Wildcat Formation Catching on in the NFL?

James ReesAnalyst INovember 19, 2008

Think back for a second:  It's roughly Week seven or eight of the NFL season and you're kicked back in the recliner on a Sunday afternoon watching your favorite team.

For the sake of argument, let's say you're a die-hard Arizona Cardinals fan and you're pumped because the team is having a great year and you might actually get to witness a home playoff game for the first time since dinosaurs walked the Earth.

So, the Cardinals have the ball on their own 40-yard line and they're driving. It's the second quarter and they've got a 10-point lead.

They break the huddle and Kurt Warner heads toward his normal spot in the shotgun position.  But then, before the ball is even hiked, Warner turns to the sideline and starts to run. You watch in bewilderment, as your potential MVP candidate ambles over to the flat and stops, assuming a wide receiver's stance.

Then, the ball is hiked to Anquan Boldin who you didn't even know was lined up at quarterback because you were too busy staring at Warner and wondering if it's humanly possible for a man to look more awkward than Warner looks in a receiver's stance.

The next thing you know, Boldin has rushed for seven yards and Warner is back in the huddle calling the next play. What the heck just happened?

Ladies and gentleman, allow me to introduce you to the wildcat formation.

College football fans are very familiar with it, as it's been adopted full-force by dozens of college teams. But, until this season, it hadn't made it to the NFL. Now it's here and it seems like almost everyone is using it.

It all started in week three with Miami, who needed a reversal of fortune after a 0-2 start, said "what the hell'" and whipped it out against the Patriots. New England was completely caught off-guard and the Dolphins blew them out 38-13. That's all it took.

The wildcat formation caught on and spread. If you don't think the NFL is a copycat league, think again. The week after Miami's big win, every team started thinking hard about who they could put in the shotgun to take a direct snap.

It's really not that tough of a decision, either. All you need is an athletic wide receiver or shifty running back. If you've got one of those, put him five yards behind the center and snap him the ball. If you've got a decent offensive line, you'll probably get at least four or five yards on every play. It's pretty simple.

What's really smart though is what Miami has done with it. They're putting both Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown in the backfield and making the defense choose. One of them is going to get the ball, but the defense doesn't know whom.

There are drawbacks to the wildcat, though. For one, it can't be run on every down unless you've got a running back/wide receiver who can throw the ball. It's also pretty easy to defend when you know it's coming. If defenders play their gaps soundly, there shouldn't be many big plays.    

So, basically it's a gimmick formation that works five to six times a game if you're lucky. But, there's something to be said for a gimmicky college formation making it to the pros. Who knows, perhaps next week we'll see Kurt Warner running the option.