Sunday, October 12, 2008

Dolphins put quirky offensive plan to good use

Wildcat threat against Texans
Dolphins put quirky offensive plan to good use
By DALE ROBERTSON Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle
Oct. 10, 2008, 12:12AM

A year ago, the Miami Dolphins were Fish out of water in the NFL, and their prospects for improving on a 1-15 record seemed minuscule after an 0-2 start this season.

But a formation imported straight from the leather-helmet era — Pop Warner invented the single wing and Jim Thorpe made him look like a genius for it — has turned the Dolphins (2-2) into sharks, although, oddly, they chose to call their old-fangled offense the “wildcat.”

It seems quarterbacks coach David Lee used the set when he was the offensive coordinator at Arkansas, prompting new Dolphins coach Tony Sparano to jokingly refer to it as the “Wild Hog.”

In Miami strategy sessions, that morphed into wildcat, but, by any name, the formation is the talk of pro football.

Quarterback Chad Pennington moves into the slot, running back Ricky Williams becomes a flanker in motion, the offensive line goes unbalanced — left tackle Jake Long lines up outside right tackle Vernon Casey — and tailback Ronnie Brown takes a snap from the shotgun before running.

Those X’s add up to a lot of “oh-ohs” for the skittish Texans. Should they fail Sunday to rein in the wildcat any better than last season’s AFC Championship Game participants, New England and San Diego, did in the Dolphins’ last two games, they could be staring at 0-5 — and spiraling down Miami’s 2007 path.

“They’re causing a lot of problems because basically you’re preparing for two offensive football teams,” Texans coach Gary Kubiak said of the Dolphins. “It’s not only that they’re doing something different. They’re running their other offense pretty darn well, too. So, all of a sudden, your preparation is doubled.”

Patriots get first taste
Miami first sucker-punched Bill Belichick’s unsuspecting Patriots with the wildcat, generating four touchdowns in six plays and enough highlight film to last a season in a 38-13 romp. Brown scored four times and threw for a touchdown, the first time a back had posted that stat combination on an NFL field since Hall of Famer Paddy Driscoll in 1923.

Against San Diego, the element of surprise was lacking and Miami’s stats were more ordinary. Still, in 11 tries, the formation produced five first downs and a touchdown in a more methodical 17-10 victory, after which Sparano said, “It isn’t about 60-yard plays there. A 4-yard play in our league is an efficient play.”

“I’m lovin’ it,” said Brown, whose six touchdowns include a 62-yarder from the wildcat against New England.

Pennington does, too, although he admits, “It’s a little weird for me to be out in the slot. Mostly I just try to get out of the way. But it’s a great change of pace.”

The Dolphins expect the law of diminishing returns to kick in as defensive game plans conjured up to counter the wildcat evolve.

“It’s hard in this league,” Sparano said. “Defenses are too good to do (what the Dolphins are doing) week in and week out.”

Still, Kubiak said the complications could increase as Miami seeks ways to push the envelope. Texans free safety Will Demps said he’s wary of some kind of flea-flicker pass from Pennington.

“I’m sure we’re going to see something we haven’t seen the last couple weeks,” Kubiak said. “It looks like they’re growing with it, so we’re going to have to do a real good job of adjusting.”

When Sparano was a Dallas Cowboys assistant, he and Lee used to speak on the phone, joking about using the single wing in the NFL. Listening to Sparano, you sense he might have been skeptical about how it would fly in the pros, but he’s been won over.

“It helped us at a time when we thought we needed some help,” Sparano said, “and it worked out OK.”

The key isn’t the treachery or the wackiness. It’s the execution, Sparano said.

Execution remains key
Pennington agrees.

“Any time you put in an awkward formation or set you never know how it’s going to work,” he said. “Sometimes it just blows up in your face (and) you never run it again.

“But our guys have done an excellent job of communicating and making adjustments on the run.”

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