Steelers Have Stopped Running 4WR Sets A Month Ago

It’s funny how little a player saying something can end up meaning in the long run. Remember early in the season when the Pittsburgh Steelers talked about how they really wanted to utilize all of their wide receivers this season, and that in order to do so they would be running a healthy dose of four-receiver sets?

Yeah, that ain’t happening anymore. Like, literally.

It has been four games now since the Steelers last utilized a personnel grouping on offense that featured four wide receivers on the field simultaneously. They ran nine plays out of the 01 personnel—four receivers and a tight end—during the first game of the season, but have done so just three times since then.

They ran the package twice in week two against the Vikings, and one of those was technically not even a play, but rather a defensive pre-snap penalty that blew the play dead. It was used just once more a week later in Chicago, and has not been heard from again since.

Way back when, in the middle of September of the Before Time, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger talked specifically about the four-receiver sets and said that it was his belief, following its prominent display in the season opener, that they would continue to use it.

I think you’ll see more of it because it was very good to us”, he said at the time. And it was very good at the time. Roethlisberger completed eight of nine passes out of the set for 108 yards, averaging 12 yards per pass attempt, which included a 50-yard gain.

But they only ran two plays out of the set over the course of the next two games, and in both cases they were used on third and long—third and nine, and third and 15, specifically. Those two plays gained eight and 14 yards, respectively, which is frankly just annoying.

So what exactly has changed between now and then?

The big change was simply the fact that running back Le’Veon Bell got some snaps under his belt. I have no doubt that a key cause of their significant use of four-receiver sets in the opener was because they weren’t fully comfortable yet with where he was conditionally or relative to the playbook.

Aside from that, the Steelers no longer have to attempt to get rookie wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster on the field. He is now routinely on the field, passing Eli Rogers on the depth chart, and has outsnapped Martavis Bryant for most of the season as well, so they don’t need to use this set as an excuse to play him.

So they don’t need to lighten Bell’s load, and they don’t need to get creative to get their rookie receiver on the field. But why not keep using it? It was a successful look, after all, and you could run it with Bell on the field instead of a tight end.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

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

  • John

    We may be in trouble this weekend. Without McDonald and having abandoned 4 WR sets, we will be very thin as to personnnel for whatever we run. We are also playing a team that had last week off and two weeks to prepare. We also have no Tuitt and likely no Gilbert. And the Lions are known for making big comebacks late — when the Steelers are tired and tend to let teams back in the game. I hope we can prevail but we will need a huge effort to do so.

  • Tierra Jeannette

    We will be fine. We did very well the two weeks without Gilbert and Tuitt. I am nervous every game so I get how you feel. McDonald is good but his hands are not reliable. We need to play James more. Our D will come up big.

  • Zarbor

    Well if you look at only the negatives then of course you would feel that way. Try balancing out with the positives. There is quite a bit but I’m not going to spell them out for you since they should be pretty obvious.

    I like our chances at winning this game but this team always needs to be coached up so that they can be up for the next challenge. Otherwise they will lay a Jacksonville egg no matter who they play. We show up, we win despite your concerns

  • Work Toward

    Sir, may I add, that the leadership and skills coming from Ben in this matter is suspect. My point is that MB is reaching out for help/attention to why the Steelers cannot throw the ball… Side note: At this time Ben has failed to talk with MB, why? Answer: He lacks the leadership and physical stamina to guarantee or play with these weapons. Thus They have him hiding behind the running game, consequently, taking valuable snaps away from the other playmakers. When AB had his ill advised throwing the cooler moment (in KC) he apologizes thus business is barely booming. When Bell missed training camp to opt out of team building he returned sacrificing 4 games to get on track. Ben displayed in words how he felt to the media because he did not want to shoulder the load. Now Martavis comes with a desire/situation that is a little more complex to Ben. How Come: While in rehab the responses that MB received from Ben was out of line coming from a philosophy that They are a band of brothers and drug addiction is a disease… The KC and New England games showed a depletion of arm strength so mentally retirement was considered leaving MB and other team situations in limbo. Great leadershit…afterwards coming back to the team Ben makes comments about teammates, looking out of shape, and having Bell and Brown question his game play. This gives Bryant reason to think what is good for the gander is good for me too. If you want to see four receiver sets wait until the steelers can pass beyond 255 yards per game?

