Dean Pees, in his words, had the dubious honor of being the first NFL defensive coordinator to watch an opponent prey on his defense with the wildcat offense. Early in the 2008 season, the Miami Dolphins stunned his New England Patriots by scoring four rushing touchdowns on direct snaps to running back Ronnie Brown, who also threw for a touchdown, in their wildcat formation during a 38-13 Dolphins win.
Five years later, the wildcat is not yet extinct. The read-option offense -- similar in theory but more effective due to a legitimate passing threat -- is the new craze, but some teams still sporadically use the wildcat for a handful of plays to breathe life into their offenses. The New York Jets are one of those teams.
Pees knows the Ravens could see it some point Sunday and he is making sure that nothing surprises them.
“I think the shock has worn off finally,” Pees said. “The wildcat isn’t dead. It’s just that the zone-read is kind of like the wildcat so the more you see all that stuff, the more you can defend it, the more it’s not a surprise. The first time we saw that thing up in New England, it was a surprise. And so I think the next time we played them, [two months] later, we beat them pretty good.”
The wildcat formation can still be effective because it theoretically gives the offense a numbers advantage up front if the defense is not prepared for it, which was the case in Week 7 when the Pittsburgh Steelers had success on a few plays with the wildcat, something the Ravens had never seen them use.
On Sunday, the Jets may at times use wide receiver Josh Cribbs as their wildcat quarterback. He will get a direct snap and could have a variety of options on any given play -- like handing the ball off to the back lined up in the backfield or a wide-out running in motion, keeping it and running it himself, or throwing a pass.
But while Cribbs was an effective dual-threat quarterback in college -- for Pees at Kent State, actually -- there is a reason he doesn’t play quarterback in the NFL. And without the consistent threat of a deep pass play and the element of surprise, the defenses can load up to stop the run and eliminate that numbers advantage.
Still, Pees said that teams can (and have) come up with clever schemes to stop the wildcat and read-option -- also known as the zone-read -- but if offenses have an elite athlete as the triggerman in those formations, he says they can still be viable running threats that bust through the defense to produce big gains.
“You can defend it, but it also depends on the guy who is running the trigger,” Pees said. “Because I ran that in college and Josh Cribbs was my quarterback and I told him, ‘Don’t read anything. That guy cannot tackle you. Just pull it.’ The better the athlete is at quarterback… You can run zone-read with Peyton Manning and I don’t think it’s going to look like how it does with [Jets quarterback] Geno Smith. It isn’t so much the zone-read. A lot of times it’s the guy that’s running it.”