Tim Tebow's Jets Wildcat: What exactly is the Wildcat?
Published: Tuesday, August 14, 2012, 1:54 PM Updated: Tuesday, August 14, 2012, 1:56 PM
Jimmy Kempski, NJ.com By Jimmy Kempski, NJ.com
In 2008, Tony Sparano's Dolphins started off the season 0-2, and were coming off a bad loss in Arizona to the Cardinals, in which they were outgained 445-236 in a 31-10 drubbing. Per Tim Layden of Sports Illustrated in his great book "Blood, Sweat and Chalk" (which details how the great all-time coaches built the NFL that we know today), frustrated with consecutive offensive showings through the first two weeks of the season, Dolphins QB coach David Lee pitched the idea of running a similar version of the University of Arkansas' Wild Hog formation to offensive coordinator Dan Henning. The following week, the Dolphins merely dipped their toe into the "Wildcat" waters. The Dolphins ran their brand new "Wildcat" offense just six times against the Patriots that day - and it went for TDs four of those six times.
After the game, Bill Belichick was asked about the formation that had just destroyed his defense that afternoon:
"We knew this stuff was out there. We knew somebody was going to try it. But you've got limited practice time, and you just can't waste any of it preparing for something that a team hasn't shown yet
The Wildcat is nothing new, and is a variation of the Single Wing, which has been around for more than 100 years. In the wake of its overwhelming success against the Patriots, Tony Sparano was the first NFL coach to fully commit to the Wildcat. The premise of it is fairly simple. It gives the offense an extra blocker on running plays. Belichick explained in Layden's book, "When you put a QB under center, you lose a blocker... you basically play with 10 men on offense. But when the QB is one of those runners... the defense runs out of people to defend you.
To the right is a diagram of the first Wildcat play the Dolphins ran that afternoon in New England. A few things to note:
- The offensive line is in an "unbalanced" alignment. This is typical in the Wildcat formation. Left tackle Jake Long moved from his spot on the left side of the line all the way over to the right side, next to RT Vernon Carey. They also lined up a TE behind the two side-by-side offensive tackles for added beef.
- Pre-snap, the flanker, a role played by Ricky Williams that season, went in motion.
- The QB was Ronnie Brown, who is typically a RB by trade.
- When the ball was snapped, Brown faked the handoff to Williams, who ran around the edge, taking the attention of defenders with him. Meanwhile, left guard Justin Smiley pulled across the formation into the hole between Long and Carey, and Brown walked in for the easy TD.
After the game, Rodney Harrison said (via ESPN's game recap), "I don't know why in the world we couldn't stop that play. They just came in and beat our butts." The reason was simple. The Dolphins won the numbers game, in terms of blockers vs. defenders.
The Wildcat was never a mystery to NFL coaches. It was simply something they didn't prepare for. The above example is a basic "meat and potatoes" type of play, but there are a whole slew of creative looks you can give from that formation. Opposing teams will have to prepare for it against the Jets this season, but of course, as our Jenny Vrentas reported, it is still a mystery how the Jets will deploy their version of the Wildcat.
One other interesting nugget from Layden's book, which was published before Tim Tebow entered the league, was Belichick's prophetic take on Tebow:
"There aren't many players that can run and throw. Tebow obviously, is a special one. But you've got major questions, because if you run him 15 times per game, how long will he last before they break him in half? But he is obviously special, and it's going to be very interesting to see what happens when he comes into this league. Do you run your regular offense and let him scramble when he scrambles? Do you put in a few plays just for him? Or do you really build an entire new offense around him?"
I think all of that could potentially be on the table with the Jets this season. We probably won't begin to find out until Week 1 against the Bills.