Like clockwork, we hear it every season.
*This* is the year the Pittsburgh Steelers will run two running back, “Pony” sets. For 2019, James Conner and Jaylen Samuels on the field at the same time. On paper, it looks good. Conner the runner, Samuels the receiver. But we’ve heard this line before with other combinations. DeAngelo Williams and Le’Veon Bell. Bell and Conner in 2017. Heck, even Isaac Redman and Chris Rainey years ago.
So it’s fair for fans to be skeptical.
However, we did see some use of it during training camp this year. So I went back through all our camp notes, one benefit of logging every play, to see exactly how much Pony was used. Here are the results.
Over 14 practices, the offense used a 2 RB/Pony grouping on 11 plays. Here’s the day-by-day breakdowns.
Day One: 0 snaps
Day Two: 1 snap
Day Three: 1 snap
Day Four: 1 snap
Day Five: 0 snaps
Day Six: 4 snaps
Day Seven: 0 snaps
Day Eight: 2 snaps
Day Nine: 0 snaps
Day Ten: 0 snaps
Day 11: 0 snaps
Day 12: 1 snap
Day 13: 1 snap
Day 14: 0 snaps
So 11 doesn’t sound like much. But we need to put that in context. Unless we know how many total plays the offense ran, there’s no conclusion to make. Huge difference if the offense had 200 snaps versus 900.
Luckily, we have that number too. The Steelers ran 768 snaps in team sessions this camp, an average of about 55 per day. The quick math tells us Pony groupings were used on 1.4% of all snaps.
Let’s extrapolate that out to an NFL regular season. Last year, Pittsburgh ran 1116 offensive snaps. Assume they do the same in 2019 and 1.4% of those are Pony sets, and you can expect them to use it roughly 16 times this year. A number higher than most seasons, when it was basically at zero, but still a very small figure overall.
At best, you’ll see it on a gameplan, situational basis. Maybe five times against one team, seeing it versus New England makes sense, and for other weeks, not at all. Of course, health will have an impact on the group too and an injury to Conner or Samuels can throw the idea out the window.