September 23, 2008
The Miami Dolphins' new offensive package, nicknamed the "Wildcat,” is receiving rave reviews after it helped the team score four touchdowns in a stunning 38-13 defeat of New England on Sunday. However, Miami was not alone in utilizing the alignment – the direct, shotgun snap formation to the running back – in Week 3.
Both the Oakland Raiders and Buffalo Bills used it in their game, but the difference was that Miami's Ronnie Brown happened to score three of his four rushing touchdowns and threw for another score during the five instances in which the Dolphins used it with him.
"You've seen it used at various times for probably at least the past 12 to 15 years," Tennessee defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. "Pittsburgh used a version of it with Kordell Stewart, Dallas did it with Woody Dantzler a few times and other teams have tried it. Jacksonville did it with Matt Jones, who was a college quarterback."
But the reason it may have been so effective Sunday for the Dolphins is somewhat multilayered. First and foremost, Brown is a true running back, unlike many others who were primarily quarterbacks with running ability.
"You're talking about a guy who's a true runner, who reads like a back, is powerful and has speed," Schwartz said. "That helps a lot right off the bat."
Second, the Dolphins were able to use Brown in tandem with RB Ricky Williams, who lined up in the slot and went in motion on the play. In that way, the personnel grouping was similar to what Arkansas used last year when it had both Darren McFadden and Felix Jones – rookie running backs in the NFL this season.
The Dolphins have referred to the package as the "David Lee Special." Lee is the team's QB coach and was Arkansas' offensive coordinator in 2007.
After the game against Buffalo, McFadden explained the basic execution of the play. Oakland used the play once with McFadden lined up behind center. He handed the ball to fellow RB Michael Bush, who broke a 16-yard gain – Oakland's longest run of the game.
"You just read the defense on it," McFadden said. "If the defense crashes real hard with it initially, you (fake the handoff) and go the other way. If they don't, you just hand it off."
Schwartz says the key is having two talented running backs involved in the play because "now your defense is having to account for both guys."
"You know how when defenses play what we call an eight-man front, that basically covers every gap," Schwartz explained. "With this, you now have one gap uncovered and you have to cheat the free safety down to help or have both safeties sit back in a quarters coverage. Either way, it's putting the defense in more of a bind."
Against New England, the formation was particularly effective because the Patriots' front seven is very strong, it's just not that fast. The Patriots also are extremely disciplined about which gaps they cover.
"As weird as it is to say, the Patriots are the perfect team to run it against the first time," said an NFL assistant coach. "If you can get them spread out a little and mess up their gap responsibilities, you can gash them for some big plays. You saw that with Indianapolis last season when (Colts running back Joseph) Addai had the big game (26 carries for 112 yards rushing and five receptions for 114 yards receiving) against them.
"Now, they'll figure it and have some type of answer. The entire league will look it over and have a package ready to stop it. The Dolphins can still be good with it, but it's not going to be the kind of absurd results you saw on Sunday."
Furthermore, it's hard for any team to make the play a staple and use it excessively because eventually it hurts the passing game if a running back is taking the snap on every play.
And if teams try it with quarterbacks, well, say goodbye to the quarterback.
"You're just going to get the guy hit too many times. That's what we've always said and that's why you just don't see it at this level," Schwartz said.
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