Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Can Wildcat be tamed?

Seattle's defense has to contend with the Dolphins' version of the single-wing offense.

By Scott M. Johnson
Herald Writer

MIAMI -- The NFL's most successful brainstorm of the 2008 season came not from the mind of Belichick, Shanahan or Holmgren but from someone named David Lee.

The Miami Dolphins' quarterbacks coach certainly didn't create the single-wing offense, but he's nearly perfected it. Using an old-school formation that features running back Ronnie Brown lining up at quarterback, the Dolphins have baffled some of the game's best defenses -- even Bill Belichick's New England Patriots -- running the Wildcat formation.

"I think you have to prepare for it," Dolphins first-year head coach Tony Sparano said. "It's like anything else in our league: when all of a sudden you see something, you have to spend time on it.

"From our standpoint, it's a small part of what we do. It's not a large part of what we do, but it is something that we do."

Lee was on a University of Arkansas staff that used the system to feature star running back Darren McFadden last season. The Dolphins tinkered with it in summer minicamps, but only after getting off to an 0-2 start did they implement it in the game plan.

The result was a shocking, 38-13 win over the defending AFC champion Patriots.

"We thought we needed to maybe do something a little bit different, something our offense could just kind of put their arms around and get excited about, and that's what we did," Sparano said.

The Seahawks have spent the good part of the last week getting up to speed on the formation, which is used about as often as the drop kick throughout the rest of the NFL.

"If you're not expecting it, and you're not prepared for it, it can get you," Seahawks defensive coordinator John Marshall said. "It can get you out of whack, and it can get you back on your heels. And when you're back on your heels, you're not playing aggressively.

"And they run it very well. But I think if you're prepared for it, it's a matter of making your normal adjustments."

The defense that fared the best against Miami's single wing was the Ravens.

Baltimore's speedy defense held the Dolphins to four rushing yards and a procedure penalty on six plays run out of the formation on Oct. 19. The Ravens ended up winning that game 27-13.

Seattle middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu said that it was last week's game against Denver, not the Baltimore game, that gives the Seahawks hope. Running a system similar to that of Seattle, the undersized Broncos held Miami to 75 rushing yards in a 26-17 Dolphins win.

"It looked like Denver did the best," said Tatupu, who is part of an undersized Seattle defense that also relies on speed. "We run a similar defense, so we could probably attack it the same way they did."

Tatupu added that the key to stopping the single wing is to be aggressive, which is what the Ravens did.

"You've got to disrupt it," Tatupu said. "You can't sit back. ... But key guys have to be patient and stay home so they don't get trick plays on you."

Miami's version of the single-wing has helped resurrect a season that looked headed for the morgue once again. The Dolphins finished 1-15 last season yet have already won four of their first eight games in 2008.

"We expected to be better with all the hard work we had put in toward workouts," said linebacker Joey Porter, who last faced the Seahawks when he was playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XL. "We put in a lot of hard work since March. Guys have been here putting in a lot of hard work, and it is starting to pay off.

"We had high hopes from the beginning but our record was so bad last year nobody believed we could do what we have done."

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