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In the Film Room with Ben Roethlisberger: Explaining Errant Slot Fade to Ray-Ray McCloud

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Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense struggled to get anything of note going on Sunday. Even in victory, the Steelers never cashed short fields the defense gave them into touchdowns. Outside of 3rd-and-1, the Steelers were 0 for 9 on Sunday as well. Part of the issue was execution on a player level. However, there is certainly blame to go around to the play-calling and personnel utilization. On such instance was on a curious slot fade RPO that the Steelers busted out in the second quarter to Ray-Ray McCloud.

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On 3rd and 4, this is not necessarily the time for the home run ball unless they are in a go-for-it situation or they feel they have a matchup they can exploit with their best playmaker. Ray-Ray McCloud is not their best playmaker by any means. For the record, this is a single-high, Cover 1 look, so the Steelers are getting man coverage. A slot fade RPO against man coverage is not a bad design. Ben Roethlisberger makes the right read here, too. McCloud is the only one with a chance on this one.

However, the outset of the design here is what the issue is for the down and distance and the player being targeted. Tennessee is going to stack the box, that much is clear. Essentially by doing so, it eliminates any chance of Chase Claypool’s under route doing anything here. The design of a slot fade RPO to a non-trips strength side is to create traffic underneath to get that under guy open. If the Steelers were in 2nd-and-6, for example, this would be a fine play call. But, with this look and the Titans selling out completely on 3rd-and-5 and shorter on the run, the play call loses its luster overall because of the bodies they have underneath. Football is a numbers game, and for this play call, the Titans had the numbers by a lot.

Roethlisberger broke down his reads on this play, and it was a limited play for him from the start. Essentially on the play, McCloud became the only true viable read.

“Yeah, we jumped the ball quick with an RPO,” Roethlisberger said. “They had too many guys in the box. So you kind of have to pick a throw. And Ray-Ray [McCloud] had press, and he’s a quick, little jittery bug-type receiver that you expect can win. And gave him a chance. He kind of got walled off. I was expecting or hoping for a flag. But you go there because it’s either him or Diontae [Johnson] on the other side because Chase [Claypool] was in the game coming across. Those are your two options. I wanted to give him a chance to make a play. I thought he was interfered with, but it is what it is.”

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