Defense Works on the Wildcat

Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers was with the Patriots last year when Miami dusted off the ancient offense. Cincinnati ran a play out of the Wildcat last week, and Capers talked X's and O's with Packer Report.

Mention the word "Wildcat," and an uneasy grin flashes across the face of Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers.

Capers was an assistant in New England last year when the Miami Dolphins dusted off an archaic playbook by running what is essentially the single wing. That offense, still run effectively by some high schools — including Menominee, Mich., the Upper Peninsula powerhouse that won state titles in 2006 and 2007 — hadn't been seen in the NFL since the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1947.

For obvious reasons, the Patriots weren't prepared, and Miami running back Ronnie Brown ran for three touchdowns off of direct snaps and threw for another.

Last week, Bengals running back Brian Leonard ran the ball once out of the Wildcat to convert a fourth down. So, with the Packers hosting the Bengals on Sunday, Capers dedicated some practice time to stopping the Wildcat.

"We got caught off-guard with it, that's what happened," Capers said on Thursday when asked to dredge up last year's nightmare at Miami. "We hadn't seen a snap, we hadn't worked on a snap. Miami came in and they executed it very efficiently, so once you go through something like that, you try to make sure that even things that you haven't seen a team do that you're prepared for it."

Unless the offense has a player capable of running and passing the ball — like Philadelphia has since signing Michael Vick or Miami gained by drafting former West Virginia quarterback Pat White — there's really nothing magical about the Wildcat.

Without a run-pass option from the player taking the direct snap, the defense has an advantage because the play likely will be a run. Where the offense gains an edge is it's basically playing 11 against 10.

"You've got a guy back there that's taking the snap that's normally a good runner," Capers said, "and the quarterback's normally out of the backfield who accounts for a guy, so they're trying to gain an extra man by having you spend a guy on the quarterback that you normally don't spend."

If the Bengals were to run the Wildcat on Sunday, the advantage would be gained by having quarterback Carson Palmer split out as a wide receiver. Chances are, the Bengals aren't going to throw the ball to Palmer, but the defense still has to cover him. Hence, it's 11-on-10 football.

In the Wildcat, the regular quarterback is split out wide, a receiver is in motion and another skill-position player lines up in the shotgun. Assuming the Wildcat quarterback isn't an effective passer, there are three basic plays.

The first is a sweep, in which the Wildcat quarterback hands it to the receiver who's in motion. If the timing is right, that receiver gets the ball while in full stride.

The second is a power run in which the Wildcat quarterback fakes a handoff to the receiver who's in motion and simply runs behind his line with a fullback as a lead blocker.

The third is a counter, in which the Wildcat quarterback fakes the handoff to the receiver, then runs the opposite way in hopes that the defense is flowing toward the fake.

"It's usually going to be a run, but sometimes they have an option involved with a pitch man or a read with a dive," inside linebacker A.J. Hawk said. "You've got to watch out where they're going to run, because they can do some good misdirection things with that, as well."

An added benefit of the Wildcat, as Hawk pointed out, is that it forces the defense to devote practice time to something it might not see in a game. As is the case with everything from the Wildcat to end-arounds to flea-flickers, time devoted to gadget plays is time not devoted to bread-and-butter plays.

"We feel that every team in the league probably has the ability to do it, so what you don't want to do is get surprised by it," Capers said. "Every week, we'll work some phase against Wildcat, just in case some team tries to spring it on us. It won't be like we haven't seen it."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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