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Talking Wildcat: Comparing the New York Jets and the Miami Dolphins

I'd like to piggyback off Matt's post from last night talking about how the Jets have been significantly more effective this year running the Wildcat than the Dolphins, who brought it into the mainstream two years ago. I have a few observations about differences I've noticed between the two.

Types of plays

Even though both teams sub their regular quarterback for better running options, the Jets and Dolphins do not do the same thing out of Wildcat looks. The Dolphins rely mainly on zone reads. This means the back takes the direct snap, reads the blocking in front of him, and makes a decision on whether to hand the ball off or run it inside. The Jets use Smith to run a more traditional option. On many of New York's plays, Smith sprints for the edge, using his natural athleticism to try and get the corner. He has a man outside running with him ready to take a pitch.

More after the jump.

Passing threat

Brad Smith is a very inaccurate thrower by NFL quarterback standards. With that said, his ability to throw at least keeps opposing defenses honest. He was a prolific college quarterback and is capable of hitting a deep pass if a guy is wide open like he did in the AFC Championship Game. Defenses have to at least think twice before moving their safeties all the way up and leaving corners exposed. The Dolphins really do not have much of a throwing threat. Ronnie Brown did not throw the ball on any level until his team started running the formation.

Part of the early success of the Wildcat was based on team's unfamiliarity with it. A lot of teams did not really know how to defend it. The formation gave the Dolphins a distinct advantage. Think about it. On a normal running play, the quarterback hands the ball to the back. When you eliminate the quarterback as the middle man, it gives an extra man to block. It's a numbers game.

Miami's Wildcat struggles began when they faced the Saints last year. Gregg Williams recognized this and called consistent run blitzes, sending his safeties and corners. He dared Ronnie Brown to throw it. It's a good gamble. He has only competed 4 of 11 passes in his career. Teams can roll the dice because Brown won't make them pay for their neglect in coverage. Sure, he'll hit a pass every now and then, but the odds are that he will miss if he tries.  It's worth the gamble. Putting Brown in an unfamiliar position, trying to find and open man and deliver an accurate pass, is how an offense gets into trouble.

Pat White was supposed to provide this threat to Miami, but it didn't work out.


Teams have copied what the Saints did and now know to sell out against the run against the Wildcat because Miami will not hurt them through the air. They eliminate the advantage the Dolphins gain adding the extra blocker by sending extra blitzers. Even so, a good offense can execute even when the defense knows exactly what is coming and plans for it. Think back to the Playoffs. The Bengals knew the Jets were running it on almost every play. They sold out on the run to the point where receivers were wide open on play action. The Jets still ran it for over 4 yards per carry.

Miami lost a pair of quality run blockers, interior linemen Jake Grove and Justin Smiley, over the offseason. Their run blocking has not been as effective as in 2008 and 2009. This has played a role in the demise of the Wildcat. The Jets have been excellent run blocking, and Smith is an experienced option quarterback from when he ran it at Missouri.

Football can be a complicated game, but things are sometimes as simple as execution.