Where's the Wildcat?
By Patrik Nohe
Miami will still be looking for its first win this weekend against Buffalo, which isn’t how anyone hoped it would go. But as the team moves forward from a few tough losses and now attempts to regroup at quarterback after the injury to Chad Pennington, Miami needs to find some sense of direction offensively. But more than that Miami needs to cut the crap and put their best 60 minutes on the field. 1-3 would be a bad record, but 0-4 is dead in the water and South Florida’s collective attention turns to the start of the Heat’s season.
The Dolphins almost seem to be a tale of two teams. They have moments where they seem to bang on the door of football’s upper echelon and then follow them up with moments reminiscent of ‘07’s debacle. The defense is its own article, in and of itself, but the offense is also going to be in trouble in these coming weeks as Chad Henne attempts to assimilate himself into the NFL.
For all intensive purposes Henne is a rookie. He didn’t play last year save a few snaps and despite a year in the system he’ll still makes rookie mistakes because this is his first real playing time. I’m not knocking Henne, so keep reading, but just remember last year before the New England game our own Joey Porter offered the conventional wisdom on how to mess with a young quarterback, you have to throw the kitchen sink at him. Yesterday San Diego wasted no time in pinning their ears back at the sight of Henne. The line began to play poorly as they pressed and Henne had to scramble a number of times (which wasn’t bad considering he’s far more mobile than I gave him credit for).
Regardless of how you feel about Henne though, the Dolphins will clearly have to dial things back this week and game-plan to protect him a little bit more than they would normally with Pennington. He’s inexperienced, it’s not his fault, but he’s yet to see a lot of the exotic NFL coverages and blitz packages that experienced D-Coordinators will throw at him. It’s only natural to want to put Henne in a situation where he can do the things he does best and protect the ball.
This is where I think Miami needs to be more creative than conservative these upcoming weeks though. So far in Miami what has Henne done well? He’s done a great job of standing on the sideline and I think that’s where Miami’s gameplan needs to start.
In the last two weeks the Wildcat has been Miami’s best formation. It averaged a little over 9 yards a play against Indy and was very successful in the first half against the Chargers before Miami inexplicably went away from it. I realize around the league a lot of people consider it a fad. And frankly unless you’d actually watched Miami their record almost confirms that. But the Dolphins run that formation extremely well.
Considering the number of wrinkles supposedly in the Wildcat along with having two very good running backs that can both be on the field at once, it seems like Miami would want to incorporate the formation into the offense more. The team already has that entire side of the ball simplified to just their “wildcat offense” anyway, why not embrace it?
Also consider the fact the Bills just held Drew Brees to 172 yards passing (but gave up over 200 on the ground) and that the Jets defense is mean. Tom Brady didn’t have much fun tossing against them last week. Kerry Collins didn’t enjoy it this week. They’ve got 25 years of experience playing quarterback between them…
Now before anyone jumps all over me for being a Henne-hater, I’m not. I just don’t think these are ideal circumstances for him to come get his first starts in, but I’d be a bad Dolphins fan if I wasn’t hoping he’s the next great one.
The problem is all of his weapons are at running back. So even if Henne is the real deal, in the next two weeks he’ll be against two very good secondaries and he has two serviceable possession guys to throw to, that’s it. Seemingly Anthony Fasano has disappeared this season, I for one miss David Martin (never thought I’d say that), Ted Ginn isn’t blossoming as the Parcells regime had hoped (and that sandbagging SOB Cameron promised). So who is Chad Henne supposed to throw to besides Devone Bess and Greg Camarillo (maybe Brian Hartline)?
You understand then why my point isn’t any indictment on Chad Henne’s abilities, just on the offensive roster at receiver. If all your playmakers are at tailback and you spent all your money to build a great line, then it seems like incorporating more Wildcat is the right move, especially in light of the success its had the last two games when Miami actually committed to it.
The Wildcat may as well be called NFL-style option because it relies on a defensive read from the ball carrier at the point of attack. Fortunately for us, Ronnie Brown is actually remarkably talented at reading an NFL defense. In fact, Ronnie Brown has more gametime experience reading NFL defenses than anyone on the roster outside of CP10. Think about it, Ronnie Brown is technically the second most experienced QB on the roster…
He’s also a beast. This year may be the first time we’ve had the opportunity to see a healthy Ronnie Brown and it’s impressive. Even in defeat you can look at Brown’s touches and realize he’s going to make Miami put up good money to keep him after this season. Yesterday on the first drive against San Diego Ronnie Brown ran the wildcat literally about as well as I’ve ever seen it done. I don’t know why the ‘Fins shyed away from it at the goal line (when a botched handoff too Ronnie Brown led to a fumble) but if I was calling plays I may not go with anything but the Wildcat anymore inside the red zone.
Brown can dive up the middle, go off-tackle, yesterday for one of the first times I can remember he went weakside off the fake handoff. There are enough (for lack of a better word) options to keep defenses on their heels for most of a game. The formation can be stopped, yes, but so can every NFL offense. How many traditional formations do you see go three and out every week? The Wildcat puts Miami’s best personnel on the field and creates matchups where players can go one on one or get space to run in. It’s ideal, especially for a team with poor receivers and a young quarterback whose spent less time taking snaps from center in his whole career than your starting tailback. Chad Henne will grow up quickly these next few weeks. But Miami can take off a lot of pressure by using the wildcat more in their offense.