Tomlin Was Right: Jaguars Did Stack The Box, Dare Steelers To Throw

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ gameplan on offense against the Jaguars ended up being much different than what they were hoping to do, needless to say, because they quickly fell behind in the third quarter with a pair of pick sixes. After that, they turned exclusively to three-receiver sets, and mostly no-huddle, in a futile hope to get back into the game.

But there is an extremely stark contrast between the personnel packages that they ran through the first third of the down in comparison to the remaining 40 minutes, which began late in the second quarter in the two-minute offense.

Outside of the final three plays of the game, which were simply three carries to try to end their misery in a 30-9 defeat, the Steelers ran fifty-seven (57) consecutive plays out of the 11 personnel package, spanning from the beginning of their first possession under the two-minute warning in the second quarter through Ben Roethlisberger’s final interception.

Prior to that, they ran that personnel package just six times out of 21 plays run in the first quarter and into the first five minutes of the second quarter. They put on the running game personnel, to be sure, including seven snaps with just one receiver on the field.

But Roethlisberger and Mike Tomlin were right. The Jaguars were set up to stop the run. On those first 21 plays, the Jaguars had no fewer than eight players in the box on all but seven snaps, and many of those snaps featured the Steelers using run-heavy personnel in five-wide sets. On one snap, they bunched Le’Veon Bell, Jesse James, and Vance McDonald all together on the right side as receivers.

When looking at the actual numbers, it does make more sense why the Steelers didn’t run the ball more than they did, even early in the game. Six times they had nine players in the box. Four times they ran the ball. It worked the first time, gaining 10 yards, but then it was just four, and then minus-two, and then zero. So the next time they saw nine in the box, they threw, twice—the second being picked off.

The Jaguars had eight or more in the box 21 times in the game, all but five of those snaps coming in the first half. Discounting the three runs at the end of the game, they ran the ball seven out of 18 times facing a loaded box.

The rest of the snaps produced a false start, an interception, two throwaways, a batted pass, two additional incompletions, a scramble, and three completions—of 13, 15, and 49 yards. So that was something of a mixed bag.

Where Roethlisberger was successful was when he faced a six-man box. Outside of an interception—on which his wide receiver was tripped over the feet of the underneath coverage—and a sack, he completed 20 of 28 passes with one throwaway, though only for 157 yards. None of them failed to convert on third down, however, and 17 of the 20 completions were successful plays. A 28-yard touchdown pass was also taken away because of a hold.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

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

  • Steel Realist PAul

    Makes a ton of sense from the Jags perspective.

  • falconsaftey43

    Thanks Marczi. Further reason I hate when people just look at the run/pass ratio at the end of the game and say the offense did a poor job or it was a poor game plan. So much more to the story.

  • D-Ville Tommy

    It still doesn’t explain why the Steelers didn’t have success throwing the ball. Granted, our QB had a really bad day at the office, but with the talent level and options available for this offense, the OC should have been able to design some routes to expose them on intermediate-deep routes.

  • StrengthOfVictory

    I can understand this to a point. But part of coaching is finding a way to challenge them against the run (their weakness), rather than acquiescing to becoming one-dimentional and only passing (their defensive strength). Then you’re just playing their game (at home, no less) instead of your own. Had it never occurred to the coaches that the Jags were stacking the box to discourage the run because…they were vulnerable there?

    Personally, I would have put run heavy drives together—again and again—just to smack the Jacksonville defenders in the mouth. Actually make them stop the run…and stop the run…and stop the run. Throw Conner in now and again like against Baltimore to see if they can keep up.

  • pittfan

    Check out Alex’s video addressing this very question.

  • D C T

    well said!

  • falconsaftey43

    Well it’s a lot of things. Pass pro wasn’t very good (JAX pass rush is no joke). Ben did simply miss on some throws. WRs weren’t always winning their one on one routes (Their CBs are really good too). Their LBs are freaking fast, and had no problem crowding the line, then dropping back into coverage.

    They did move the ball well when they threw it (2 minute drill to end the half, went hurry up to start second half). They just failed in Redzone. Then pick 6’s came and it was all over.

  • falconsaftey43

    Well they tried to stick with the run just like Marczi said. They used heavy personnel most of the time to start the game. But their runs were unsuccessful and put them behind the chains, so they had to pass. Before the 2 minute drill they Ran 9, passed 9 when not in 3rd and long. At least 3 of those passes where screens/shovels to Bell. They tried to run the ball.

