Patriots Ready for Wildcat

Wildcat is the word of the week in Foxborough. For those who haven't been following the NFL closely this season, the Wildcat is the name of the offensive package the Dolphins unleashed on the Patriots in a 38-13 rout in Week 3, one that includes running back Ronnie Brown taking the direct snap from center and running a spread option assault on opposing defenses.

In the two months that have passed, countless teams around the league have unveiled their own versions of the Wildcat, including the Patriots. But none has done it with the productive force of the Dolphins version that employs Brown and Ricky Williams as potential threats.

Thanks in part to the success of the Wildcat package, including plays run out of an unbalanced front, the Dolphins rushed for 216 yards with four Brown touchdowns the first time around against the Patriots. The versatile playmaker also threw a touchdown out of the formation. That day the Wildcat bruised and battered New England's defense as few opposing attacks have in recent years.

As such, Coach Bill Belichick knows the Patriots (6-4) must be ready to stop the Wildcat package when his team travels to Miami (6-4) this Sunday for a key AFC East battle between two teams tied for second place in the division.

"They have pretty much changed something every week," Belichick said of the Wildcat's growth since Sept. 21. "They do something different off of it each week. (They) either change the formation (or) add a play or two. They run it out of different personnel groups, so they have done a great job of changing it up, making it hard to defend, getting the ball to players who can make plays: (Patrick) Cobbs, Williams, Brown, (and have) thrown a few passes off it. They have done a great job."

The biggest part of that, according to Belichick, is the fact that the Wildcat puts to use two of Miami's biggest stars -- Brown and Williams. The backs have combined for more than 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns while averaging better than 4.2 yards a carry through the first 10 games. That, regardless of the formation, is a challenge for any defense to stop. It sounds simple, but it all starts with tackling the two running backs when the opportunity to do so presents itself.

"There are a lot of times when teams are in position to hold the (Wildcat) play to a certain number of yards and it ends up going for more than that or sometimes a lot more than that because of the skill of the runners," Belichick said. "So, without doing a breakdown on it, I would venture to say that probably half of their yardage in that formation, and in maybe all of their running formations, probably comes after somebody has had the chance to tackle the runner. So, that would be number one."

But Belichick also knows that stopping the Dolphins and pulling out a rare win in Miami this weekend would be about more than just the Wildcat. Miami has won four in a row and six of eight dating back to the Week 3 blowout in New England. Not all of that has been accomplished on some gimmick or change-of-pace offensive package. Chad Pennington is, as always, completing a high percentage of passes and not making mistakes. The defense is keeping opponents off the scoreboard and putting pressure on opposing passers. For the last month, it's been a winning formula for a team that barely avoided going winless just a year ago.

"They have done a great job," Belichick said. "They are playing good defense, rushing the passer and not giving up big plays. (They are) playing real good offense, running the ball, controlling the clock, scoring in the red area, scoring around the goal line, not giving the ball up. I think they got the fewest turnovers in the league or giveaways in the league. They are doing a great job."

Looking back on the September loss, Patriots safety James Sanders said, "They came up here and handled us pretty well with that Wildcat formation. We have to make our corrections and go down there and play another tough AFC (East) divisional game."


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