Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Physicality Of The Miami Dolphins Wildcat

Many sports pundits have gotten it wrong about what makes the Miami Dolphins' Wildcat formation so effective. The reason, in my opinion, is because they listen to ex offensive players tell them how its all about the misdirection which "confuses" the defense. The problem is most ex offensive players including, and often times especially, quarterbacks have no clue about how defenses work and what makes defenses break down.

Now to be sure the Wildcat plays have an element of misdirection to them, but this isn't like an old school triple option or Wing T offense. For the most part on defense your keys will still take you to the ball regardless of the formation. The question then is when you are in position will you make the play?

You may have noticed that with all of the success the Dolphins have had over the last year or so with their Wildcat plays that many other teams, on the college and pro level, are copying them. You may have also noticed that none of these copy cats in the NFL are having nearly the success that the Dolphins are with their package. There is a reason for that and its obvious. Its not that the Dolphins are better at hiding where they are going with the ball. The difference is that the Dolphins have the perfect personnel for a Wildcat package and most other teams don't.

Last night was a great example about what I mean by perfect personnel. The Dolphins faced a Jets defense that had been playing lights out the first four weeks of the season. The Jets are big, fast and physical on defense and they will blitz from anywhere on the field. But the problem is that the the Dolphins not only make you have to be disciplined in your gaps when they run their Wildcat package, they also make you tackle a big strong back usually one on one, even when you are in good position.

The Jets' defense actually aided and abetted the Dolphins several times last night. On Miami's most successful plays out of Wildcat the Jets had players in pretty good position who either got out of their gap or simply did not make the tackle. And that goes back to the Dolphins having the perfect personnel. When you think about the Arkansas Razorbacks running the Wildcat defense a couple of years ago, what you remember is that they had two good running backs running that offense. Darren McFadden usually played Ronnie Brown's role and Felix Jones had the role Ricky Williams now occupies. Both of those guys were also strong physical backs who were also fast and elusive just like the Dolphins' tandem.

The Dolphins also have a very physical offensive line and their fullback will straight up knock your block off. Several times last night the Jets tried to fill their gap responsibilities and got rooted the hell out of there in an embarrassing fashion. Maybe most humiliating for the Jets' defense was the fact that in the second half they actually subbed out a cornerback for a defensive lineman or linebacker in anticipation of the Wildcat package and STILL got smashed up front.

Again this had nothing to do with not knowing where the ball was going and everything to do with losing their gap discipline. Sometimes they lost it because of trying to do somebody else's job, but many times the lost it because they just got pounded.

Now I for one am a big fan of the Wildcat offense so this isn't coming from a position of hating on it. I am just being real about why it is effective particularly when it comes to how Miami runs it. It not because its some kinda mysterious magical super secret package that makes steam come out of defenders' heads. No, its because the way they run it puts pressure on every guy on the defense to stay disciplined and make the play when its their turn to make it. Other teams that don't have two strong, fast running backs (see also the Eagles with Mike Vick) and a physical offensive line will never get the kind of production that Miami does because their personnel simply won't allow for it. And that almost in and of itself should be enough to show you that its not about the scheme confusing the defense but about the personnel in the scheme maximizing its potential. And honestly trying to make it seem like its all about confusing the defense disrespects how well the Dolphins are blocking people up front.

It is what it is.

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