Thursday Night Spotlight: Whither the Wildcat?

Doug Farrar
November 19, 2009

It's defined the Miami Dolphins since they unleashed it in Week 3 of their miracle 2008 season. It's started a run of read-option plays and direct snaps around the NFL ranging from extremely effective to completely embarrassing. And it's now an endangered species.

When Dolphins running back Ronnie Brown(notes) was put on injured reserve this week with a foot injury, the Wildcat formation went out the window to a degree. Brown has been the formation's pointman for the most part -- it's generally Brown who takes the direct shotgun snaps from center and either runs over right guard, hands to the sweeping Ricky Williams(notes), heads outside right himself, or runs a counter option that's occasionally good for a touchdown pass. With Brown out for the season and the Dolphins at 4-5 coming into tonight's game against the Carolina Panthers, it's tough to know how the team's offensive identity will change. Second-year quarterback Chad Henne(notes) isn't ready to lead the offense, Williams isn't as familiar with direct snaps or passes, and Miami's receiver corps lacks an elite target.

What may save the Dolphins in the short term is the ability of rookie quarterback/wild card Pat White(notes) to run more read-option plays as he did against the Patriots two weeks ago in a 27-17 loss. In that game, White ran left from a shotgun snap for 33 yards and pitched outside to Williams for a 15-yard touchdown. The Dolphins were having trouble getting White acclimated to the timing of the Wildcat formations, but the simpler read-option was completely in his wheelhouse. White ran six times for 45 yards in that game, compared to Brown's 48 yards on 15 carries. With Williams taking snaps, there isn't a sweep threat. If White takes the ball, there are more options available to the Dolphins as they try to fool the Panthers' defense. With fullback Lousaka Polite(notes) blocking as well as anyone playing his position, Miami may want to go with more two- or three-back sets, as they did with an option handoff from a "full house" (inverted wishbone) formation last Sunday against the Buccaneers.

There's still some mileage to be gained out of odd formations for the Dolphins, even with Ronnie Brown out of the picture. It's just a matter of doing what good coaching staffs have to do all the time -- adjust to current circumstances and make the best of what you've got.