    Then to start the 2nd half they went hurry up and threw the ball, and it worked, getting them down to the goaline. I’m not sure what else you guys want.

  • StrengthOfVictory

    Yes, but the end result is the Steelers allowing a weak run defense to succeed on the road. They made the Jaguars’ defense easy. The ran Bell only 14 times. The Jaguars were BEGGING the Steelers to throw, because that’s what they defend against well. And, to me, the Steelers gave in far too easily. Why let your visiting opponent dictate the game?

    In fact, the Jaguars did exactly what the Steelers couldn’t do or refused to do. They are a running team, and they ran the ball. Instead of daring them to throw (their weakness), the Steelers allowed them to do the one thing they do well.

  • falconsaftey43

    When specifically in the game did you want them to run more. I get it, you see 15 runs, 55 passes and it looks really unbalanced. But when, within the game did you want them to run more. The only example anyone’s actually thrown out there is the 2nd half redzone where they threw it 3 time. Ok, but outside of that, I don’t really see much more of an opportunity to run.

  • Rocky Stonecipher

    The Jags run D really isnt as bad as everyone is trying to make it out to be. They got gashed on a handfull of really long runs, which has really skewed their ranking. other than those few long runs, they have been relatively stout against the run.

    Everyone wants to blame the Steelers for not running more, and refusing to give credit to the Jags D for committing and doing a good job of shutting down the Steelers run game

  • falconsaftey43

    everything is always the Steelers fault, obviously all other teams are terrible and incapable of adjusting.

  • StrengthOfVictory

    The Steelers didn’t show a willingness to pound the run UNTIL it succeeded. That is my point. Even if that meant stalling an offensive drive to do it. (Because, let’s be honest., throwing to Ramsey was an even worse prospect.) Test all areas of that line. Find the best matchup. Pull from both sides. Experiment with double teams. Motion Bell out wide to tire out the linebacker covering him over and OVER. Run reverses and sweeps. Fatigue those players in the box.

    Again, since when do the Steelers allow a visiting team to write the game script?

    The Jags are not built to stop the run, but the Steelers let them get away with it too easily. Imagine if the Steelers dropped seven into coverage every time they faced Brady. You don’t think Tom is going to throw? Of course he is.

  • falconsaftey43

    Again, give me a time in the game where you wanted that to happen. That’s all I’m asking. WHEN should they have run more?

  • Ralph Wagner

    Everyone keeps talking about the Steelers talent. So far that’s all it is talk. Hopefully that talent will show up on the field. The players must quit reading the paper. LOL

    Go Steelers

  • StrengthOfVictory

    When the Jags defenders say, after the game, “They played right into our defense’s hands,” that’s exactly what’s happening. One team is adjusting, the other is not.

  • StrengthOfVictory

    Midway through the third quarter, just before the pick six, for example. You have two linebackers dropping into coverage to play a zone. Run Bell to the outside or give a delayed handoff. You’re still in a position to slow the game WAY down, but the Steelers checked into a 2nd and 11 pass play like it was 3rd and long. It just smacked of desperation, trying to force something to happen just because they hadn’t scored a touchdown yet.

  • O’Neal

    That jags d is built really well for todays nfl. Pretty young too. If they get their qb situation figured out they could really be a force in the coming years

  • falconsaftey43

    I don’t know man, I think we’re getting real nit picky here trying to blame this on one thing (not running enough/Haley whatever). Yeah, you could run there. But up to that point something like 50% of their runs went for 1 yard or less. Biggest issue for this offense all year has been getting behind the chains, being in 3rd n long. It’s not like it doesn’t make a lot of sense to throw on 2nd and 11. I understand you want to just keeping running for the sake of keep running. But you know, if they’d have run the ball 30 times in that game and averaged like 3.4 ypc and ended up in a bunch of 3rd n longs they couldn’t convert, everyone would be yelling at Haley for not adjusting. Narrative would have been why did they just keep banging their head into the wall, it clearly wasn’t working. Truth is, the only time this offense looked good, and moved the ball well was the 1st drive of the second half when they went quick pass and no huddle.

  • PaeperCup

    His insights on Haley’s scheme are really good. The play design is just so uninspired.

  • PaeperCup

    Did The Steelers do the same against the Bears?

  • Rocksolid20

    That’s call coaching !

  • StrengthOfVictory

    Penalties have been the real issue of getting them behind the chains. No team so far has done a consistent job of forcing them into 3rd and long via defensive stops alone. Trust me, I don’t want to run just for the sake of it. I want to make opponents earn it. With a back like Bell, 15 carries against the 23rd ranked run defense (and the 3rd against receivers) isn’t making them earn it. Not to me, anyway.

