Todd Haley Continuing To Shake Up The Wildcat

By Matthew Marczi

As the season goes on, Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley continues to tinker with his sparsely-used Wildcat packages. While I am undecided as to the efficacy of even running such plays, they have not as yet been a detriment to the offense.

Furthermore, the continued variety of looks that they present out of both similar and dissimilar formations should only serve to prolong the shelf-life of the direct-snap offense by masking its predictability.

Haley, in fact, may well have found the most interesting look out of the Wildcat package to date in this past Sunday’s victory over the Buffalo Bills. And he broke it out on just the second play of the game.

Depending on how one chooses to interpret the formation, the play was run out of a 21 personnel package. Or maybe it was an 11. Perhaps it was just a 1. With an unbalanced line, a running back under center, and a quarterback flanked out wide, it is forgivable if things get confusing.

Practically speaking, though, the Steelers did run an unbalanced line, shifting right tackle Marcus Gilbert over to the left of Kelvin Beachum, with tight end Heath Miller lining up next to right guard David DeCastro. Will Johnson lined up to the side of Le’Veon Bell under center while Antonio Brown was in the slot and Emmanuel Sanders motioned in from the outside in order to fake an end around.

The result of the play was not wildly successful, netting four yards, but the potential for this play to work is clear. Bell had a bit of trouble fielding the snap, which prevented the Steelers from properly running the fake handoff to Sanders. The play thus took a bit longer to develop than it should have, which allowed the secondary to close in swiftly, sealing a sizable hole that flashed for but a moment for Bell.

Later on in the game, early in the second quarter, the Steelers broke out the exact same formation (excepting Guy Whimper in for Gilbert), giving the exact same look with Sanders motioning in from the far right. The only difference is that Sanders actually took the handoff this time.

Bell handled the snap cleanly this time and did such a good job of selling a keeper that he nearly got clotheslined by a defensive tackle that believed he still had the ball. Ben Roethlisberger faded backward, acting as though he expected to receive a lateral, which sucked in Kiko Alonso. Though Whimper got off his block on Mario Williams to watch the linebacker fly past him, Sanders was still able to beat the outside linebacker to the edge and race up the sideline for a 25-yard gain.

I don’t know what the future holds for the Wildcat look in this offense, or how long it will last. The Steelers have only run about eight or so snaps or so out of the package so far, and only in three different games, though that may partly be because Bell missed the first three games of the season.

As long as it maintains the potential to create an explosive play every now and then, as it did thanks to Sanders against the Bills, though, I suspect that we will continue to see it every now and then provided that Haley is still in town.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi
Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • SteelerFanInMD

    Sanders looked really fast getting out there and turning the corner!!!.

  • steeltown

    Plays like this one make you want to keep Sanders around for the foreseeable future, but the explosiveness and effectiveness of Sanders’ game is few and far between

  • SteelerFanInMD

    Agreed. The coaches need to find more ways to utilize his talents.

  • NW86

    Reminds you of a certain WR who is now in Miami, doesn’t it?

  • NW86

    I think it’s about time they actually throw some kind of pass out of the wildcat. The handoff to Sanders was a little different, and it worked. But now it’s time to make the defense respect the pass and think twice about bringing 8 men into the box whenever they see the wildcat.

  • 2443scott

    its better to put some thing in like that then run up gut with 8 guys waiting to stop the run ..since the zone running is just written on a scrap of paper left over from the preseason in trash can never to be seen again

  • SteelerFanInMD

    Their stats so far are remarkably similar.
    Sanders has 41 receptions, 507 yards, avg 12.4 yds, 2 TDs.
    Wallace has 40 receptions, 495 yards, avg 12.4 yds, 1 TD.
    I’m glad the Steelers didn’t pay $60M to keep Wallace. They are getting the same production this year from Sanders at a much better price.

  • treeher

    That’s about how fast he’ll be running away from the Steelers after the season ends.

  • HiVul

    I’d like to see them throw out of wildcat too, but the question is who would be throwing the ball?

  • Matthew Marczi

    Antonio Brown can throw it, or they can actually lateral it back to Roethlisberger, as they pretend to do on the second play (it’s easier to see from the All-22 camera though).

  • charles

    Not at all

  • charles

    Sanders is earning his keep. Haley in this wildcat seems to be trying to use his running talents. Sanders has been impressive AFTER catching the ball.

  • charles

    I suggested exactly this after first seeing the wildcat. Lateral to Ben who hits AB on a fly across the field. He would need enough time for AB to hit a spot before the safety can get there. Do it once successfully and you could take three of their defensive secondary out of the play. I believe though that teams are shadowing Ben with a safety. Its success would just be a matter of timing.