Stats Say Steelers Should Ditch Fullbacks
Maybe Bruce Arians is on to something.
As has been noted several times, the Steelers offensive coordinator doesn't like fullbacks. It was one of the reasons that the Steelers drafted tight end Matt Spaeth last year, and it was why Dan Kreider was phased out for Carey Davis--a more versatile fullback who isn't the blocker Kreider is.
But what hasn't really been explained is whether Arians' preference for tight ends is paying off. According to stats compiled by Stats Inc., it is.
Last year, Willie Parker was a better running back when he ran out of two tight end sets, and Ben Roethlisberger was a better passer as well. Whether it's because of Spaeth, or because the two tight end sets gave teams more to worry about, the Steelers were a better team when they left their fullbacks standing on the sideline.
What's most telling is how much more common it was for the Steelers to use one back and two tight end sets last year. Parker had 177 carries out of a one-back formation in 2005 and 2006 combined. But when Whisenhunt left for Arizona, he took the fullback-centered offense with him. Last year, Parker had 184 carries out of a one-back set, and as you can see from the stats, he was very effective out of the one-back formation.
In case you're wondering, that's not something that's true of all tailbacks. Of the other four running backs who had more than 1,300 yards last season, only one, Adrian Peterson, was significantly better running out of a one-back set. LaDainian Tomlinson was better running from the I-formation, while Jamal Lewis and Brian Westbrook showed little difference between the two.
The story is the same for Roethlisberger. He had more attempts last year (78) out of two tight end sets, than he had in either 2005 (when he had 55 attempts) or 2006 (42 attempts). But what's most remarkable is how good Roethlisberger is out of two tight end sets. In the past three seasons, Roethlisberger has 21 touchdowns and only four interceptions when throwing out of two tight end sets. He has 16 touchdowns and 15 interceptions when throwing out of one tight end sets.
BIG BEN'S STATS
About the only stat that I could find where Roethlisberger was worse when throwing out of two tight end sets was his sack percentage. He's a little more prone to being sacked (11 percent of attempts compared to 8 percent), but that is more than made up for by his increased productivity when he gets the ball off.
The good news for Steelers fans is that Roethlisberger and Parker's productivity out of two tight end sets last year came with a rookie (Spaeth) who was still learning how to play the position in the NFL. Spaeth's blocking was very suspect early in the year, but did get better as the year went along. If he improves as expected this year, it could make the Steelers offense even more productive in 2008.