  • Darth Blount 47

    I can see this both ways. On one hand, I don’t like to imagine that a team is going to dare us to do something, in this case throw the ball, and then we are supposed to be nervous or scared, that we won’t actually have a lot of success, with this Offense, doing exactly that. If the Jags were loading up to stop the run, we SHOULD have the confidence with this Line and weapons and QB, to throw and strike fear into them that way. Is their Secondary legendary or something? Ramsey and Bouye and their gang are very young and good, but should we really be expected to quake in our cleats if they have 8-9 guys in the box?!

    On the other hand…. Football is often about will. Will, attrition, scheme, and athleticism. Just because someone loads the box, doesn’t mean you can’t scheme it properly to take advantage. It also doesn’t mean you can’t just go “Irresistible Force vs. Immovable Object,” and pound till someone acquiesces. That’s the part about running the football that gets lost sometimes. If you have a superior RB, and a Line that is skilled and tough, you run the ball not to gain big chunks after big chunks, but to accomplish multiple aims. Wearing down the opposing team. Letting your own Line get into a lather by constantly run blocking. Setting up play-action and mis-directions. And eventually hoping that come later in the game, just one of those runs will break wide open, just like Fournette did to us late. If you have a skilled RB, he can go short yards after short yards, not getting discouraged, because ALL it takes is one to pop open and he’s gone! It is the very essence of having a QB who can take care of the ball and convert 3rd downs, move the chains, and continue to matriculate the ball.

    When you abandon the run, bad things tend to happen, because pass rushers get lathered. You are often behind the down and distances. And in this case, we had to start going into the teeth of the D. All the while, the clock gets run down, because the opposing team is running and running and running, putting more onus and pressure on us, to try to speed up and throw, throw, throw. It is just a bad deal all around. And when you turn the ball over multiple times, forget about it.

    I agree with Tomlin that balance isn’t as important as winning. Thanks, Mr. Obvious. However, when you have a RB like Bell, there is almost no excuse to have a gameplan that doesn’t feature him as the Offense. I’m glad he was used as a WR more this last game. But he should almost NEVER have less than 20 carries a game anymore.

  • treeher

    Uh .. wonder who the D coordinator is for the Jags?

  • StrengthOfVictory

    Also, because the Jaguars were successfully doing what the Steelers wanted to do (running the ball), it brings to mind other questions.

    1. If stacking the box was so effective at stopping Bell, why didn’t the Steelers stack the box against Fournette? After all, Bell had one more carry than Bortles had ATTEMPTS at throwing the ball. That’s insane.

    2. If you’re looking at a stacked box, what’s to stop the Steelers from going four-wide and running the ball? Either you end up with linebackers on receivers, or you get closer to one-on-one matchups for the Steelers O-line. Win-win.

    3. Stacked boxes are vulnerable to the outside. We saw this in the screen game, but what about running to the edge/outside? Bell has the speed. It’s another way to stretch them out.

    I just couldn’t wrap my head around the game script or the lack of adaptation, that’s all.

  • falconsaftey43

    For sure penalties are huge part of the problem. But a lot of those have been holding when they try to run it, and frankly the running game has NOT been getting it done this year. They’ve averaged 2.65 yards per carry on first down for the year. That’s freaking terrible. There is pretty much no part of this offense that is working right now. It all starts with the blocking up front, and it hasn’t been very good in either phase of the game.

  • treeher

    Ah, there’s the “adjusting” word. Steelers seem incapable of it.

  • StrengthOfVictory

    Something’s got to give, that’s for sure. For what it’s worth, I expect we’ll see one of the Steelers’ best efforts to date on Sunday.

  • falconsaftey43

    1. Steelers did. per nextgenstats Fournette faced 8+ men in the box on 39% of his carries (6th highest of any back last week). Worked for JAX D, wasn’t as good for Steelers D. Although I will say, Steelers D did a good job on most drives against the run. They had the 1st half TD drive that was bad. Then the 4th quarter clock killing drive. But they also stopped a lot of drives. Offense just couldn’t score then started throwing pick6 so JAX didn’t have to worry if they just punted every drive and killed some clock.

    2. They did go 4-5 wide out of heavy personel a few times and threw perimeter screens, those were working well. The biggest problem was the Steelers passing game wasn’t winning even when JAX loaded the box. Let them cover their weakness (run defense) with numbers and dare the Steelers to win the one on ones in the pasing game which was their strength. Steelers couldn’t win that match up. Largely because pass blocking was poor.

