaps even should have worked. Even later in the third quarter, Roethlisberger looked long for Bryant off of what he said was an RPO and was able to get behind the cornerback, but he didn’t turn around when he was supposed to, which prevented him from tracking it in the air.

Finally, in the fourth quarter, they actually ran play action with Terrell Watson on the field, but Roethlisberger was never able to get off a good pass with the Bengals blitzing heavily on third and one. He just had to toss the ball up and hope Brown could run under it.

The Steelers actually had some success last week on play action. This week, awful. What will Sunday’s game in Detroit hold?

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • Don

    I love play action, but it doesn’t make much sense to me to do it on a pick play near the goal line. The time it takes to pull off the fake allows too much time for the CB to recover. Need to get the ball out more quickly there.

  • NinjaMountie

    I’d like to point out to certain know-it-alls that Ben did indeed throw that ball when MB was about 12 yds down field. So, it appears his story of what was supposed to happen holds water. I know that’s disappointing to many of the haters. Sorry

  • SkoolHouseRoxx

    I’d rather see more roll out play action anyway with crossers.

  • SteelerDieHard

    Exactly- especially the crossers comment. Seriously, look at all the routes run during these plays… WTH? All verts, no cuts/breaks, etc to create a space.

  • lone pistol

    I like how he broke that play down and gave us a little behind the scenes. I have been telling people i think issues like this that we don’t see helped stalled the offense in beginning of season.

  • SteelerDieHard

    How bout some routes that create space, curls/outs/crosses/drags,, for god sakes something other than “go routes”… WTH kind of offense are we running now?! Nobody in the middle of the field, nobody trying to create separation at the top of a route.. just “everyone run deep down the sideline”.. ??!!!! What has happened to the scheme? Why is it so elementary 14 years into a HOF caliber career???

  • NinjaMountie

    That was PI on AB in the endzone. Should have been an easy TD.

  • Generic Steelers Fan

    I agree! Not a single person in the middle of he field (not counting the players in the middle of the field)

  • Mark

    Real talk, the Bengals got a great corner just ahead of us. Artie is good but Jackson is better.

  • Marcel Chris Chauvet

    The Steelers lack of success on play action should not really come as a surprise. Number one, their offense leans heavily(too much IMO) on the vertical passing attack. This, no doubt, creates a hyper-awareness for opposing defensive backs to always be in position to turn and run. Number two, the Steelers penchant for going deep in obvious running situations is well known to even the least knowledgeable football fans at this point ; let alone to rival defensive coordinators. Seriously, how many times can a team go deep on 3 and 1?! So, what do we know about play action? It’s usually used in what are seemingly obvious running situations and it is often times used in conjunction with the deep passing attack to try to get over the top of a defense. Defenders are simply too keen to the idea that we are going to try to throw it long. That’s actually great for Lev Bell as they’ll be less concerned with keeping their eyes on him, but it certainly won’t help our play action. I expect that this trend will continue unless our offense adapts.

  • Chris92021

    The one in the end zone was pass interference on Jackson.

  • falconsaftey43

    well that’s not true.
    1st has AB running an over route (deep crosser) just not a ton of separation and Ben doesn’t put it out in front
    2nd has Grimble on a crossing route (looks open) but Ben throws deep to AB.
    3rd is all verts (with Bell check down) but that’s supposed to be an RPO where you’re either running it or taking a deep shot because the defense gives you the right look.
    4th has Bryant running an out to the field side. No idea what the TE was supposed to run because he got jammed really well by the defender.

  • falconsaftey43

    Go look again and don’t just look at the guy who was targeted. All but one feature shorter routes and breaking routes of some sort.

    1st has AB running an over route (deep crosser) just not a ton of separation and Ben doesn’t put it out in front
    2nd has Grimble on a crossing route (looks open) but Ben throws deep to AB.
    3rd is all verts (with Bell check down) but that’s supposed to be an RPO where you’re either running it or taking a deep shot because the defense gives you the right look.
    4th has Bryant running an out to the field side. No idea what the TE was supposed to run because he got jammed really well by the defender.

  • falconsaftey43

    absolutely. held his arm down.

  • falconsaftey43

    haha

  • falconsaftey43

    I actually like that play design because I don’t think that’s a slant by Bryant, I think it’s a designed Rice route (slant and out). PA freezes/sucks in the LB so the CB is going to charge hard to cut off what looks like a slant (classic slant/flat combo at goal line) and Bryant pivots back outside against the CB’s momentum. Bryant just doesn’t come out of the break fast enough.

  • Intense Camel

    Nah

  • Intense Camel

    Play action is the devil

  • Intense Camel

    Doesn’t change that it was a bad throw, sorry.

  • Intense Camel

    The most important aspect of a successful play action play is when you call it imo. I can’t rememeber the last time I’ve seen them go play action on first down. Same old run, run, pass format

  • NinjaMountie

    Here’s one.

  • Intense Camel

    Sorry, everyone can’t be a deluded homer.

  • NinjaMountie

    True, but you certainly have the intense hater persona perfected.

