Xs and Os: Looking at the Wildcat

As the 2009 NFL season kicks off, the Wildcat offense is all the rage. Offensive coordinators are looking for ways to expand it, and defensive coordinators are scrambling for ways to stop it.

Our New York Giants will have to deal with the perfect Wildcat quarterback, Michael Vick, at least twice this season.Whether you are concerned about that, or just an NFL Xs and Os junkie, you should find this interesting.

Offenses are now looking for mobile quarterbacks who make the pass a viable threat from the Wildcat.

"The Wildcat is real," said the Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator (Cam Cameron). "Everybody's doing it. And we've all done it in the backyard. The key is being able to execute."

A year after the Miami Dolphins jolted the NFL with their Wildcat offense, teams are preparing for the newest wrinkle destined to wake up defensive coordinators in the middle of the night in a cold sweat.

Wildcat 2.0 will branch out of its ground-heavy roots with athletic, mobile quarterbacks -- rather than running backs like Miami's Ronnie Brown -- taking direct snaps to present a viable run-pass option.

While exotic pressure packages served as Wildcat's kryptonite last season, a legitimate passing threat like the Eagles' Michael Vick or Dolphins' second-round draft pick Pat White will temper a defense's desire to blitz to prevent getting beat through the air.

Giants safeties coach David Merritt was asked about the Wildcat during training camp, and had this to say.

"Like all other offenses, eventually the defense is going to come up with a scheme," Merritt said. "There's a scheme that's going to eventually stop that offense and hopefully move it out of the league."

Charles Robinson of Yahoo! Sports recently compiled a fascinating, in-depth look at the problems the Wildcat causes and how defenses must adjust.

“That’s one of the frustrating things about dealing with [the Wildcat],” the head coach said, recalling the film session. “When guys talk about this being a game of inches – when it comes to that formation, that’s not [hyperbole]. You have to be on top of everything. The nose tackle doesn’t get a good one or two feet of push, and the next thing you know it snowballs into a long touchdown run.”

Never has that been more apparent than this offseason. Coaches in every NFL city have spent at least a fraction of their time preparing for some form of the Wildcat, whipping up their own recipe of basic fundamentals. Indeed, every franchise in the league has come up with some form of a base look to deal with the Wildcat or one of its rapidly growing offshoots.

“This is the balancing act between the offensive and defensive coordinators,” said Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith. “Now the defensive coordinators have an opportunity to evaluate [the Wildcat] and figure how to defend it. The thing is defendable, it’s just a matter of getting it done in a timely manner. It’s a constant dance.”

Robinson's piece is well worth the time to read it (what else have you got to do on a Friday afternoon, anyway?). Watching the cat-and-mouse between offenses and defenses caused by the Wildcat will be one of the fun things to watch in 2009, as well.

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