Update: Thanks to my cousin Josh for pointing this out. According to this article in the Post-Gazette, Holmes actually ran the wrong route (or cut his route short) on the play. Either way, the play still produced a touchdown, and it actually worked out that Holmes was where he was because he shielded Hines from a DB that was coming from behind (as you'll see in a minute).
The play starts with the Steelers in a single-back formation with Mendenhall deep. Heath is lined up off the line to Ben's right, and Hines is standing just inside the numbers at the top of the screen. Wallace and Holmes are stacked at the bottom. For much of the game, the Browns were using their nickel package featuring 5 defensive backs. Obviously, it still didn't help them slow down our passing game. On this play, they had 3 down linemen, 3 linebackers, and 5 DBs. Of the 11 Browns, 8 of them start this play in the box.
The corner that was on top of Holmes walks forward towards the line, signaling blitz. Since Heath is staying in on the other side as a blocker, it is Mendenhall's job to pick up the blitzing corner. One of Cleveland's linebackers is running a "spy" (that is, watching the backfield for a run, then blitzing once he realizes its a pass play). The other is responsible for dropping into coverage.
Off the snap, Ben goes play-action to Mendenhall, which freezes not only the blitzing corner, but also the two linebackers in the middle of the field. This gives Mendenhall the opportunity to plant himself in blitz-pickup, and the receivers a chance to get behind the linebackers.
On this play, Hines is running a deep crossing route, where he comes back across the middle of the field. Given that the corner is playing him to the outside, chances are he'll be wide open after his cut. Wallace is running a deep post to the inside of Holmes. This draws off the safety coverage over the top (as you'll see in a minute). Holmes, on the outside, is running a curl route.
Mendenhall seals his block beautifully on the blitzing corner, giving Ben all kinds of time to throw. For some inexplicable reason, the outside linebacker at the top of the screen peels off his blitz and runs to a zone where no one is. To make up for this, the spying linebacker comes on a blitz.
The other inside linebacker drops into a zone in the middle of the field. The Browns are now in a zone coverage with two safeties deep, two corners playing the outer edges of the field, and a linebacker in the middle. Hines' deep crossing route brings him across the field in front of the safeties and behind the linebackers/corners.
Since all 3 receivers are running deep routes, this causes the safeties to have to make decisions. The safety from the right side of the field takes Wallace, who is running the deep post. A DB from the near side takes Holmes, who is running the curl. The safety on the left side of the field remains over the top, in the event that someone gets free. Since Holmes ran deeper than the outside corner, the corner is out of position (too close to the sideline since Holmes is curling towards the middle of the field. The nature of Holmes' route will shield off the safety from the ball, giving Ben an alleyway to throw the ball.
Ben sticks the ball right over the linebacker and right to Holmes. However, since the play took so long to develop, Hines has come the whole way across the field by the time the ball gets there.
Hines leaps in front of Tone and makes the catch. The corner that was playing by the numbers is now out of position, as his momentum is taking him away from the direction where Hines is running.
Hines blows past him, and into the open field, where there is another safety waiting. The corner that was moving up to cover Holmes (circled) is now also in trouble, because his momentum is carrying him forward into Santonio, and Hines is able to run right around him. The safety that was on Wallace is too far out of position to come across the field to make a play, leaving it up to the left side safety to make the tackle.
Since the safety thought the ball was going to Holmes, he had begun to run forward.
When Hines caught the ball and turned upfield, the safety had to make a sharp cut and turn towards the sidelines to try and cut off Hines. This sharp cut slowed him down and gave Hines the split second he needed to blow past the safety to the end zone.
You can watch the full play at the 1:04 mark here:
While you're watching, the Mike Wallace reverse is at the 2:32 mark. Look at the effort he puts in to get from the 8 down to the 2. 60 minute man. If we had more time, we'd make an unlicensed shirt. But we're in grad school.
Hope you enjoyed this week's mid-week analytic post.
Big game this weekend against the Vikings. Be ready.