Explaining the Wildcat

The Wildcat has left more than just NFL defenders confused and frustrated. In fact, just about everyone I talk to seems to have their own concept about the Wildcat. With that said, I want to help explain the Wildcat offense in its simplest form.

First of all, the Wildcat is an offensive system, not a formation. Much in the same way that the West Coast offense is not a formation — it’s a concept or system — the same is true of the Wildcat.

Remember the Run-n-Shoot? It was an offensive concept which helped wide receivers get open, but failed to protect the quarterback because it used several different formations that didn’t employ a tight end and only used five down linemen in its protection scheme. In the same vein, defensively, the zone blitz is a concept and not a formation.

I called the game last season in which the Dolphins unveiled the Wildcat against the Patriots in Foxborough, Mass. It reminded me then of what David Lee had done at Arkansas before he brought it to the NFL, so I included this video that details that history.

So now that it’s established the Wildcat is not a formation that can be revealed on a pre-snap read, let me tell you what it is — which is a system or concept that gives you a run/pass option to either keep it, pitch it or pass it. In fact, the terms “Wildcat” and “Spread Option” are interchangeable. That’s right, both terms describe the same offense. Some teams who use the Spread Option may also use the term “Pistol” to describe the offense while others may use Wildcat.

The key component to the Wildcat or Spread Option is a read-option play that can come out of several different formations and alignments. However, all Wildcat plays have at its core the following elements:

  • A direct snap out of a shotgun formation.
  • A key read of the defensive end on the ball side to determine what to do with the ball.
  • Multiple plays can come off this read action: a sweep, a pass off sweep action, a dive play up the middle, a reverse, and a reverse pass.

Off a direct snap to a versatile, skilled player the plays out of the Spread Option are endless. Remember, the option to keep it, pitch it or pass it is the primary objective of teams who use the Spread Option concept.

On that note, although this video is somewhat dated, Steve Sabol of NFL Films explains some of these concepts of the Wildcat as well as some of the elements of its history.

As Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid explains, “Its now time to turn the tables on defenses by making them play you, and you not play them.” Reid believes that over the past few years, exotic defenses have become more offensive in nature as they dictate to the offense.

In Week 2, Jets coach Rex Ryan often used two down linemen and nine defenders off the ball in coverage to confuse and befuddle Patriots QB Tom Brady. Whether it’s Tony Dungy‘s Tampa 2 scheme or Dick LeBeau‘s zone blitz, offenses have fallen behind the innovative creativity used by defensive coordinators like the late Jim Johnson of the Eagles.

The Wildcat or Spread Option has become offensive coordinators’ answer to the zone blitz.

Now, defensive coordinators will have to spend more practice time trying to figure out today’s offensive version of the Rubik’s Cube. For teams who have multiple skilled players who possess above average speed, it helps coordinators get the ball in their hands outside of a traditional offense to which they are already familiar.

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