Wild about the Wildcat

Way back when I covered Penn State football, every time a reporter would ask Joe Paterno about this new-fangled spread offense, JoePa would dismiss the questioner with a wave of the hand and a, "Ahhhhhh, we ran the same thing back when I was the quarterback at Brooklyn Prep."

Joe would then get that Italian smirk of his.

"We never huddled, I played quarterback in the shotgun and we spread out all over the place," Paterno said. "The people we played were too dumb to know that I couldn't throw the ball."

I think of Joe's comments whenever someone in the NFL talks about the Wildcat. It's not like it rivals the invention of the forward pass. In some shape or form the Wildcat has been around since the near dawn of football. Basically, the formation involves a direct snap to a running back or wide receiver with an unbalanced offensive line. It's basically the "Single wing" [fix] that countless high schools have used over decades.

There's a reason why the high schoolers use it. While the premise is rather simple, if it's done correctly it works. And if you have superior athletes on your side, it will almost always work. And in high school and in college the disparity in talent between many teams is great. In the NFL, not so much. It's why many pro coaches dismiss the Wildcat.

While it may be a fad and may go the way of the run-and-shoot, that doesn't mean the fad won't work at first. And, I think, this season it might work for the Eagles, who plan to use it now that Michael Vick is aboard. He basically ran a version when he was with the Falcons.

“If it was read handoff with Warrick [Dunn] in the backfield reading the end, he was coming off of the corner," Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb said.

Most of the pro teams that have run the Wildcat have done so using a runner, who most likely won't (can't) pass. Vick, obviously, can pass (not so great, but better than most). If you throw in the Wildcat's ability to also pass, it doubles the quotient for pro defenses accustomed to strictly thinking "run" first. 

“More than likely you are always thinking, in my opinion, make them throw the ball,” Eagles safety Quntin Mikell said. “I want to see you throw the ball before I let you run all over me, so we are going to stop the run first. If you can throw it then you say, ‘Okay he can throw it too’ and we’ll go from there."

Eagles linebacker Joe Mays summed it up nicely: “It’s dangerous."