    3. Here are the stats on their runs outside the tackles.
    15 yards, 13, 13 (end around, 10 yard penalty), 2, 1, -1, -2. So two good ones, and 5 bad ones. Their LBs are FAST, blocking wasn’t there on these failures. OL wasn’t getting to the LBs fast enough.

    I think they DID adapt. Just didn’t work out in the end.
    Came in looking to go heavy and run. Wasn’t working well. 2 minute drill went pretty well. They went hurry up out of the half and it worked really well. Screen game was working well. Then Ben starting throwing picks and we go behind so we threw more and there were more picks. It just kind of spiraled out of control. So many things went wrong. Blocking, QB missing throws, luck tips getting picked. WRs falling down leading to picks.

  • falconsaftey43

    man I hope so. tired of watching this offensive mess.

  • falconsaftey43

    Great perspective. I would like to point out, so far this season, Steelers average 2.36 yards rushing on first down. Running game isn’t keeping them ahead of the chains. The block (pass and run) just HAS to get better if this offense is going to turn around.

  • StrengthOfVictory

    Probably the most embarrassing drive was when the Jags started inside their own 10 and just ran the ball on their way to a field goal. Just embarrassing.

    While so many people are dividing the game into first half and second half, the Steelers still had the lead (albeit a marginal one) midway through the third quarter. However, they played like the team that was down, leading (at least in part) to the first pick-six.

    I will say not having Gilbert did the Steelers no favors in the run game. When one-on-one blocking matchups are key, you don’t want a backup in the mix.

  • Petherson Silveira

    So, AB and Martavis Bryant were playing against their CBs without help over the top, coz FS was playing MFO. Possible 4-4 Front with Cover 3 or Cover 1.
    This a missmatch nightmare for the Jaguars, we shoulda torched them.

  • Darth Blount 47

    Thanks. Agreed. I’m really hoping having Gilbert back will get things moving in that direction. You’re only as strong as your weakest link. And though Hubbard has done his best, I can’t wait to see big Gilbert manning that right side again. We are so blessed to be able to have our whole O-Line intact, after 5 weeks. Now we need to play like we understand that blessing.

  • PaeperCup

    Steelers took the bait.

  • francesco

    Exactly. Why didn’t the Steelers stack the box and dared Jacksonville to throw?

  • Steve Johnson

    I can’t understand why Tomlin doesn’t mix it up with Conner and Watson. Those two RB’s are bigger and just as powerful as Bell. Better yet, they seem to hit the hole immediately than just stutter-step all the time.

  • francesco

    That’s why you have to score first and score TD’s early. Steelers settling for 3 points is just asking for trouble later. Steelers need to have a killer instinct from 1st drive of game until the end.

  • Steve Johnson

    BINGO! I went to the game last Sunday in Pittsburgh, that Offense looked Pathetic! Roethlisburger, LeVeon Bell, A.B, and Martavis Bryant? The Killer B’s? What a Joke! Sick of those guys running their mouth talking about how good they should be, how they should average Thirty Points a game. They all (to include Todd Haley) should shut the hell up. By the way, how many SB’s have they won? How many SB’s have they actually been to? I will forever support the Rooney’s and the Organization. However, as long as Tomlin, Todd Haley and #7 is there, I don’t ever see that trio winning a Super Bowl. I hope they prove me wrong.

  • JT

    Because neither can pass block to save their life. Look at the first INT. All on Conner.

  • FATCAT716

    I’m sorry but with what you believe you have in your QB & WR’s you hit them with the passing game & force them out of it then you can become balanced. If you believe in your passing game why shy away from what they are giving you?

  • FATCAT716

    In hindsight yes you are correct

  • Chad Sanborn

    The Jags did what every other team who beats us does. Stack the box to stop Bell then dare BR7 to beat us. Teams are figuring out that he has lost his magic and that his accuracy has dropped way off. He cannot throw the deep ball anymore. And his short passes are usually high and behind the receivers. Which is why each week we always talk about AB making great catches. Because he is saving Bens @ss. He doesn’t hit our receivers in stride. So our YAC is lower than other teams.

  • dennisdoubleday

    Roethlisberger has won two and been to a third; Tomlin has been to two. So leave them out of your rant.