  • falconsaftey43

    1st, 101 passes, 108 runs
    2nd, 81 passes, 81 runs
    3rd, 72 passes, 17 runs

    Seems pretty balanced on 1st and 2nd down to me. (obviously you’re going to pass more on 3rd down depending on distance needed).

  • Runner1967

    On that Bomb? Jackson got away with clear DPI. I get you want to crown the lad but come on now.

  • Intense Camel

    Hating what? Telling the truth is hate now?

  • Runner1967

    Bingo. In the rush to dry hump Jackson that little fact is being ignored.

  • Runner1967

    He is? Based on a few plays, one of which he clearly got away with DPI on deep ball? Give me a break.

  • NinjaMountie

    LOL….nice stats again. It will not work, though.

  • Runner1967

    You’re not allowed to point that out because the narrative is pining over guy Steelers “should’ve” had.

  • Intense Camel

    I wasn’t saying it’s imbalanced.

  • NinjaMountie

    You don’t know the truth. You don’t know what would have happened if MB would have located the ball like he was supposed to.
    Right now I’m just curious to how many times you’ll keep responding.
    Your turn…go.

  • nutty32

    Except that 1st one near the goal line, the O Line not really selling run; not that tricky for linebackers and safeties. These guys are so well coached the only play-action that seems to really work these days is out of the stretch run scheme, creating flow to sell the run.

  • Chris92021

    Kinda like that whole “we shoulda drafted Mosley over Shazier” narrative?

  • Chris92021

    Agreed. Big Ben rolling out to his right is still the most dangerous pass play.

  • Intense Camel

    Again, regardless of what might have happened, it doesn’t change the fact that the throw was bad and there was no reason for it to be as bad as it was. He wasn’t getting hit, the pocket was clean, he stepped up in the pocket to throw into a huge window and failed to make an accurate throw.

  • falconsaftey43

    you were saying it’s the same old formula run run pass. Just pointing out that they aren’t run run pass, they’re pretty balanced in play calling.

    As far as the last time they ran play action on 1st and 10, I’d site the 1st and 10 play action pass to Bryant above (4th GIF).

  • Intense Camel

    Basically I was saying is that the playcalling is too predictable. How often do you see that in this offense?

  • treeher

    Tight end got jammed? Maybe we should learn how to do that too, we never do. Example, Dalton’s TD pass down near the goal line.

  • falconsaftey43

    I honestly don’t think it’s too predictable. I think it’s largely observation bias (i.e. you only remember the plays you saw coming because that’s what sticks out to you).

  • falconsaftey43

    That goalline defensive package is terrible. Matakevich and Fort bite hard on the play action every time.

  • Intense Camel

    It’s not biased. It’s simple observation. The playcalling is too formation based. Bad timing, bad execution. Flat-out dumb calls and it gets worse the farther downfield they get.

  • falconsaftey43

    Ok, that’s possible. Could site some actual examples? Instances of what were predictable play calls in your opinion? Show where that call was used before so we can all learn more about their tendencies.

  • Intense Camel

    This is all subjective. Citing which play won’t prove anything. This a culmination of years of Haley’s offense, not one season. Point being is that if I as a fan know what they’re going to run, then the other team probably does as well.

  • falconsaftey43

    It’s not subjective. If you can point to a situation, a play that you felt was predictable, we can look at it. See if they really have run a similar play in that situation a lot previously.

  • Marcel Chris Chauvet

    As far as I’m concerned they could line up in every diff formation known to man. The offense will remain stagnant until they show a willingness to run more short/intremediate routes and, in particular, threaten the middle of the field. This is especially true of the intermediate passing game. The dig, the curl, the comeback, etc… Play to strengths of your quarterback and take advantage DB’s whose primary concern is not getting beat deep.

  • falconsaftey43

    And just to explain how it can be observation bias. Let’s take 3rd and 2 or shorter. The commonly held view is that the Steelers throw deep a lot on 3rd and short and it’s predictable. But is it?

    2015-2017
    Steelers
    60 pass 35 rush
    12 deep passes
    Packers
    50 pass 52 rush
    9 deep passes

    So 12.6% of all 3rd n short for Steelers, 8.8% for Packers.
    20% of passes vs 18%. It’s not really a big difference. And it’s also a low overall % of total 3rd and short plays. Obviously this doesn’t account for formation tells, but I’m just trying to make the overall point here.

    I’m sure there are many (if not all) times you see the 3rd n short deeps shot and think to yourself that you saw that coming. Because they have done it before and it’s something that stands out (to many negatively). BUT, I’d also bet that if you actually wrote down what you thought the play would be prior to it being run, you’d be wrong way more than you’d be right. You see what I mean? You don’t remember all the times you were wrong, just the times you were right. observation bias.

    I’d be a great exercise, if you have time/desire, to actually try this out. Every play during a live game just make a quick note of what you think the play will be and see how it turns out. I’ll try it myself this coming week.

