Tim Benz: Wildcat worked, but let’s hope Steelers don’t have to use it again

Tim Benz: Wildcat worked, but let’s hope Steelers don’t have to use it again

During his weekly press conference, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was gruff, dismissive, generally terse and a bit on edge. Even more so than normal, I mean. It was almost as if his team had fallen to 0-4 against the Cincinnati Bengals as opposed to trouncing them, 27-3, the night before to salvage their season.…

During his weekly press conference, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was gruff, dismissive, generally terse and a bit on edge. Even more so than normal, I mean. It was almost as if his team had fallen to 0-4 against the Cincinnati Bengals as opposed to trouncing them, 27-3, the night before to salvage their season. You can’t blame Tomlin, though. He probably only got a few hours of sleep after the Monday night affair. He has one less day than normal to prepare for a huge game against the hated Baltimore Ravens. And he had to admit to all of us in the press, what he, no doubt, was internalizing all week. “Man, we are so desperate we had to resort to a tricked-up offense to beat the stinkin’ Bungles! What have we become?!” Well, Tomlin didn’t quite say that. But he came close. Tomlin assessed his team’s use of the wildcat offense — and similar unconventional, misdirection-based sets — as “somewhat gimmicky.” The direct snaps to running back Jaylen Samuels and James Conner sure seemed to keep the Bengals off balance. Plus, Tomlin admitted the coaching staff felt the need to dig deep into their bag of tricks to protect first-year starting quarterback Mason Rudolph. The franchise last used the wildcat extensively with Le’Veon Bell in a 2015 win at San Diego when Mike Vick was at quarterback. “It limited Mason’s exposure to the defense,” Tomlin said. “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 his exposure to the defense while putting the ball in the hands of some capable men and produce some plays.” In other words, they are still scared to death of having Roethlisberger’s replacement do too much. Or, should I say, do much at all. Not even against the lowly Cincinnati Bengals. Resorting to trickery is one thing. Feeling obligated to do so against a woeful opponent who is also 0-3 is something more. That had to hurt Tomlin’s ego. Truth be told, as limited as Rudolph may be at this stage of his development, the Steelers probably would’ve been superior enough to have won Monday night playing straight-up. The Steelers defense was so good (eight sacks, two forced turnovers, 175 yards against and three points allowed) — and the whole Cincinnati squad was so bad — that Rudolph should’ve been able to win a conventional game by at least a score of 6-3. Unfortunately, desperate times call for desperate measures. At 0-3, Tomlin wanted to make sure he put his club in the best position to win. Therefore, the decision was made to catch the Bengals off-guard, and it worked. The Steelers ran the Matt Canada-esque offense of pitches, dump offs, shovel passes, wildcat snaps and jet sweeps to perfection. Samuels and Conner totaled 208
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