  • Steelerfan4lifeinAZ

    I’m expecting the Chiefs to do the same. 8 men in the box and force Ben to beat them passing the ball. Perfect formula.. Hopefully Haley.. puts in a 4 WR package that will force them to go into their nickle or dime. I have a feeling we will have to win this game in the air..

  • Woodsworld

    The Steelers OL is not physical at all, so that’s why the Jaguars stacked the box. I continue to see why some of the Steelers 1st Road “Steals” where passed in the draft, including David DeCastro, a great move guard, but doesn’t get movement against good defensive linemen. These teams aren’t stupid….they know the Steelers will pull DeCastro to the left, and try to run behind him, which plays not the strengths of the Jaguars, who have very athletic LB’s, who can move well laterally. Marcus Gilbert’s abscence is making it more difficult for them to run, as he and DeCastro work well together at the point of attack, and his backup is undersized and underpowered.q

  • Michael Putman

    Stacked box and still able to stifle our passing game and make 5 interceptions. What does that say about our receivers and QB… 8 defenders in the box and still unable to complete passes down the field…

  • Edjhjr

    Red zone scores on 2 possessions a good punter , don’t throw the ball and they have the lead probably win

  • Edjhjr

    In the red zone.

  • Marcel Chris Chauvet

    57 straight plays out of 11 personnel! Are you kidding me?! There’s the story. How are you supposed to stress the opposing defense when they don’t ever have to worry about you changing the formation. And how often were those 3 receivers Brown, Bryant, and Juju? They basically had no need to adapt to scheme or switch their on field personnel. That’s ridiculous. And another thing: when a defense is going to stack the box against 12 personnel (since you’ve already stated and they already know, you’re going to throw), why don’t you motion Bell out or audible to have McDonald split out? Ya know, make the defense account for something they didn’t plan on. Or, at the very least, try and get one of your playmakers into the open field. Keeping 2 tight ends in line and Bell in the backfield and throwing is utterly ridiculous.

  • Brandon Watson

    So I generally am not a stat-nerd, particularly with football b/c lost in stats are game specific stuff that can be extremely relevant (i.e. a couple of receivers go down, left tackle left the game, weather, etc…) but Football Outsiders actually did a study on last year and the increase in 11 personnel packages in the NFL. The study showed in 2016, 11 personnel wasn’t just their primary personnel package, but 27 teams used it more than half the time; 30 teams had a higher DVOA in 11 personnel, meaning it was their most efficient personnel grouping league wide, hence the popularity

    Pittsburgh used 11 personnel, according to, once again, Football Outsiders on 63% of their offensive plays, averaging 6.5 yards from 11-P. Not only that, but the difference in DVOA between plays ran out of 11-P and the snaps from other packages was one of the larger differences at 18.7%. So, it’s kind of not just their bread and butter but everybody it’s just what’s in right now b/c of it’s efficiency.

    The teams with the worst DVOA out of 11-P, were also the ones that used it the least percentage, so I guess it goes to show that these coaches turn over all the rocks they can to find what works and what doesn’t. Oh, one super hilarious stat from that study were the Giants. Of 1,009 plays, 925 were from 11-personnel. hahahaha

  • J.

    So basically the Jags forced us to do what they wanted us to do. Pretty sure the cowbyas and Emmitt Smith saw a lot of stacked boxes and they ran the ball anyways. Sorry but at times it looks like the Steelers lack toughness and heart. We should be close to wrapping up the division already. Instead thanks to the Bears and the Jags the Division is suddenly a 3 team race.

  • J.

    Tomlin has also dropped 9 games when favored by 7 or more.

  • gdeuce

    you cant wrap up a division before half the season is played, anything can happen week to week

  • Alan Tman

    Matthew what are Big Ben’s numbers against the blitz this year?

  • J.

    Of course anything could happen but you go 5-0 in this division the way its shapped right now and you are on your way to wrapping up the division. You can coach speak it all you want about week to week the bottom line is we dropped the ball on a golden opportunity.

  • Marcel Chris Chauvet

    That’s great stuff. I’m not a bit at all surprised 11 personnel is the most popular formation in the NFL. I am surprised at the DVOA of the Steelers out of it. That Giants stat is crazy. At any rate, it would appear that other teams have noticed our tendencies and have become effective and countering them. Thanks for the great info.

  • Brandon Watson

    Thanks brotha! I have pretty cool stats I dug up myself, regarding some hand-selected head coaches’ records against teams they were favored against AND ended up having losing records FOR THE SEASON, rather than whatever scenarios are being used by the media to highlight Pittsburgh, as if they are the only team that 🙂