  • Beaver Falls Hosiery

    another consequence of Le’Veon blowing off training camp. Hard for him to be incorporated into 4 WR sets if he was not there to practice them with the WR’s.

    Glad Bell is performing at a high level; maybe the upcoming bye week will give the team an opportunity to improve the offense and get it scoring.

  • Beaver Falls Hosiery

    are you working some type of Nigerian spam scam?

  • Work Toward

    No sir

  • #beatthepats

    Thanks for Joe Haden

  • Work Toward

    And Sean Davis Growth

  • falconsaftey43

    James has played plenty. He’s seeing 83% of snaps. Only Bell and AB has played more.

  • walter

    what a bunch of crap.

  • steeler_fanatic

    Bengals had the week off before playing the Steelers too…

  • nutty32

    If the complaints from posters here are to be believed, it seems like the team is still using empty backfield formations here and there, just with different personnel. Makes sense – why take Bell off the field instead of splitting him out and invite extra DBs in counter from the defense v. matching him up against a LB.

  • capehouse

    Never liked the idea in the first place. Surprised it had some success.

  • Steeler Nation!

    Exactly. How about taking a look at the footage from last Sunday vs the Bengals that was posted on this site. Bengals staying in a 2 deep look all the time. That lends itself to doing 2 things-running the ball and throwing to the 3 receiver side. If they were to roll the coverage to the 3 receiver side where AB was aligned-1 high safety, then they are daring you to throw it to Bryant. Everybody is always on Ben about forcing it where he shouldn’t. Sounds like you, Bryant, his agent and his girlfriend are the ones demanding he force it where it doesn’t belong.

  • John

    Yes I know but we are very familiar with them so there is less of a game-planning disadvantage. The Bengals also scored 14 points early on us which may have been due to the two weeks. We will see.

  • thomas hmmmm

    The purpose of a power run game has nothing to do with hiding Bens deficiencies but rather the D’s and also keep the D fresh. The power run game and ball control offense is a proven winner and also a big reason why the D is a top unit so far.
    Since the D has proven to be good they might start to open the offense up knowing that the D can hold..
    I would just like for them to stop the 3rd and short bombs that have not worked since the beginning of last season.

  • Matthew Marczi

    One thing Roethlisberger has never lacked is arm strength. It’s accuracy on deep passes that is the issue. Brown’s yards per catch figure this season is the deepest of his career as a starter, by the way, as is his average depth of target, so even his top weapon is actually catching deeper passes than he has been.

    I think it’s also safe to assume that Bryant and Roethlisberger have talked by now.

  • Matthew Marczi

    They are still using empty sets, though not all that frequently. But what I don’t understand is why they wouldn’t use Bell and four receivers on the field. It’s almost always (over the past several years) been a TE and 4 receivers.

  • Matthew Marczi

    I think it would have more success with a running back than a tight end as the fifth guy. Then at least you have the run option, and receivers like JuJu and Bryant can block from the slot.

  • capehouse

    I just hate leaving both Tackles on an island.

  • Matthew Marczi

    A running back in the backfield could still help with that.

  • capehouse

    You limit your best player having him chip the DE.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Still better than having Jesse James out there. At least having Bell out there, you can line up up either in the backfield or as a receiver, and you can have him chip or not. Gives you more options and puts more talent on the field. No better way to limit him than to not even have him out there.

  • nutty32

    Guessing the extra WR over a TE invites the extra DB too. Could probably dig into the weeds and look at all the opponent’s dept chart & if they have fast LBs & how/when they go to nickle/dime. One thing I notice Haley & a lot of OCs do is throw out a bunch of different sets early, use a lot of motion early just to try to gage how the match ups are shaking out.

  • heath miller

    yep got to be better to have bell than JJ or XG or even VMc and it worked will without bell and gotta b better with him

  • capehouse

    That’s why I favor 11, 12 and 22 personnel.

  • capehouse

    and speaking of putting your Tackles on an island, I really like when they use 11 personnel, but in a spread formation, so James is out in space. For some reason he seems to be at his best blocking out there.

  • Matthew Marczi

    He does block better when he’s already out in space. Better than when in-line or when asked to *get out* in space after the snap.