The Pittsburgh Steelers became the first team in NFL history to win a sixth Super Bowl, in spite of an ineffective running game, injuries in the offensive line and punter, an aging defensive line, and dealt one of the toughest schedules in the NFL.
How did the Steelers accomplish this feat?
Let’s look at five plays used throughout the season that were most effective to the Steelers success.
Play: Short passes right or left to Holmes or Hines
Formation: Shotgun/no huddle
The 2008 offense became reliant on the pass partly because running back Willie Parker lacked his usual speed and cutback ability after injuring his knee early in the season.
They had 460 rushing attempts and averaged 3.7 yards per carry, which was the lowest since 2003, when the running backs averaged 3.3 yards per carry.
Coach Tomlin and Offensive Coordinator Bruce Arians put more emphasis on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to make plays by using the shotgun formation. In the shotgun, the offense lines up three wide receivers (Holmes, Ward and Washington).
Roethlisberger would throw passes short (five or six yards) right or left to an open receiver.
He came from behind in the fourth quarter five times this season to win games against BALT (2X), JAX, SD, DAL, and AZ, using the shotgun to complete short passes up the middle, right or left for touchdowns.
No huddle was implemented because of the number of false starts committed by the offensive line. In the Jacksonville game, the o-line committed two false starts back-to-back due to crowd noise. The no-huddle reduces the number of false starts.
Its other purpose was to not give defenses time to execute changes or prepare stunts against certain of our offensive looks, we force them to stay base.
The Steelers then incorporated the No Huddle/Shotgun to advance downfield or to get touchdowns.
Example: 1st-and-10 on JAX 41, Roethlisberger in No Huddle/Shotgun passes short to the middle to Hines Ward to JAX 27 for 14 yards.
Play: Pass deep left to WR Nate Washington
Another effective method for getting the ball downfield was the deep pass. Nate Washington was Roethlisberger go-to guy and would generally run a post pattern deep into the secondary to get open to receive.
Example: On 3rd-and-12 at NE 27, Roethlisberger in the shotgun passes deep left to Washington to NE 11 for 16 yards. 1st and 10
Formation: I Formation
A play-action pass is a pass play that appears to be a running play. It can be considered the opposite of a draw play.
Play-action passes are often used against defenses that are presently focused on stopping the run.
By simulating as if the play is initially a running play, the offense attempts to deceive the defense into acting on the run fake and being out of position in their pass coverage, giving receivers more time and room to get open behind the linebackers.
Because of the diminishing running game and inconsistencies with the offensive line, Roethlisberger had become one-dimensional. Play-action bought Roethlisberger time to find an open receiver reducing the chance of staying in the pocket and risk getting sacked.
Example: Roethlisberger takes the snap and drops back to hand off to the Willie Parker. Parker gets ready to take the handoff, but Roethlisberger quickly pulls the ball back from the handoff position, trying to hide it from the defense.
He rolls out then looks down-field for an open receiver, usually it is Hines Ward.
It is Wards’ role to "sell" the running play by appearing to block at first, then break off into their routes.
Example: 1st-and-10 at PIT 13, Roethlisberger (play-action) pass short right to Ward to PIT 26 for 13 yards
Play: Linebacker overload
Formation: 3-4 defense
Outside linebackers put a ridiculous amount of pressure on the quarterback using a defensive scheme called linebacker overload.
It is a pass stopping play devised by defensive guru Dick LeBeau which enables the outside linebackers to be put in a position to hurry or sack the quarterback.
LeBeau called it twice against the Ravens, where the Steelers got a sack and a hurried throw on two plays.
It also provided a sack in the regular season win against the Cowboys.
Lamar Woodley and James Harrison recorded 27.5 sacks last year by way of coming from the outside to apply that pressure on the quarterback.
Play: Pass defense
Formation: Nickel or Dime package
Before they played San Diego, the Steelers had not allowed more than 290 yards of total offense.
On plays where the defense expects the offense to pass, emphasis is often placed on the number of defensive backs.
When one of the "front seven" (down linemen and linebackers) is removed in favor of a defensive back, the five defensive backs are described as a "nickel" package.
When a sixth defensive back is inserted, it is known as a "dime" package.
The Steelers defensive backs tend to play off the line and give receivers lots of cushion.
They ranked No. 1 allowing an average of 156.9 yards/game, 12 TD, 20 INTs and 51 sacks.