NFL getting catty about Dolphins bringing fun, innovation to the sport

One of the Dolphins' four quarterbacks -- of sorts -- flings it past notorious Wildcat critic and league substance abuse policy violator Calvin Pace What is it they say, that you fear what you don’t understand? Well, it’s apparent that the entire NFL is terrified of the Dolphins’ Wildcat offense.

They just don’t get it. They don’t get why it works, they don’t get why the Dolphins are so insistent on using it, they don’t get why the media is so fascinated by it. And they absolutely don’t get why they simply can’t stop it.

But it’s not just the Wildcat they fear, it’s that they’re facing a threat to their comfortable status quo, that they might have to adjust their stodgy status quo.

The NFL is a strange, testosterone-driven league. It’s about more than just beating other teams, there’s all sorts of pride involved. Winning the battle of strategy is fine, so long as it’s within the constructs of the methodology everyone is used to.

So when players talk about the Wildcat offense being a gimmick, a fad, a waste of time – deep down they don’t really believe that, no matter how much bluster and hoopla they put out there about how you “have to have a quarterback.” Generally sensible ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski, despite seeing first-hand that it can work, is relentless in his criticism.Jaws usually knows what he's talking about, which makes his Wildcat comments so surprising

They’re terrified that some offense that NFL teams stopped using sometime around when they started using forward passes will run them over because all their old, crusty “football minds” haven’t figured out how to stop it yet.

Meanwhile, the Dolphins are benefiting from having enough of an open mind to really invest time in this offense. Make no mistake, they don’t just dabble in it. As was rehashed ad nauseum on the ESPN postgame shows after Miami’s big win over the Jets on Monday night, a lot of teams attempt some form of this offense, but the Dolphins are the only team that devotes any sort of real time to it. As they’ll tell you, it’s not just something they’re trying, it’s a fairly significant part of what they do.

When last year’s Dolphins unveiled the package after an 0-2 start and demolished the league-darling Patriots with it, it had become apparent that this was not merely something they’d toyed around with. Offensive coordinator Dan Henning and quarterbacks coach David Lee had obviously given a lot of thought and repetitions during the summer to making it truly viable.

And that’s why it’s successful. Anything in sports that you put real effort into will work, at least to some degree. So while some teams work on their base set until they pass out from boredom, the Dolphins have two tight ends and three running backs in there. They have four different players take snaps on their game-winning drive against the Jets.

They’re playing chess while everyone else is playing checkers.

Wildcat highlights set to dulcet tones of Jim Mandich

The Wildcat is tremendous to watch. The Dolphins have been boring for years – and that’s coming from a Dolphins fan! (My affiliation is not exactly a secret around these parts) After the splendor of the Marino years, they had ordinary quarterbacks and pounded Ricky Williams into the line until they pushed him to reefer – thanks, Dave Wannstedt. But even back in 2002, when Ricky led the world in rushing, they weren’t interesting. 

Now they are. And lo and behold, even Ricky, with all those miles on him, looks rejuvenated. And it’s no wonder: the Wildcat is fun! It’s fun to watch and it’s probably fun to play in. When you see Miami sending their QB off the field, your pulse quickens a little as you start to guess who could possibly get the ball. As soon as it’s hiked, you have one running back getting it, another going in motion, tight ends all over the place.

The part that makes it so difficult is the unbalanced offensive line. The Dolphins often – but not always – move both tackles to one side of the field, creating a difficult blocking scheme to figure out. And with the two tight ends and multiple backs, they simply have more people than the other team, but you can’t stack for the run since the pass is a possibility. And the Miami offensive line has been mauling confused defenses off the ball.

But what makes it truly work is running back and pseudo-quarterback Ronnie Brown, who has finally come into his own as a running back because of this scheme. Brown has never had much impact as a base-package RB, but in the Wildcat he is a force to be reckoned with. He’s decisive about hitting the proper hole and handles the ball well. For years, I wondered if Bill Belichick was simply wrong when he said Brown could be the second coming of Tomlinson, but now we’re beginning to see what he was talking about.

Tony Sparano's offense actually found a way to make Ted Ginn Jr. (left) look like a viable player The frustration other teams have while dealing with this is something to behold. When the single-wing begins to take chunks out of the field 6-10 yards at a time, it’s like a cascading rockslide that keeps building momentum.

But nothing lasts forever. At some point, teams will figure out a way to stop this strategy, or at least slow it down. There’s no unstoppable force in sports – well, at least team sports, Usain Bolt is a force of nature. (Let’s hope it’s nature) The Wildcat probably will settle in as a lesser version of the strategic off-speed pitch that it is right now.

But perhaps the greater contribution besides the specific offense is that maybe teams will finally be forced to start adjusting their thinking. Let’s face it, the NFL has been a boring show of bravado for too long. Teams need to learn that if they get too comfortable with one line of thinking, someone with more creativity will get the jump on you no matter how much you bench press or how much noise you make in interviews.

For far too long, the NFL has not been big on innovation or initiative. Maybe now, teams actually have to utilize some intelligent thought. And that can only be a good thing.


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