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61 posts from October 2010

October 01, 2010

Some 'interesting' thinking defends Wildcat attack

The Wildcat formation-slash-scheme has been very good to the Dolphins. It has been profitable in delivering victories (New England 2008), it has started a league-wide trend (over a dozen other teams now use it), and it has helped the Dolphins solve a multitude of issues (getting enough blockers to defeat 8 defenders in the box on running plays being among them).

But the Wildcat simply isn't having a good season so far. That cannot be disputed.

The Dolphins have run 16 direct snap Wildcat plays (15 runs and 1 pass) this season and gained 29 yards. That is a 1.8 yards per play average.

So it seems logical anything that isn't working -- be it for reasons of poor execution, poor timing of the play-call, or outstanding defensive play against it -- bears scrutiny. After all, if a certain pass play is failing to produce time and again, I would hope the Dolphins would break down that particular play and decide if it merits remaining in the game plan.

But the Dolphins, for obvious reasons, have an affinity to the Wildcat. And so they protect it like it was something personal between them and those questioning it.

"We haven't been very good with it this year," offensive coordinator Dan Henning said. "We haven't used it that much, but we haven't been very good with it. We studied it. We took it out. We looked at it. We compared it to other times. So we'll continue to try and keep on eye on it to overhaul it so to speak."

Despite this honest assessment of the Wildcat, Henning is among its staunchest defenders. He was asked this week to respond to detractors who believe taking Chad Henne out of the game to use Wildcat takes the quarterback out of his rhythm.

"Who are these detractors?" Henning boomed back. "That's the problem. We all say it's going to take away. It didn't take away when we went to the division championship and we used it and everyone thought, 'Oh, that's great.' It didn't take away from Chad Pennington. Guys come in and out of the game. The only ones that stay in are the offensive linemen and occassionally we change them, too. The rhythm of the game for any player right now is not as important to me as moving the football, getting first downs and scoring touchdowns. And they all know that.

"Here's the popular theory that I hear: The better the quarterback, the more you break his rhythm. But if he's not a good quarterback, you don't break his rhythm. So what's the difference? If you're moving the football with a direct snap operation, then nobody says anything. If you're starting to slow down, and not moving, now we're breaking the quarterback's rhythm. All I care about is moving the football. Their rhythm, that's something we haven't heard about since 1960 -- since the pill."

Ahem ... With all birth control pill references notwithstanding, allow me to interject here.

Detractors was a word used by the reporter asking the question. I don't believe there are haters out there ripping on the Wildcat for the sheer giggles of it. Be that as it may, to defend the Wildcat by saying it worked in 2008 when the Dolphins won a division has no merit. The Dolphins won that division with Justin Smiley starting at left guard and Samson Satele starting at center and with Ernest Wilford on the roster and with Ted Ginn Jr at wide receiver. But deeming those players to be lacking in some fashion or another, the team got rid of them. The team made an adjustment with the changing times. To say that Wildcat must continue because it worked in 2008 is, frankly, a poor argument for keeping it.

Another thing: Henning misstates the so-called popular theory on the Wildcat and quarterbacks. I've never heard anyone say Wildcat breaks the rhythm of a good quarterback but does not do so to a bad quarterback. I have heard and agree with the idea that if you have a good quarterback, you do not want to take him out of the game because, well, he's good.

Peyton Manning does not come out of games. Tom Brady does not come out of games. If you have a good quarterback, you keep him on the field as long as possible. If you have a bad QB, then it doesn't really matter if he comes out, especially if the running back getting the direct snap is a more explosive offensive player. That is the popular theory stated correctly.

And I promise you that if Chad Henne begins to put up numbers like Manning, the Wildcat will be buried without a memorial service. Simple as that.

Henning made the point that several teams -- including the New York Jets -- use a player in Wildcat that is a threat to run and pass. Ronnie Brown is not that big of a threat to pass.

Salguero logic: Why not employ Tyler Thigpen? He is a quarterback. He ran the spread option look in Kansas City and in college.

Henning retort: "Tyler is the third quarterback," he said. "We can't use him until the fourth quarter."

Salguero retort to the Henning retort: Why not make him the second quarterback?

Henning retort to Salguero retort: "We did that against Minnesota," he said.

Salguero retort to the Henning retort: So why not Tyler Thigpen?

Henning retort to the Salguero retort: "Why not?"

Bottom line: I believe the Dolphins have wanted to use Thigpen as a spread option QB for some time but haven't quite gotten to the right moment to spring that yet. I also believe that despite their vociferous defense of Wildcat, the package must produce and produce quickly to remain in the game plan.

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