Play-Action Passing Game Shows Signs Of Life Against Chiefs

I think it’s become obvious at this point to most keen observers that the play-action pass is no longer an integral feature of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense, as it is simply not something that the team runs with great frequency, hovering somewhere around 10 to 15 percent of all dropbacks over the course of the past few years.

But the play-action passing game did seem to be a bit more active on Sunday, and perhaps it’s no coincidence that they saw their highest ratio of passes coming off of play action in the game in which they ran the ball with the most authority.

Of Ben Roethlisberger’s 27 dropbacks against the Chiefs, he incorporated play action into the delivery five times, which is still not a large radio, but is at least over 18 percent. More importantly, he actually had success doing it, which frankly had not been the case in recent years.

He was able to attempt a pass on all five of those dropbacks, and he completed four of them for 45 yards, averaging nine yards per reception, which is the sort of number that quarterbacks should be putting up while benefitting from play action—that’s why they bother running it, after all.

Now, one of those plays did include an inside screen pass to Le’Veon Bell that was completely blown up for a cascade of reasons and actually ended up losing three yards on a ball delivered five yards behind the line of scrimmage.

Of his other four throws, only one other was a short one, thrown a yard behind the line of scrimmage, a screen pass to the left to Antonio Brown that gained six yards. The other three targets were all deep balls beyond at least 15 air yards down the field.

He completed two of those 15-plus-yard throws, one for 17 yards—admittedly, on second and 19, on a play on which Brown actually came back upfield and lost two yards of forward progress—and the other for 26 yards.

You might be able to guess what the incompletion was, and it was a big miss in terms of spoiled opportunities. It was the first long ball to Vance McDonald that was just a foot or so too long beyond the tight end’s outstretched hands, delivered 33 yards down the field. But he did connect on the 26-yarder.

I have for a few years now wished that the Steelers would utilize play-action passes more frequently—for those wondering, two of the five came from under center, including the 26-yarder and the incompletion—only for my hopes to die away when I realized that their numbers using it had been poor.

This season as a whole, off of 23 play-action passes, the Steelers have averaged just over eight yards per attempt, though that does not factor in one sack and a one-yard scramble. They have also had two completed passes negated by penalties. They have not scored or turned the ball over when using play-action to date.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

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

  • #beatthepats

    I agree Matt , I too always thought they should be running more play action. The play action 15-20 yarder to HEATH , is still my favorite play. Maybe as the chemistry builds between Ben and Vance we will see more..

  • AndyR34

    It has been said many times…Ben doesn’t like to turn his back to the play…thus, few play-action passes.

  • Alan Tman

    The way we run the ball you have to run play-action from under center. That would take this offense to the next level.

  • MC

    THis is what myself and many others have been banging the table for! setting up the run first is key but in the jags and bears game there was no run game and therefore no playaction so it always seemed like our guys were covered because everyone knew it was a pass. I hope Haley reads the articles on this site.

  • Steve

    Play action works best when the running game does. Against the chiefs they could not stop our running game and it was smart that they would sprinkle in a few passes between the runs to keep the D honest and guessing. The Steelers have the Chiefs number and hopefully it does not change any time soon.

  • Steve

    No not really, there were a few times when Ben was in the gun that he had a fake to bell then offloaded it to a receiver.

  • Steve

    Got to be kidding, Haley read this site, thanks for the laughs. Do agree that Steelers need to run 75% of the time and use them horses they got.

  • Alan Tman

    Not really is why this offense is under 20 points a game instead of 30.

  • Michael Mosgrove

    ben has been nailed so many times during play action pass that he hates using it. we are ranked very nearly last in the league in play action.

  • Michael Mosgrove

    well he’s been hit what 300 times off of play action?