Monday, October 13, 2008

NFL Network - Anatomy of a Play: Single-Wing Wildcat formation

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Greg Cosell dissects Miami's Single-Wing"Wildcat" formation and why it worked against New England.
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Anatomy of a Play: 'Wildcat' beats Patriots
NFL Films

The Miami Dolphins dismantled the three-time Super Bowl champion New England Patriots last weekend. Miami's 461 yards was their highest total since Dan Marino put up 469 against the Colts in 1999, and was the most surrendered by the Patriots since the Bengals posted 478 in 2004.

The most creative scheme in Miami's arsenal was perhaps their new "Wildcat" formation, which produced four of the Dolphins' five touchdowns. It was a package that quarterbacks coach David Lee utilized last year when he was the offensive coordinator at Arkansas. It was designed to create space and angles, that is, more space for runners to run and better angles for blockers to block. Lee's formula: Space + angles = Touchdowns.

The personnel was something you might see on the goal line, with three backs and two tight ends, but the alignment was far from traditional.

Running back Ronnie Brown was in the shotgun at quarterback, while quarterback Chad Pennington and running backs Patrick Cobbs and Ricky Williams were aligned at wide receiver. The offensive line was unbalanced, with three 300 pounders to the right side. Left tackle Jake Long was one of them, aligned to the unbalanced or "heavy" side, as the third offensive lineman to the right. Tight end Anthony Fasano lined up on the left, next to guard Justin Smiley.

Surprisingly, New England's front seven didn't adjust to the unbalanced line. They remained in their base, 3-4 front with nose tackle Vince Wilfork aligned on center Samson Satele. By not respecting the extra beef on the right side and shifting their front in that direction, the Patriots were more susceptible to angle blocks in the running game.

Then Ricky Williams went in motion. And this wasn't the kind of motion you typically see in the NFL. This was what Urban Meyer does at Florida. This was an aggressive, attacking motion that accelerated toward Brown as the ball was snapped. The speed with which Williams moved immediately threatened the flank of New England's defense, widening their perimeter defenders and creating space.

The third element of the formula was misdirection. When the ball was snapped and Williams sprinted in front of Brown, the Patriots didn't know where the ball was. Brown could have handed it off to Williams, which he did twice for 30 yards. Brown could have kept it himself, which he did three times for 69 yards and three touchdowns. Or Brown could have thrown the ball, which he did once for a 19-yard score.

"Wildcat" summary: Six plays, 118 yards, four touchdowns.

After seeing the Patriots' vaunted defense struggle against the formation on Sunday, there's no telling how many teams will incorporate "Wildcat" into their offense. It's true that not every team has a player as dynamic as Ronnie Brown to run the show or a second back as explosive as Williams, but it's likely that many teams will dabble with the concept.

After all, the same principles that made it work for the Dolphins and make it work week after week for so many college teams, definitely apply in the NFL. Space, angles and misdirection are three fundamentals of football, through which every offense at every level of the game wants to gain an advantage.

Week 3 Anatomy of a Play Extra: Arkansas roots of Wildcat

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Week 3 Anatomy Extra: Ronnie Brown 62 yard TD

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Coach Sparano describes Brown's effort on his 62 yard touchdown.


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