This was a road game, so the typical sea of black and gold was absent, but the players on the field understood how important this game was. Preseason games get a lot of criticism, but the reality is that with so many young players in the league, these games are vital for player evaluation.
One player in particular who made the most of Saturday’s game was rookie running back Dri Archer. I say running back, but it is pretty obvious that this season, Archer is going to be a running back, wide receiver and punt/kick returner, and he might even sell hot dogs at halftime if he wants to.
Archer’s role on offense and in the return game are still in a state of flux, but you can rest assured that no matter who else is on this roster, Archer proved in just one play on Saturday that he has to be a cog in this offensive machine.
It only took the Steelers three plays to reveal their secret weapon, and they did so with impressive results. In case you missed it, here is the highlight-reel play Archer used as his NFL debut.
To quote Kadeem Hardison in White Men Can’t Jump: “A thing of beauty is a joy forever. My man Keats said that." Here's a portion of a Twitter conversation between Football Gameplan's Emory Hunt, Pete Prisco of CBS Sports and myself that really illustrates the strengths of a back like Archer.
Let’s take a closer look at a few of the things that made this play, and Archer, so special.
First, Pittsburgh came out with no running back in the backfield and five wide receivers (including tight end Heath Miller). This is not something seen often last season. David Todd of ESPN 970 in Pittsburgh echoed this sentiment.
Another interesting part of this formation is that Archer is lined up on the same side as wide receiver Antonio Brown. This forces the Giants to roll a deep safety to that side and commit to Brown. At the snap, Brown drives off the football, forces the Giants into a backpedal and allows Archer to slip underneath. Here’s the next stage in this play.
It’s important to note that center Maurkice Pouncey is out in front on this play from the jump. This is something Pittsburgh probably could scheme with Cody Wallace in the starting lineup. At this point, it looks like Archer is going to have an alley for a nice gain, but those Giants in pursuit will be hard to deal with.
However, as you can see from the next still, nothing can ruin excellent angles like the elite speed and change-of-direction ability Archer possesses.
After working upfield, Archer commits to bringing the run back across the formation. The Giants defenders are working to the football and can’t touch the agility needed to get back to Archer. He turns on the jets in just a few steps, and the next thing you know, he is 46 yards downfield.
Another fact worth noting that Alan Robinson of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review pointed out:
That Dri Archer catch and run for 46 yards WAS against starters. #Steelers— Alan Robinson (@arobinson_Trib) August 9, 2014
Oftentimes, when we see big plays like this by rookies, they come at the expense of being against bench players. In this case, the Giants had their starting defense in place, and if not for an exceptional angle by Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara, they would have given up a long touchdown right out of the gate.
Pittsburgh tried to get Archer on another screen late in the game. However, pressure on quarterback Bruce Gradkowski forced an early throw, and Archer didn’t have any blocking set up. The play only went for five yards, but the design had great potential.
Archer was also able to whip up a quick nine yards on two carries at the end of the half. Not exactly breaking news, but interesting in that the Steelers staff thought to have him on the field in that situation.
This is most likely due to the fact that even on back-to-back draw runs, Archer is the one player on the roster with a chance to take one of those two carries to the house.
What should Pittsburgh do with him going forward? Todd took to Twitter to offer a suggestion.
Put Dri Archer in bubble wrap until Sept 7. #Steelers— David Todd (@DavidMTodd) August 9, 2014
While I disagree with shelving him for the remainder of the preseason, it is important not to let Archer get injured. This young man is explosive but must be handled with care.
He was on the field for two receptions, two carries and two punt returns. Archer was also the primary kick returner, but he was unable to get an actual return. During the season, I'd love to see Archer get around 10 touches on offense, combining rushes and receptions along with return duties.
Following his debut performance, Archer told Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "I showed that I can play in the NFL."
How much can Archer impact this offense? Check out these college highlights and decide for yourself.
There are plenty of budding young stars in this league, but Archer proved on Saturday in one play that he is going to be a force to be reckoned with all season long.