While Rainey hasn't made the direct impact that some might like it was plays like the ones I am going to talk about that really make the difference in a game that is close like last night. Rainey only has 21 carries on the year and 14 catches on the year and hasn't been great in brief punt returns but he does bring something to the table on kick returns.
That is actually where I was going to start. The Steelers weren't looking good facing a 13-3 deficit after Anquan Boldin touchdown with just over three minutes left in the first half. The Steelers weren't doing much on offense since the first drive and they needed a spark. They got that spark when Rainey took the ensuing kickoff out to the Steelers 40 yard line for a 42 yard return. That return gave the Steelers outstanding field position where they would eventually cut the Baltimore lead to only one score with a Shaun Suisham 35 yard field goal with only 32 left in the half.
While the kickoff return only led to a field goal it afforded the Steelers an opportunity to get some points, and life, before half and ended up giving them the chance to tie the ball game (as they would) getting the ball first in the second half.
While most understand the kind of impact that Rainey has in the kick return game places that some might not appreciate what type of player he has become for the Steelers in the context of the offense. None was more evident than a fourth quarter play that resulted in a 23 yard gain to Heath Miller for a first down. The drive resulted in a Charlie Batch interception but this one play highlighted the effectiveness of Rainey even when he didn't touch the ball. I have grabbed some screen shots to show the play and illustrate what I am referring to:
(you can click on any imagine to enlarge it)
This first show is pre-snap. It is 2nd and 13 after a sack of Batch with the Steelers lining up with Miller to the right, Antonio Brown to the left and Mike Wallace to the right while Will Johnson is an offset I to the left. The Ravens are in nickel defense with safety Bernard Pollard creeping into the picture to play almost in the box. Rainey is the deep setback.
At the snap of the ball Rainey flairs out to the right and the Ravens bring only four plays passively against Batch and the Steelers offense.
Batch's first look is at Rainey right off the bat but is a complete decoy. As you can see of the four people on the offensive right side of the ball for the Ravens three of them (Pollard, #91 Courtney Upshaw and #53 Jameel McClain) immediately fixate on Rainey and start to pursue in that direction. At the same time (a frame or two before this) Miller immediately looks to pass block at the snap and when Upshaw immediately dismisses Miller and runs towards Rainey he looks at McClain who almost at the same time crosses his face. Pollard originally was playing almost on the right hash and in this shot he is a few yards further to the right in anticipation of Rainey getting the football. At that point the play was won by the Steelers.
This shot is the end result where you see there is literally nobody around Miller. The closest player is Pollard who is entirely out of position as he is closer to the numbers than the right hash. Miller caught this ball only a few yards from the line of scrimmage but turned it into a 23 yard gain all because the Ravens were convinced that Rainey was going to get the screen pass.
As you can tell the Ravens have watched tape from earlier in the year and they know the Steelers try to get the ball to Rainey in space. Todd Haley knew exactly what he was doing on this play and with Rainey as a decoy he was able to open up a massive chunk of the middle of the field to get into the red zone on a second and long play without having to chuck the ball way down field.
In the grand scheme of the offense the Steelers might not get the stats production from Rainey and he might not be a guy who is going be on the field for a boatload of snaps but when he is on the field he is going to command respect from the defense. This play is just one example of how effective he can be in creating opportunities for the Steelers.
I am not saying that Rainey is going to be some kind of MVP candidate from here on out but little things like this can win you ballgames, something the Steelers need to do.