The Pittsburgh Steelers were pulling out all the stops on their way to a victory over the Baltimore Ravens last Sunday. This included running several plays out the Wildcat formation using rookie running back Le'Veon Bell as the quarterback of the play.
The Wildcat might be something of a novelty, however, it still works when executed properly. And as we saw from the Steelers, it opens up multiple options for offensive variation, and better than that, it gives an opposing defense one more thing to prepare for.
Let's take a closer look at why the Wildcat worked and extrapolate what they could do with it now.
Here we see the base formation the Steelers used to run the Wildcat on Sunday against the Ravens.
In this set, Bell is the quarterback in the shotgun, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger splits wide to the top of the screen. Beneath Roethlisberger is wide receiver Antonio Brown, and fullback Will Johnson is set up as the running back in this set.
The roles of Brown and Johnson in this are key from a strategic standpoint going forward.
With this, the Ravens are reading run all the way. They have 10 of 11 defenders within four yards of the line of scrimmage at the snap. It seems as if this play might be doomed from the start.
However, through the use of motion by Brown, everything changes. The threat of the jet sweep to Brown freezes two Ravens defenders and don't allow them to just crash down the line. Going forward, the sweep look could turn into a sweep if the defense starts ignoring the fake.
But the stars of this show are Johnson and guard David DeCastro. Johnson is the lead man through the hole and clears a path for Bell to run. DeCastro comes from his right guard spot, pulls across the formation and keeps linebacker Terrell Suggs occupied just long enough to keep Bell clean until he's out of the wash.
It is important just to understand just how key DeCastro's block was and how hard it is for a right guard to pull like that and wall off a player like Suggs. Without it, this play never happens.
Bell simply follows his blocker, and even with the Ravens reading run all the way, they weren't able to stop it.
The execution of the offensive line has been a point of contention for the Steelers all season long, but on Sunday and in the Wildcat, the Steelers line really did well. Below you see an excellent example of that.
This was a run play, later in the game, out of the Wildcat. This time, the Ravens didn't crowd the line of scrimmage like they did the first time around. They also didn't bite on the reverse action. This meant the Steelers had seven to block seven.
These are situations earlier in the season, where one or more of the Steelers' offensive linemen would miss on their assignment, leaving the back to contend with at least one unblocked man. Nonetheless, this was a thing of beauty. Everyone did their job, and Bell got to the second level.
Bell showed excellent patience on this play as he let his blockers set up, made one cut and was upfield. A perfect storm of a solid call and even better execution.
It will be interesting to see how the Steelers continue to evolve the Wildcat package. It was obvious that the opening is there for a zone-read play where Bell would give to the other back as opposed to the keep. There is also the option for the jet sweep to the receiver, especially against a crowded line of scrimmage.
They could even consider utilizing Bell's ability to throw the football, and get the football to tight end Heath Miller on a little pop pass. If you look back at the first two images, you see Miller on the right side of the formation, away from the play. I could certainly see that backside linebacker holding on the sweep and Miller getting behind him. If the opposing defense is just using one deep safety, Bell could just drop it in behind the linebacker for a nice gain.
However, the real impact of this formation could be in the time it takes for opposing defenses to prepare for it. Even if the Steelers choose not to run a single play out of the Wildcat against the Raiders, the Raiders will have had to take time this week in meetings and on the practice field preparing for it. This means less time can be spent preparing for the Steelers' base offense.