  • Bryan Ischo

    Looked more like 17 – 20 yards to me. Not sure what difference that makes, but let’s be accurate if we’re going to try to stir up controversy shall we?

  • Bryan Ischo

    Oh jesus can we talk about the Steelers please instead of trying to pre-emotively argue with people who haven’t even said anything yet?

  • Bryan Ischo

    Best comment of the thread … thanks!

  • SkoolHouseRoxx

    Facts! Perfect plays for Eli, JuJu, McDonald and such.

  • Steve

    Sure wish we got Jackson in the draft. Cincy got him one pick ahead of us.

  • SteelerDieHard

    Not really, 2 yd drag,, and “kinda” cross by Grimble (but if so, maybe the worst route ever by a TE). Article by Alex a couple weeks ago explains this stuff perfectly about how the scheme isn’t doing us any favors. Mostly go routes or really sloppy blends of go routes and out routes, that look more like ridiculously curvy go routes that are way too deep on these plays. It’s a mess and looks like an elementary offense. Horrible

  • Matthew Marczi

    Because that penalty is rarely called in that situation. It is technically a penalty, but not routinely enforced. Players, coaches, and everybody else involved know this. So it’s still a good play.

  • Matthew Marczi

    10 out of 32 play-action plays occurred on first down this season.

  • Matthew Marczi

    If you think that something is predictable, then you should be able to identify it, no? Which parts of their offense are predictable? What is it that you see on the field that makes you know what the play is going to be?

  • NinjaMountie

    Your turn go.

  • Matthew Marczi

    That was not at all what this article was about. I didn’t mention that angle once in the article, assuming that you read it. It was simply the fact of the matter that he was involved on most of the plays. If it were Kirkpatrick I would have written his name in the title.

  • Matthew Marczi

    I don’t know, virtually every other team seems to find more success off of play-action than Pittsburgh does over the past few years. I don’t have an explanation for it, especially since it formerly was an asset of the offense, even at the start of Haley’s tenure.

  • Intense Camel

    Nothing to say huh. Can’t say I’m surprised.

  • nutty32

    I would guess safeties are being over-taught to not get nosey in the run game v. the Steelers for fear of AB & 10 or have some over the top cover should they want to set a safety free to free lance a bit more.

  • NinjaMountie

    I just can’t repeat myself as much as you. It’s obvious you just like to bash on Ben.
    Please continue rambling…go.

  • Intense Camel

    Nope just like to tell the truth, don’t really care who’s on the butt end of it.

  • NinjaMountie

    I would agree if it weren’t for pinning his arm. Imo, the only reason it wasn’t called was bad angles for the officials.
    WJ3 did do a great job, though. Don’t get me wrong.

  • NinjaMountie

    Yes you keep saying that. Then you get caught in your agenda like you have below by everyone else. Anything new or are you going to repeat yourself some more?
    Go.

  • Intense Camel

    The truth isn’t always warm and fuzzy. I was saying the same sort of things about Ben’s poor play/decline a couple years ago and everyone thought I was just a hater. The tone of that topic changed fairly rapidly this season. I don’t have any agenda, Im here to talk football, not make people feel good.

  • Joeybaggadonuts

    WJ3 is a playa. Pretty impressive lad.

  • MintDragon

    well, dude you are pretty fricking predictable. In every single comment thread.

    team sucks, team sucks, counter-accuse.

    *yawn*

  • Intense Camel

    Not once have I said the team sucks, you’re reading the wrong comments apparently.

  • americanpatriot

    I like the play, I don’t like MB’s pivot and return to the outside. Too much time for too little space. I appreciate your play analysis. I was wondering if the pivot and out was planned or an ad lib. Whatever, if Ben hits MB in stride and he heads straight for the EZ, at worst he ends up at the 2, if not a TD. That would have been better that catching it on the 4 and ending up on the 5.

  • Cwallace

    Man WJ3 is a excellent young corner…wouldn’t have been angry if we could have gotten him.

  • Runner1967

    You like Jackson and reading the article makes that abundantly clear. BTW Jackson also got beat by Bryant on deep route he lost ball. As to it “rarely” gets called angle? It didn’t get called as Romo noted because the ref had a poor angle. The Bengals radio team also noted Jackson got very lucky not to get called. Not one of them said that rarely gets called. If anything when comes to a WR of AB’s stature that gets called more often than not.

  • Runner1967

    Why? Burns has been healthy and playing well for a season and a half. Jackson had a few good snaps and now we want to act like he is next coming of Revis? Stop it.

  • Matthew Marczi

    That was the first game I’ve ever even seen Jackson play in, so I really don’t have much of an opinion about him. Adding his name to the title was just an afterthought after I realized that he was featured in the majority of the plays, and any other defender in that same position would have been mentioned similarly. Keep thinking whatever you want, though. Ultimately it doesn’t make a difference.

  • Steve

    Burns has been doing well and Jackson was hurt all of last season, but it looks like Jackson is back in Great form. I just call it like I see it and without Joe Haden we would be hurting. As we are, we can match up with anyone and our D is doing extremely well.