Four Downs: Steelers embrace 5-WR sets |

Four Downs: Steelers embrace 5-WR sets

Chris Adamski
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster, right, Ryan Switzer, center, and James Washington, left, chat during an organzied team activity session May 23 in Pittsburgh. Those four combined with either rookie Diontae Johnson or veteran Johnny Holton could all be on the field at the same time for the Steelers in rare five-WR sets this season.

Four Downs is a weekly feature composed of quick-hit thoughts and analysis on the Steelers and the NFL.

1. High five (wides)

Lacking depth at tight end? Feel good about everyone in the wide receivers position room?

The logical and intuitive answer is to use more wide receivers and fewer tight ends. For the Pittsburgh Steelers, there’s recent precedent in doing that.

According to, only 97 of the more than 33,000 offensive snaps in the NFL last season (roughly 0.3%) utilized five wide receivers (as defined by their rostered position). The Steelers accounted for almost a third of them (30). No other team used five WRs more than six times all season.

All but one of the Steelers’ 5-WR sets came during Weeks 15-16, the only games when their top wide receivers played. And it just so happens one of those games was against the New England Patriots, Sunday’s season-opening opponent. The Steelers threw 90% of the time out of that formation. Ben Roethlisberger’s passer rating of 121.5 while using five wides was his best among any personnel group.

Only two teams last season used fewer offensive sets that had one running back and two tight ends (“12” personnel). With Xavier Grimble (22 career catches) the No. 2 tight end behind Vance McDonald, and rookie project Zach Gentry the only other tight end on the roster, using five-wide sets might make more sense than using than using multiple (or any) tight ends.


2. Getting it out quicker and quicker

No quarterback last season got rid of the ball more quickly, on average, than Roethlisberger. According to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, he had an average time to throw of 2.55 seconds last season, which tied with the Raiders’ Derek Carr for fastest in the league.

“Time to Throw” measures the average amount of time elapsed from the time of snap to throw on every pass attempt (sacks excluded).

Roethlisberger, relative to his peers, has been throwing more quickly throughout the Next Gen Stats era, which began in 2016. Roethlisberger ranked 17th in the league in Time to Throw that season. He was seventh in 2017


3. Can Tomlin catch Belichick?

Bill Belichick gets worthy consideration as the greatest coach of all time. But when it comes to regular-season winning percentage, Mike Tomlin isn’t far behind.

When the two meet Sunday night, Belichick’s career coaching record of 261-123 has him at .680. Tomlin, in exactly half as many seasons (12), is at .654. What it would take for Tomlin to catch Belichick in winning percentage this year?

Let’s say the Steelers go 14-2. Tomlin’s career winning percentage would improve to .671. That would mean Belichick’s Patriots would have to go 7-9 for him to fall to .670, which would be below Tomlin as the active winning percentage leader.

Belichick’s record is dragged down by his five seasons as coach of the Browns a quarter-century ago. Take away Belichick’s 36 wins in 80 games in Cleveland, and he has won nearly three-quarters of the games he has coached. Belichick is 225-79 in 20 seasons with the Patriots.


4. Untouchable

There’s one record Tomlin won’t ever surpass Belichick in, and it involves their respective quarterbacks.

Belichick and Tom Brady’s 207 wins together are by far the most ever for an NFL coach/quarterback tandem. Current New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees rank second with 118 wins, but Tomlin and Roethlisberger can tie Hall of Famers Don Shula and Dan Marino for third place with a win Sunday. It would be their 116th together.

Even if Brady and Belichick never win another game together — and let’s say Tomlin and Roethlisberger average 11 wins per season — it would take nine years for the Steelers duo to catch Brady and Belichick. Roethlisberger would be 46 years old then.

Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

Categories: Sports | Steelers
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