The Pittsburgh Steelers have experimented just a little bit with the wildcat formation this year, running five plays out of that formation according to our offensive charting. However, two of those plays came last week against the New Orleans Saints, and despite limited success (on Sunday, two runs by running back Najee Harris gained three total yards), Harris said it’s something the Steelers are going to look to expand.
“I think it opens up a lot, gives them different looks. So we’re gonna expand it a little bit more, see what else what we can do with it,” Harris said via a tweet by Chris Adamski of TribLive.
This wouldn’t be the first time the Steelers have dabbled with the wildcat. In 2019, after Ben Roethlisberger was lost for the season with a wrist injury, the Steelers turned to the wildcat with a running back group that included Jaylen Samuels, James Conner and Benny Snell Jr. Samuels ran the wildcat during his days at N.C. State, and would primarily function as the “quarterback” in the formation when Pittsburgh opted to run it, which they did often during a 27-3 drubbing of the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 4 of that season.
When you have a passing game that isn’t getting much going, an offense has to be creative in ways they get yards. While the wildcat has had varying degrees of success for the Steelers, if they find a way to expand it and build off it, there’s a chance it could become something for them. Harris said in the same interview that he’s confident throwing the ball, and he has experience running the wildcat before. He threw a pass out of the wildcat in the Steelers’ Week 8 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, and when they ran the wildcat in 2019, the pop pass was an element that the team utilized.
It’s going to be interesting to see how the wildcat gets utilized. Against the Saints, both direct snaps to Harris were runs, and while the first one gained three yards, he was stuffed on his second attempt trying to run up the middle. I don’t expect the wildcat to be run more than once or twice per game, but if it does then the team has to be comfortable mixing and matching personnel to continue giving teams a different look. If Harris is comfortable, mixing in more pop passes or using receivers in motion to give it to them on a jet off a handoff in the wildcat are all options to keep the defense on their toes.
The wildcat is a little bit gimmicky, but sometimes an offense needs gimmicks and sometimes they can work. Kenny Pickett hasn’t shown yet he can lead this team with his arm, which means the run game is going to need to continue to play the way they did last Sunday, running for over 200 yards in a 20-10 win. You can’t realistically expect over 200 yards every week, but a consistent run game that can get you chunk yardage is something the Steelers are going to need in order to control the game and keep the pressure off Pickett. Maybe the wildcat is a way to get a few extra yards a game. I’m going to be interested to see how Matt Canada handles it going forward.