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News » Won't get fooled again

Won't get fooled again

Won't get fooled again
FOXBORO - Rex Ryan knows what the Patriots need to do Sunday afternoon in Miami. The Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator knows how to turn a wildcat into a scalded cat.

Two months ago the then 0-2 Dolphins came to Foxboro with an offense that was averaging 12 points a game, and left with a stunning 38-13 victory in which they unveiled a retrograde single wing offense they call the ``Wildcat''. They used it to torment and baffle the Patriots. That day was the first time Miami used its direct snap to running back Ronnie Brown offense that quarterbacks coach David Lee used to run at Arkansas with Darren McFadden and Felix Jones in the backfield. It slaughtered the Pats, producing 119 yards on six plays, four for touchdowns.

The Dolphins ran five times for 100 yards and three scores and Brown threw a pass for a fourth touchdown, thus beginning a fad that to date has produced 420 yards of offense and eight touchdowns in the 59 times Miami has run that formation.

Overall, the Wildcat is averaging 7.1 yards per play and 6.5 yards per rush in 55 carries. Two weeks ago against the Seahawks, Seattle seemed to have the Wildcat in check until Ricky Williams broke loose for a 51-yard touchdown run and Brown ran it in from 16 yards.

Yet as successful as the Dolphins have been, Ryan was the first to shut them down completely by changing Baltimore's standard 3-4 front in ways the Patriots did not to counteract the formation's strengths.

``You have to recognize when they play the tackle over (meaning shifting left tackle Jake Long to the right side),'' Ryan said from his office in Baltimore. ``Unless he declares himself, he's not eligible. It looked like what Miami did to New England was scheme them up. They understood that a lot of times 3-4 teams won't slide their front to the tackle over. With the Wildcat you have to do that.

``They didn't do a whole lot against us with it (five plays for four yards). When they came up with that personnel we went with an extra linebacker and reacted to the tackle over and put our players in position to make plays.''

What the Ravens did was shift nose tackle Haloti Ngata to the outside to set the edge and when Miami installed a third running back as a blocker, who normally would be matched up against a defensive back, Ryan shifted linebacker Bart Scott on him to defeat that block.

``Ngata had to win on the outside,'' Ryan said. ``Then the ball has to come back inside where you have more people. To hold up against that offense you have to win on the perimeter and force the ball inside where you have extra people, but you also have to do more than one thing. When they went to three running backs with the third one in the right slot he was normally blocking a defensive back and knocking him back 10 yards. We put Bart Scott out on him and we knew we'd win at that spot.

``I still think it's an effective offense but I'd be shocked if they (the Pats) aren't successful against it this time. They were the first ones to face it. Now they've seen it on film.''

Time to stop it

When the 49ers ran it against the Pats with Frank Gore he hit them for a 7-yard gain, Buffalo ran it twice for 5 yards a carry and the Jets ran it once with Brad Smith taking the direct snap, gashing the defense for a 17-yard gain.

That's only minimal evidence but it does beg the question - do these guys learn from their mistakes?

``I think they will,'' Ryan said. ``If they're embarrassed (as Vince Wilfork admitted his team was this week), they should be. It happens and things can snowball sometimes. It's really just single wing plays. It's an old concept but it becomes new again. Option Football works because of the mathematics of it. You send the quarterback out wide and it becomes 11 on 11. If you play with two high (deep) safeties they've got you outnumbered already.

``And that direct snap isn't just going to a quarterback, it's a real running back. They caught New England off guard. That won't happen again.''

Brown, who takes the direct snap in most cases for the Dolphins, agrees with that.

``There's not the element of surprise but there hasn't been an element of surprise with the Wildcat since we played the Patriots honestly,'' Brown said. ``You play another team a second time and there are very few secrets. It's going to come down to execution. Maybe who's a little bit more physical. Obviously for us to put it in and have the success we've had it's been a lot of fun. To see other teams around the league using variations of it has been an exciting part of it also.

``Going into the game I wasn't sure we were going to use it,'' noted Brown. ``We'd talked about it during the week but something like that had a lot of success at the college level and coming into the game when we first called the formation I was excited about it. Now it's more like, `Let's not mess it up and just keep giving ourselves opportunities to use it.'

``We try to give different teams a different look. In a few games teams have defended us well. The Ravens did a good job. Teams did a good job occasionally and they stop it but the key is for us to be able to mix it up, get the ball in different peoples hands, kind of keep people off balance. Attack them in different ways. Throw the Football here or give it to a different person and it's had some success. Hopefully we can keep moving it around and keep everybody off guard.''

FOX Sports analyst and former NFL offensive lineman Brian Baldinger will be breaking down Miami's Wildcat offense during their Sunday pregame show because he believes the outcome will revolve around who wins those half dozen or so plays.

``If the Patriots can't defend it they won't win the game and they won't win the AFC East,'' Baldinger said. ``If they can they win the game and they'll win the division. Understand, Miami has scored eight of its 24 touchdowns from the Wildcat. Of the 59 plays, 55 were runs and they're averaging 6.5 yards a rush. You do that 59 times in 10 games it's significant. It's not a gimmick.

``What happened in New England is the Patriots didn't attack it. They didn't penetrate. They were confused so they just stood there and caught blocks. They seemed dumbfounded. Nobody knew what the options were. To defend it you've got to be disciplined and you've got to have the athletes to match them because they come at you with Ricky Williams in motion you better be ready to move.

``I'd expect they play one safety back, eight in the box and emphasize staying disciplined. When they go unbalanced, New England needs to adjust to the guy over and move one gap over. They have to communicate. If Williams is in motion everyone from Wilfork on has to know that and react.''

High-speed reaction

Communication and reaction are as essential as recognition because with the ball going directly to Brown the defense is forced into an unusually high-speed situation.

``The athlete getting the ball is much faster moving than the quarterback when he gets it immediately into his hands,'' Baldinger points out. ``The speed of the play happens much faster and the defense has to react to that. The ball is immediately in the hands of a much better athlete and that gives them more options. Brown is also such a savvy runner. He's patient. He runs it almost like a draw. If you've got good vision and his kind of anticipation and speed he sees an opening and he hits it.

``To stop that you need your better athletes on the flanks to defend the perimeter and then the line has to hold up in the middle. In my opinion the whole league will be watching to see if there is a defensive wrinkle (Bill) Belichick can come up with to shut it down.''

Whatever it is, Ryan doesn't believe it will follow his lead and put (nose tackle) Wilfork out wider to set the edge because while he thinks he's athletic enough to do it he sees no reason for it.

``They got some real good defensive linemen,'' Ryan said. ``Richard Seymour can certainly do it. Ty Warren can do it.''

Regardless of who it is, someone better do it because if the Patriots again refuse to react to the Dolphins' use of the unbalanced line by shifting one gap over it won't just be Miami that beats them. It will be the mathematics that does it as well.

For an economics major like Bill Belichick that would seem an intolerable outcome.

- rborges@bostonherald.com

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: November 22, 2008

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