Team’s Fragile State, Need To Limit Rudolph’s Exposure Played Part In Steelers MNF Wildcat Usage

The Pittsburgh Steelers broke out the Wildcat offenses during their Monday night home game against the Cincinnati Bengals and those seven direct snaps to running back Jaylen Samuels went well and produced great results on five of them. On Tuesday, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin explained why the Wildcat was used.

“It leveled the playing field,” Tomlin said Tuesday. “It also limited Mason’s exposure, quite frankly, to the defense. You know, when you’ve got a young quarterback, sometimes you can assist them by turning a 70-play game into a 50-play game. And sometimes a bunch of exposure is not good exposure. So, I thought it was helpful to him to chew up some of those snaps, to limit some of his exposure to the defense while putting the ball in the hands of some capable men and being able to produce some plays. And it was good enough to kind of gain some traction and keep us on schedule and put us in some manageable third downs and things of that nature.”

While the Wildcat was used successfully Monday night by the Steelers offense, everyone knows it’s more gimmicky than anything and thus probably not a sustainable option to use on a week to week basis. On Tuesday, Tomlin was asked to comment on the sustainability of a Wildcat offense in addition to being asked to comment on the areas that second-year quarterback Mason Rudolph needs to improve in so that his exposure to defenses no longer needs to be limited.

“I just think continuity with the current pieces that we have are going to assist there,” Tomlin said regarding the line of questioning concerning Rudolph. “The fact that Nick is here another week, you know, that Zach Gentry has another game under his belt. That Diontae Johnson has another game under his belt. I think those are significant components in terms of aiding him in the ways that you suggest.”

Tomlin also spoke a little on the Wildcat offense and its gimmicky nature and probable lack of sustainability.

“I acknowledge that the Wildcat is somewhat gimmicky, but at the same time, you know, all of us in the National Football League are prepared for it week in and week out,” Tomlin said. “We just don’t get a lot of physical reps when we don’t anticipate it. So, from that standpoint, because it’s on video, I’d imagine that Baltimore is going to be prepared for it. But I imagine Baltimore’s going to have a certain level of preparedness for it because of the nature and the functions of their offense.”

Tomlin is correct in his assessment that the Steelers offense played Monday night severely handicapped as not only did the unit have Rudolph making just his second NFL start, staring tight end Vance McDonald missed the contest with a shoulder injury. Add on top of that that new tight end Nick Vannett just arrived last week and that rookies Diontae Johnson and Zach Gentry are still trying to find their footings in the offense and you can understand why Tomlin and offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner wanted to continue to take the air out of Rudolph’s football and limit his overall exposure to the Bengals defense by using the Wildcat and running quite a bit out of heavy personnel groupings.

“So, you know, we did what we had to do to win that game,” Tomlin said. “We’re given circumstances and the players available to us and we’ll shape a plan that puts us in position to win this one with the current mix of players and under the circumstances. And I acknowledge that it could be different. I acknowledge that it could be very different, quite frankly, than what you saw on Monday night. We’re just in a fragile state right now and we need to do whatever it is we need to do to move the ball and win football games.”

Was Tomlin involved this week in suggesting the offense run a lot of Wildcat?

“I’m involved in everything that we do,” Tomin said Tuesday. “I don’t run from that. I embrace that. I enjoy that. I enjoy providing that defensive perspective on some of our offensive discussions. The last time we brought Wildcat out probably to that degree we were on Monday night in San Diego a number of years ago and we were probably on our third or fourth quarterback and some other things like that.”

Tomlin admitted on Tuesday that while the Steelers offense isn’t likely to run a lot more Wildcat on a regular basis moving forward, perhaps it might reappear again this season. Maybe even some form or fashion of it Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens.

“So, you know, you can’t run it every week, to your point, but it was effective Monday night and we’ll see if we utilize it or utilize it in a different way this week,” Tomlin said. “I think that’s just the challenge of the National Football League, not only for us, but for all of us. What people are working on, what they’re ready to employ and detail and utilize against you changes week in and week out and that’s exciting.”

What will really be exciting is when Tomlin and Fichtner feel there’s no longer a need to limit the exposure of Rudolph to opposing defenses. They’ll need to start loosening the handcuffs on the young quarterback sooner rather than later and especially if there’s no new way devised to help limit his exposure to opposing defenses. Who knows, maybe Tomlin on Fichtner are hard at work right now getting the Veer offense ready to implemented Sunday against the Ravens.

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