Dolphins Vs. Bills Preview: How to Stop the “Wildcat” Offense

Matt SchaeferCorrespondent IOctober 24, 2008

We have all seen it by now on replays (and finally, so have NFL coaches) and we are just in shock how a high school play works so well in the NFL.  I am of course talking about the Miami Dolphins “wildcat” offense that seemed unstoppable before the Baltimore Ravens took care of business last week and allowed only 71 yards on the ground in total. 


I will take an in-depth look at the “wildcat” formation on how it works and what you do to stop it.



First off let’s take a look at how the Dolphins have worked this play to success through the first few weeks of the season by looking at two examples.


Two Basic Plays that are run from the formation (diagrams to better understand what I am talking about). 

1.      Sweep:

2.      Power:

NOTE:  There are also some other variations on the play like a counter play (goes to the opposite side the motion guy goes) and a passing play that involves the normal QB throwing the ball or even a RB throw but these are the most common.   


Week 3: Dolphins vs. Patriots

Stats:  The Dolphins had Ronnie Brown line up in the QB position 6 plays in this game, 4 of those plays went for touchdown passes.

Play: Sweep


  • Formation Used:

The Dolphins came out in a very unique set that had 3 running backs, 2 tight ends and 1 quarterback in the formation.  Ronnie Brown lined up in the QB position, while the normal QB, Chad Pennington was split wide on the right side.  Miami’s other running back, Ricky Williams, lined up on the split end on the left. 


The Dolphins changed around some of their blockers though too.  They had a TE line up at the left tackle position, their normal LT Jake Long line up at tight end.  The point of this switch was to put some of the team’s better blockers on the play side of the field.  New England only had 4 defenders on play side that the Dolphins had to block with 6 players. 


Brown then put Williams in motion.  Williams, moving from left to right, is at full speed by the time Brown snapped the ball and handed it off to him. 


  • Why it Worked:

With the Patriots being so outnumbered on the play side, the Dolphins easily made their blocks and had a few extra players to spare.  QB Chad Pennington even made a block on the Pats CB (which should never happen at all, but more    into that later).  The defense got sucked in and forgot their assignments letting Brown and Williams run wild.  When they run the sweep play to Williams, he is moving at full speed while the defense is standing still.  That will also cause problems too, but if the defense kept in their assignments and contained the ball carrier, this wouldn’t have happened.   


Week 5: Dolphins vs. San Diego

Play: Power

:47 left in the 2nd Quarter, Miami currently leading 10-3

Stats: The play in this example went for a touchdown.


  • Formation Used:

The Dolphins put 4 guys to the right side of the field (play side), including 2 wide receivers (one being a QB), and 1 fullback.  Ricky Williams was again in motion from left to right.


  • Why it Worked:

Five players were on the line of scrimmage for San Diego and none of them read the play right.  The last player on the left side of the line of scrimmage (either a defensive end or line backer) gets sucked in on the play that makes the block by the fullback very easy.  The defense again forgets their assignments, and rushes completely at Brown.  Ricky Williams who faked the rush to the right side made the one block that was needed to spring Brown for the touchdown.   




  • What the Ravens did:

Instead of letting the play develop and then trying to make the play, last week the Ravens had a different approach.  They blitzed the inside linebacker through the A gap as soon as Ricky Williams started to go in motion across the field.  The blitz caused havoc and disrupted the ball because the pulling guards and other blockers couldn’t get to the right spot.  It also caused blockers to pick up the blister, letting the other line backers come up and make the play.  So instead of acting on what the Dolphins did, they took matter into their own hands and blew up the play before it started.


  • My Idea

Take a look at this link while you are reading the description as it makes my reasoning easier to understand:


My idea is very similar to what you learn in high school.  Play unselfish football, fill your gap and contain.  You don’t always have to make the big play to be recognized by your team and coaches.  My main idea to stop the play is that each defender has a job to do.


For starters the cornerback that is covering Pennington has to knock him to the ground.  You can’t let a QB block you at all.  Knock him down and stay on that side of the field to cover the flats and contain incase Brown tries to cut it back.  The other cornerback that is covering the wide receiver has to rush but to the outside.  If he can force the WR to block out, it will open the whole for other teammates to make the player.  Both CBs have contain on his play.


The defensive ends also contain.  This also reduces successful cutbacks.  The 3 middle lineman rush through their gaps, clogging up holes for Brown to get through on the “power” plays.


That leaves the two linebackers to read the play.  If a linebacker in the NFL can’t read and get to where a running back is going then he shouldn’t be one the field.  The two safeties also “read” the play but there job is to get back is to split the field deep between them.  Miami has run some passing plays out of the wildcat, and the safeties have to be there just in case.    



The Ravens showed it last week that is can indeed be stopped.  With big Marcus Stroud in the middle, Kyle Williams and capable defensive ends, the Bills should be able to disrupt this play.  They have very smart linebackers in Mitchell and Paul Poz and they should be able to sniff out this play.  With weeks to prepare for this, and plenty of time to watch film, it would surprise me if the Dolphins barely get anything on the ground running this play.


It can be stopped and if the Bills spend the week leading up to this game right, they should have watched what the Ravens did, have a few plays of their own and the Bills plan should be ready to go on Sunday.  The Wildcat formation came out so quickly this season and I have a feeling it might disappear just as quick.   


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