Last week against the Patriots the Steelers used an empty set on offense with five wide receivers and no running back.
It was something Ben Roethlisberger said offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner approached him about, and he was all for it.
“Randy asked if we wanted to do it and I said sure,” said Roethlisberger. “It creates mismatches. There are opportunities for different guys, we can move them around and put them in different spots. It puts a lot on them to know when I do move them around what they are supposed to run. I may just call a concept and they need to know what they are supposed to do. It puts a little more on them, but they executed really, really well.”
Roethlisberger went to work with Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, Ryan Switzer and Eli Rogers in the set, and it worked like magic. Roethlisberger completed seven of eight passes on a 92-yard touchdown drive that resulted in a 17-yard touchdown catch by Brown.
“It gives us a lot of weapons,” said Roethlisberger. “We’re limited in some of the things we can do. It creates some mismatch opportunities and then it’s just about finding the right mismatch or the right opportunity that is available to us.”
The one drawback is Roethlisberger loses some of his protection.
“You don’t have a tight end,” said Roethlisberger. “There are some things you can’t do. They can make you throw hot which is sometimes good for them, sometimes good for us. We can throw short and run long.”
Whether or not the Steelers will use the empty set this week against the New Orleans Saints is yet to be seen, but they will need to find a way to counteract a Saints defense that is No. 1 in the NFL against the run.
“They are a really good football team,” said Roethlisberger. “Getting after the quarterback, stopping the run, creating turnovers, scoring, everything they do.
“(We) just have to try and protect the ball. The guys up front are going to have their hands full with the pass rush and the noise. We’ll just have to win our matchups.”
Whether the Steelers get James Conner back in the lineup this week is yet to be seen. Conner, who was selected to the Pro Bowl, missed the last two games with an ankle sprain. In his absence Jaylen Samuels carried the ball 19 times for 142 yards against the Patriots. That will be a tougher task against the Saints, but Roethlisberger likes what Samuels brings to the table not just in the ground game, but the passing game as well.
“One of the first things we noticed about him is he has really good hands. Soft hands,” said Roethlisberger. “You can throw it all over the place and he can make plays. I think he showed that this week, that we can put him out there and do some things with him that we are just scratching the surface with.
“I thought he showed good patience. I thought when it was there he hit it hard. He protected the ball. Those are things you want from a guy that isn’t used to carrying it as much as he is going to have to or did.”