Tags: Dolphins, NFL, Patriots, Ronnie Brown, Wildcat
I am sick and tired of hearing about the WILDCAT offense in the NFL. The idea of a direct snap offense has its roots in the beginnings of football when there was no forward pass. The quarterback as we know him today rarely handed the ball off, and instead merely ran right or left. Why people are flipping out because the Dolphins routed the Patriots once and still are talking about draft picks as possibly being able to run such an offense is beyond me. Today’s NFL requires passing. Very few running backs are great throwers, nor quarterbacks great runners. An example from the previous post, Michael Vick, is surely a formidable runner and athlete, but his ability to pass was unrefined. Players who relied on their legs more than their arms in college rarely succeed in the pro game. The collective speed is far greater than anything seen on a college field. The necessary accuracy for passing is also significantly higher.
Why does this mean the Wildcat doesn’t work? Bringing in a running back to take a snap for one play is intended to confuse a defense. It loses its efficacy as the defense becomes accustomed to seeing it and adjusts accordingly. This neccesitates the offense running a variety of plays out of the formation. This means that the running back will either be expected to pass downfield, or execute some kind of double pass with another player on the field. Multiple exchanges mean an increase in the likelihood of fumbles. For the way that most NFL coaches play the game as one of field position this is hardly the most desirable option for an offense. Trick plays will always have their place, but the options from a Wildcat are limited by the fact that it is still a conventional formation(in the sense that little changes in the alignment excepting for a different player taking the snap) and the element of surprise is predicated on a one-man play action.
Proper play-action execution is difficult even with hours and hours of practicing. The idea is to freeze defenses long enough to create an opportunity on a pass route that would be negated by superior speed, defensive alignment, or limitations of a quarterback. This is in addition to slowing the defensive line and buying the quarterback more time to complete a pass. Some NFL players are terrible at the fake. Awful. Now place someone in the backfield who more than likely averages less than one throw per NFL GAME, tell him to run the play-action by himself(convincingly) and then throw the ball downfield. The odds of a successful play given this litany of mitigating factors calls the principle into question.
Of course the counterpoint is that if the system is so flawed, why did it work against one of the greatest teams of the era? The New England Patriots are no longer collectively as fast as they once were. I will concede that they infuse new talent regularly, but the soul of defense was established veterans who, despite their savvy, are a step slower. This means that any play fake, no matter how anemic, is guaranteed to buy AT LEAST as much time as one against a team who reads the play correctly and reacts accordingly. Additionally, 5 plays from one offense NEVER win a football game. This is in much the same way that ONE play never does. There are, on average 60-70 plays per offense per game. This is not including special teams. On any one play touchdowns can be scored. Just because Ronnie Brown ran for a touchdown from the Wildcat doesn’t mean the task wasn’t also easily accomplished from another formation, much in the same way that one of his touchdown passes could have been thrown by someone else. The receiver could have dropped the ball, he could have missed the target, the defense could have made a play. The point is that in any one game it is IMPOSSIBLE to point to one thing being the difference. There is never just one thing. Winning a football game is not letting the little things add up to more points for the other team. It is NOT about one play or one formation. The Patriots, with one of the league’s most potent offenses, could have matched the scoring, the Dolphins could have fumbled before the endzone, etc. etc.
I could continue, but I feel as though it is berating the same point over and over again. You can disagree with me, but you’re wrong. The New England Patriots lost that game. The Wildcat did not win it, the Dolphins one it. Last time I checked the Wildcat was not a team. The Patriots would be excused for not being prepared on the first play, but everytime after that the play succeeded the credit was due not to the Wildcat, but to the Patriots defensive ineptitude. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.
I have considered several things over the past couple of days because of this recent buzz about Michael Vick returning to the NFL. The foremost consideration is that Vick has yet to be re-instated to the NFL! All the talking heads are speculating about which teams would take him, but he’s not even eligible to be added to a roster in ANY capacity. I think the whole situation is endemic of the NFL’s problem. Granted, the number of NFL teams calling me for personnel decisions is few(none), but it always amazes me that the NFL is a specimen first league, regardless of how every year draft pundits warn about drafting workout specialists and physical freaks. While the NFL is obviously the desired landing point for every 6’4” tall, 280 pound-weighing, 40″ vertical-jumping, 50 rep bench-pressing, 4.60 40 yard dash time-running specimen, when did the NFL stop being a landing point for football players. Doesn’t anyone see the unmeasurables? Those who don’t stack up well but win games?
I read an interesting speculation by SI’s Peter King about where Joe Montana would have been drafted today:
I’m not measuring arm strength, obviously. But I’m dead serious when I ask this question: If Joe Montana, who was a third-round pick 30 years ago, came out today, how many teams would declare him either undraftable or a free-agent only?
Granted players with these traits are in the NFL, but the circuitous route seems excessive. James Harrison’s path to the NFL is well-documented; it took him forever! How many quality years did he waste to get to the NFL? On the other hand the argument can be made that he would not be the player he was today if it were not for the fact he had to fight so hard to get there. In lieu of making a litany of examples I’ll merely say that for my money, there should be as much a place in the NFL for a Zach Thomas or a London Fletcher etc., etc., as there is for anyone else. It seems that the NFL is merely betting on the field. Draft enough freakish athletes and you’ll eventually find one who can play football. How about looking for football players first and seeing if they are athletic enough? And just playing football does not make you a football player!
Back to Vick. Why would any NFL team take a chance on someone who has just spent 19 months NOT being in the NFL? He’s not ready for game speed, not this season anyway. Then what? He’ll be 30 in two years! The speed that was his ONLY calling card will have left him. Then he has to rely on his arm which, while impressive, never completed passes at a rate that merits a permanent starting job in the NFL. People are saying that he should be used as a gimmick player, I have one question: Why? He’s a veteran and therefore commands a higher base salary. Wouldn’t it make more sense to find a young, hungry player on any practice squad and use him for trick plays or, GOD FORBID, in the dreaded WILDCAT(Obviously much more could be said about this, needless to say I think that the WILDCAT is an excuse for commentators to run their mouths and not actually a legitimate threat to the NFL establishment). MARK MY WORDS: Pat White will find time as a receiver and not a thrower. He won games at WVU not because of a superior arm, but because his quickness bought him time, yards, and hesitation in opposing defenses!!!! We’re talking about gambling on a quarterback past his prime, two years removed from the game with a history of behavioral problems. Money would be better spent elsewhere.