Walter Payton and the wildcat?

Of course, I’m pretty precise when it comes to referring to something as the wildcat, but these clips of Sweetness playing shotgun QB for the Bears are, well, sweet:

Dolphins Wildcat clips

I put this together for something I’m working on with Football Outsiders that is upcoming. The ‘Fins used a balanced, two tight-end set with their wildcat look. (And I think subbed in a runningback for the split receiver to the sweep side.) Note how on the jet sweep the fullback manages to crush the outside linebacker, Calvin Pace, thus springing Ricky Williams. On the second clip, the power play, watch how Jets linebacker Bart Scott is unblocked but nevertheless takes too wide of an angle, likely influenced by the jet sweep. The Dolphins get a great push, and Ronnie Brown is able to score. This clip is a nice follow-on to my recent NY Times blog post. For the game, the Dolphins used one form of the “wildcat” or another (I know the term is stupid) sixteen times for over seven yards per play.

How the wildcat really works, and how teams defend it

My analysis of this is available over at the New York Times’s Fifth Down Blog. Check it out there. Apologies for the fact that the diagrams got a bit jumbled and are in the wrong order. I’m hoping to get that fixed now.

Reverse quarterback pass from the wildcat

During this year’s preseason, the Miami Dolphins have continued to show wrinkles off their wildcat offense. Against the Dolphins they resuscitated a play they used last season: the quarterback pass off the wildcat look.

Speed sweep from the wildcat

Speed sweep from the wildcat

The base wildcat begins with (1) an “unbalanced line,” meaning that both tackles line up to one side of the field, (2) the runningback aligned as quarterback, with another runner split wide who goes in motion to either take a “jet sweep” handoff or to fake doing so, and (3) the quarterback splits wide. Now, the quarterback could just leave the game, but leaving him in fakes out the defense and its personnel substitution. If you always took the QB out, the D would put in extra run stuffers. This helps keep them honest.

The defense, unsurprisingly, will often adjust by attacking the line to stop the run plays. Now, the Wildcat’s first counters involve being able to hit either the jet sweep, a run off the tackle and up the gut, or a cutback/counter play to the weakside. Yet sometimes this alone isn’t enough. Enter the QB reverse pass:

For an excellent breakdown of this play, check out the NFL’s website here, complete with video. (Sorry, the video cannot be embedded.)

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NFL Coaches still fussing about the wildcat

ronniebrownJon Gruden will one day run the spread in the NFL. Either that, or┬áhe will die trying. People may not realize it, but Gruden coached the run and shoot under Walt Harris at Pacific, and gave some thought to committing to that offense full time. Instead he made a career choice to focus on the west coast offense. From that perspective (two NFL coaching gigs and a Super Bowl), it worked out. But he is not averse to being wide open, and he clearly is enamored with the wildcat and what the spread guys are doing in college. (Keep in mind that his brother Jay was an Arena league player and coach for a long time.) Gruden has spent the whole offseason focusing on the spread, including attending Urban Meyer’s coaching clinic at Florida this past spring (with Bill Belichick, who raved about Gruden’s clinic lecture). Anyway Gruden is back at it now that Vick has been signed:

Gruden is bullish on the limitless NFL possibilities of the spread offense and its baby brother, the Wildcat formation. It’s become all the rage in college football, and Gruden thinks the time is ripe to bring it in a big way to the pros. . . .

“I wanted to use it last year, but we had some injuries and shied away from it a little bit,” Gruden said. “But it’s been something I’ve been studying.

“When you pick up a college tape, 90 percent of those guys, you never see them under center. Ever. All you’re seeing is spread-read options. There are guys like Tim Tebow, who is going to be coming out next year, somebody is going to take him, and somebody is going to have a plan for him. Vince Young has struggled the last couple of years. But he was wicked in that Rose Bowl game against USC. He ran for 200 and threw for 200.

“Then there’s Vick. He’s certainly a candidate to run the spread. Everybody’s got a guy [who can run it]. Brad Smith with the Jets. Michael Robinson in San Francisco. Isaiah Stanback in Dallas. Everybody’s got a guy that can throw a little bit. I think there’s a wave coming.”

I’m inclined to agree.

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