The Patriots aren't the only NFL team to introduce offensive college concepts to the game.
Remember in 2008 when the Dolphins put a beating of epic porportions on the Pats, unveiling 'The Wildcat'. As fans, we couldn't help but wonder what had just hit the Patriots. Irony is, as much as we talk about offensive innovation, that day we got the first taste of an offense that would eventually win the AFC East and influence a trend, teams copied quickly.
However, by 2010 the 'Wildcat' seemed to run it's course as the Dolphins went with a more convention offense run by Chad Henne. Continuing the irony is that the 'Wildcat' is a formation used in many spread offenses in college. New England took the passing portion, and the Dolphins took the running half. Unlike the Patriots where the offense has sustained its success, the 'Wildcat' has spun out.
The New York Jets played around with it, but with Brad Smith gone, they have no use for it. Buffalo used it on occasion with Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller, both true halfbacks, not gimmick runners. So we ask the question; Is the wildcat dead?
Our first point is that the wildcat is slowly dying because of the limited options it really has. The wildcat never was a feature offense and there's a reason the Dolphins won the division in 2008 and missed the playoffs in 2009. The surprise element in which teams had little time and film to prepare for itwas the key.
In 2008 ,Baltimore's then defensive cooridinator Rex Ryan drew up the blueprint to how to stop it. Ryan is the type of DC that won't retreat and he didn't try to out scheme the Dolphins, he just had his defense find the ball and shoot straight and not get caught up in angles and fakes. In the Dolphins first meeting with the Patriotsin '08, the players were confused from the mutlipe facets thrown at them. The surprise element doesn't work against a great DC if they have tape to prepare for it. As demonstrated in the return matc,h Belichick dismantled the Dolphins and shut down their wildcat.
So lets take a look at the wildcat as if we've seen the last of it.
First is the formation of players. The QB spreads wide on the left side as the TE on the end. However, The TE is the left tackle on this play, as the LT is lined up outside of the guard on the right side and no TE on the left. The RB goes in motion and leaves the slot receiver spot. The WR covers the line on the reverse side while the TE lines up off the LOS behind the two tackle formation on the right. The HB takes the ball and runs up behind the LG and LT. The TE runs to the outside in front of FB on the lead, with the guard pulling from the left side to lead block for the HB.
The WR runs up-field to block and the QB blocks the corner, sealing the edge and preventing him from gaining the angle to tackle the HB downfield. The FB blocks on the OLB downfield after running his route to the outside as a decoy. The FB pulls the corner and safety that are out in front of the WR to the outside with him, leaving a gaping hole off the line for the HB.
The option of a running quarterback creates the first thing a defense has to focus on. Is the QB running or passing? The offense has one additional gap to attack the defense or the defense has one more gap to cover. A quarterback handing off to a running back with as many blockers the play calls for, it could be seven blockers or even eight in front of him, TE, 6 offensive linemen, WR, and a RB.
Defensively, an eight man front accounts for every gap and still has defenders outside the hashmarks. It becomes a simple principle as the defense will play a zone and matchup man to man and 'win the individual matchups'.
And when it's not a surpise, it's a rather basic play. We think you see less of it in the NFL.