Pittsburgh Steelers 2013 Season Preview: Why WR Bunch Formation Will Be Key

Tom CiampoliContributor IIIJuly 11, 2013

PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 30:  Offensive co-ordinator Todd Haley talks to Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during their game against the Clevelend Browns at Heinz Field on December 30, 2012 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Karl Walter/Getty Images)
Karl Walter/Getty Images

For the 2013 Pittsburgh Steelers, the key will be how offensive coordinator Todd Haley utilizes his Super Bowl-winning quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, given the turnover from the roster that took the field last season. Gone is the team's top running back Rashard Mendenhall, as well as the team's top pass catcher, Mike Wallace (64 catches for 836 yards and eight touchdowns in 2012). An uneven 2012 season which saw Pittsburgh finish 8-8 and miss the playoffs featured some tension off the field, as well. Roethlisberger was quoted as having some frustration with the new offense implemented by Haley, saying that the style represented a "dink-and-dunk offense."

This year will feature new pieces, including rookie running back Le'Veon Bell from Michigan State and new offensive tackle Guy Whimper, a free-agent acquisition from the Jacksonville Jaguars. After the departure of Wallace to the Miami Dolphins, Antonio Brown now becomes the team's top receiver. Brown actually caught two more passes than Wallace did last season, but scored only five touchdowns while racking up 787 receiving yards over the season. 

Meanwhile, Emmanuel Sanders, the Steelers' third receiver last season, will now be on the field on just about every play as the Steelers second receiver. Slot receiver Jerricho Cotchery moves into the third receiver spot, which brings up the formation in question: the bunch formation:


This formation was key for the Steel Curtain on their Super Bowl run in 2011. The key is establishing this same success with the new receivers they'll have on the field. The speedy Sanders will likely take Wallace's spot as the deep threat, while Brown will be the first option (as well as the most likely to attract double coverage) in these situations. A possible ace in the hole the Steelers have, provided he can remain healthy and productive, is the former Steeler who has returned to town: Plaxico Burress. Although he caught only three passes last year, Burress is expected to be used more in red zone situations this season, which puts him in positions where he can utilize his lanky six-feet, five-inch frame. 



Two tight ends can also be used in this formation, as we see here from the incarnation of this formation which helped the Steelers reach the Super Bowl against Green Bay following the 2010 season. This bodes well for the Steelers because Pittsburgh has two capable tight ends in Heath Miller and backup Matt Spaeth. Miller actually led the Steelers in receptions last season with 71 on his way to an appearance in the Pro Bowl, and also scored eight touchdowns. Spaeth, meanwhile, added superb blocking throughout the season while pulling in six passes.  

The key aspect of this formation is that, if Brown and Sanders can get open and make big plays in this formation, it will not only open the pass offense for Roethlisberger, but also help out the run game. Bell and backup Isaac Redman (the starter for Pittsburgh for much of last season, rushing for 410 yards and two TD's in '12) will benefit from defenses failing to stack the box at the yard of scrimmage if Brown, Sanders and Miller can keep opposing linebackers and defensive backs honest.

As the Baltimore Ravens will attest, defense wins championships. However, they also had two big deep-ball threats in Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones which added an extra dimension to their offense which helped them win a Super Bowl last season. This season, Brown, Sanders and company will look to fill that position for another AFC North team looking to win a title.