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Sunday Spotlight: Wildcat vs. Patriots, round 3

Doug Farrar
Shutdown Corner

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On September 21, 2008, the 0-2 Miami Dolphins rolled into Gillette Stadium to face the New England Patriots in what looked on the surface to be a one-sided beatdown. And it was just that -- but not in the way that anyone expected. Faced with the prospect of going against the Pats with a limited offense, the Dolphins unleashed a short series of option plays drawn up by quarterbacks coach David Lee which Lee had run during his days as Arkansas' offensive coordinator. The sweep, power, and counter option looks of the Wildcat formation caught the Pats completely off-guard. Running back Ronnie Brown(notes) scored four touchdowns on the ground, and passed for another score. The Dolphins squashed New England, 38-13, and the NFL was buzzing about direct snaps to running backs, unbalanced lines, and all sorts of offensive trickeration.

Miami rode the Wildcat and a surprising defense to an AFC East title, but the second go-round with the Pats wasn't as successful. The 'Cat was neutered in the follow-up, a 48-28 Pats win in late November. The Dolphins also had major trouble running their option looks in two losses to the Baltimore Ravens in 2008 -- one regular-season and one postseason -- and all the offseason talk was about how Miami would add an aerial component to the Wildcat and make it a more integral part of their offense. Drafting West Virginia quarterback Pat White(notes) in the second round was supposed to take care of that, but as White and another mobile quarterback by the name of Michael Vick(notes) have proven, running a Wildcat QB onto the field is the rough equivalent of holding up a big sign that says, "Hey! Look! We're running the Wildcat now! And it's probably going right up the middle!" The Dolphins seem to enjoy more playbook diversity when Brown takes the direct snaps and runs or passes depending on what he sees.

In recent weeks, defenses have loaded up to negate the Wildcat. Two weeks ago against the Saints and last week against the Jets, head honchos Gregg Williams and Rex Ryan (the defensive coordinator of the Ravens who blew the Wildcat up last year) blitzed cornerbacks off the sweep-side edge and sent a bunch of spies after Brown. The Dolphins are not making defenses pay for loading up like that, and they need to start now. For every new wrinkle head coach Tony Sparano slyly infers, Bill Belichick will counter with different defensive looks. And as skilled as Williams and Ryan are, there are few more devious defensive minds in the game than Belichick's. We'll see what pops when the Dolphins return to Gillette for the first time since the Wildcat's debut.

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