Saturday, November 15, 2008

Reader Mailbag: Miami vs. the Wildcat

With the Dolphins set to play the Raiders tomorrow, I'd like to field an interesting question I was emailed:
How well do you think the Dolphins defense will do when they face a team that will use the "wildcat"? Say either New England or the Raiders.
Good question.

Ever since Miami obliterated New England in week 3 with the Wildcat formation, up to half the teams in the league have experimented with their own version of it. I believe Oakland may have even used it as early as week one. The Raiders certainly weren't copycatting the Dolphins when they used the Wildcat. It was simply a matter of having and utilizing the key cog (Darren McFadden) who ran it so well at Arkansas.

So if any team other than Miami knows how to run this offense well, it's Oakland. Of course, McFadden has been hampered by injured toes for much of this season, so the Wildcat has yet to take off for them. But all reports are that McFadden will play tomorrow.

So what are Miami's chances of stopping this formation?

Well, I think the most important factor will be their familiarity with it. This defense sees the Wildcat, in all its variations, every day at practice. They should know how to react to it without being caught off guard. That being said, even knowing all of the options beforehand still does not guarantee that the defenders will know which exact one to defend.

The major key will be to maintain gap integrity, to ensure that the running backs do not have any cutback lanes.

The Ravens completely shut down Miami's use of the Wildcat by subbing out safety Ed Reed and putting in an extra linebacker on some downs. This will be an option for Miami, but I don't think they necessarily have the personnel to do it with the same effectiveness. Another option will be to run blitz the formation heavily. This way, even in the event of a pass, the running back will be forced to make a throw under pressure - something most running backs will really struggle with.

Make no mistake, defending against the Wildcat from other teams will surely be a challenge, but I have to believe that Miami has a slight advantage having seen it every day in practice.

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