By Matthew Marczi
I am not entirely sure what the biggest surprise of the last game was, but it could have been a tie between the performance of Guy Whimper at right tackle and the installation of the Wildcat offense with Le’Veon Bell. Since I will be writing pieces on both, I will conveniently not take sides, but both were surprising and worth taking a closer look at.
For now, we will start by looking at the four plays in which the Pittsburgh Steelers ran the Wildcat this past Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens. Though they only gained 18 total yards on the four plays, it provided a new look that defenses will have to prepare for for the remainder of the season that could catch a team off-guard.
The Steelers technically ran the Wildcat offense twice, in sets of two plays—maybe to save some tread on ol’ Ben Roethlisberger’s tires, as he hinted later this week that he could get tired running out to the receiver spot. The first set of plays came on the second drive of the game, which culminated in a shovel pass to Heath Miller for a touchdown.
The first play came on second and five from the Ravens’ 44-yard line. Roethlisberger suddenly jogged off to the edge of the offense as the Ravens looked on, perplexed.
Unfortunately, the first attempt was not blocked particularly well, which went for a handoff to receiver Antonio Brown for a three-yard gain. Specifically, Will Johnson and Marcus Gilbert did not block Jameel McClain to satisfaction, who made the primary stop. One could also argue that Fernando Velasco should have picked up Daryl Smith instead of assisting David DeCastro. The next play, fortunately, ended with better results.
The second play was identical pre-snap. Again, Roethlisberger jogged out to the perimeter of the play and Brown came in. Only this time, Bell kept it and the blocking went in the opposite direction. Johnson served as the lead blocker, taking on McClain, as DeCastro pulled to knock Terrell Suggs out of the play. Shockingly, Roethlisberger’s blocking attempt on Jimmy Smith was none too impressive, but Bell picked up six yards and a first down out of it.
The Steelers did not go back to the Wilcat again until the second half, when it came out midway through their first drive.
Once again, the play has the exact same look pre-snap, and again, the Steelers run a different play from the same look. This time it is a run up the gut, right through the B Gap that DeCastro controlled all game long. First, he helped Velasco move Haloti Ngata out of the hole, then he pushed McClain back at the second level. Ngata eventually got the better of Velasco to make the tackle along with Daryl Smith, but only after seven yards. The following play had, again, the same look, of course.
This was the same play that they ran with Bell to the outside with DeCastro and Johnson leading the charge. The only difference is that the Ravens were prepared this time, and Jimmy Smith came up to make the tackle after two yards.
Perhaps Todd Haley should consider not lining Antonio Brown up on the same side as Roethlisberger when he motions in so that after he fakes a handoff he could actually serve as a blocker. That or run away from Roethlisberger’s side of the field. Still, it is a good look to present opposing defenses, and can be effective in small doses, especially if Haley continues to be creative in the plays that he calls from the same personnel package.