The NFL is known as a copycat league for coaches taking what works for other teams and implementing it into their own gameplans for the following week. Last season the Miami Dolphins set up in the Wildcat formation against the New England Patriots and ran all over the Pats defense. The Wildcat was adopted from the Arkansas Razorbacks with Darren McFadden and adopted by Bill Parcells' Dolphins to storm the NFL. The Wildcat is a complex double wing formation that has stages and options at every step in the play. Is this Wildcat going to be the new fad in the NFL or will it be shut down once the copycats of the league gameplan against? The Baltimore Ravens stopped the Wildcat in 2008, allowing Ronnie Brown under 50 rushing yards in the infamous formation.
What is the Wildcat?
To set up in the Wildcat the offensive line comes out unbalanced, meaning the weak side tackle and tight end swap places on the line. (The line from strong to weak would be T,T,G,C,G,TE). The receivers line up in what is called Deuces (Twins to the weak side and a single flanker on the unbalanced side). The split end on the Twins side is normally where the Quarterback will line up and the inside receiver is where your running back or speed player will line up. There is an upback or H-back lined up behind the original tackle position on the unbalanced side. A running back or speed player will then line up behind center in a shot gun formation. “We just scratched the surface of what we were trying to do. This is not something that just came up and we scribbled on the board a couple days ago”says Miami Dolphins Head Coach, Tony Sparano.” The purpose of the Wildcat formation is to confuse the defense and allow yourself multiple options of what to do once the ball has been snapped. The Miami Dolphins used the Wildcat formation to perfection against the New England Patriots last season as well as some other teams who spent all week practicing against it and still couldnt stop them. The other reason the Wildcat worked so well for Miami is that it wasn’t their base offense. The Dolphins still came out and ran regular sets of their offense making it that much harder for opposing defenses to be able to stop them and have the right personnel in the game when they came out in the double wing formation.
What Can the Wildcat Do?
The Wildcat formation allows options and gimmick plays for the offense. With a running back taking the snap, he can immediately take a hole and run for a big gain with all the motion confusing the linebackers. The inside receiver on the twins side will motion toward the quarterback before the snap every play. This creates an option read for the player at quarterback. By reading the defensive end, the quarterback can either hand the ball to the motioning back or take it himself based on the ends line of attack. With the lone split end on the unbalanced side, this also sets up a reverse play after running the read multiple times. The player at quarterback also has an opportunity to run regular passing plays out of the Wildcat formation with normal protection from the offensive line and the H-back. Don’t forget that the reverse will also set up the reverse pass later on in the game. With the teams original quarterback lined up split out to the twins side, this also sets up the ability to run a wide receiver screen pass. The Dolphins can throw a screen to Pennington who can catch the ball behind the line of scrimmage and then have him throw a deep ball to the opposite side split end all the way down the field.
The Wildcat allows a team to line up in one base offensive formation and run several different plays based on reads and tendencies. The defensive coordinators in the NFL will be spending much of their time in the pre-season and practice week defending the Wildcat with the influx of teams adding this to their arsenal of offensive weaponry. “We decided we were going to stop the run first. We weren't going to let McFadden beat us. We stressed accountability to the highest level. No matter how tempting it is to deviate from your responsibility to go to another guy, you can't leave your man” said Mario Cristobal, Florida International Head Coach. The Wildcat also allows a team to display all of their speed and athleticism on the field at once. With the addition of Pat White from West Virginia, the Dolphins have added to their Wildcat by drafting a run first quarterback who can absolutely make an immediate impact at the NFL level by stepping into the Wildcat for Miami.
Is the Wildcat Here to Stay?
“There's a way to stop everything. It'll be a trend for a while. The NFL is so fast, they'll find a way to defend it” said Channing Crowder, Miami Dolphins Linebacker. With the NFL being such a copycat league, I can see plenty of teams coming out in the Wildcat formation looking for success this season. It isn’t a formation that any team can run because they may not have the personnel needed to pull of all of the plays that the Wildcat has to offer. The Wildcat is going to be a huge hit in this upcoming season, but defensive coordinators are also going to study the film of what the Baltimore Ravens did to stop Miami last season and they will use that defensive front against it. On both sides of the ball, the Wildcat is all about assignments and responsibilities. If one player makes a mistake, it’s going to be a big play for the offense. I’m excited to see the Wildcat in the 2009-2010 season, but not if every single team is trying to run out of it when their offense isn’t built for it. As long as it doesn’t lead to offensive disaster for NFL games, the Wildcat is going to be widely seen in the NFL for at least a season or two.
This post was originally my first guest post on Chuck Hanf's blog, Two Cents From Beantown. I'd like to thank Chuck for giving me the option to re-post it here for you (as well as congratulate him on the recent birth of his daughter, Courtney Elizabeth). Plus, I always love going back and seeing what I've written in the past to compare it to the present.
Thanks to Zruda for the picture of the Miami Dolphins Wildcat Offense.