Wildcat a passing fad?

Without the threat of a legitimate passing attack, will the Wildcat offense ever become anything more than an occasional gimmick? And is it more an act of desperation for a team without a true quarterback?

One of the things that makes the NFL great is that, when something works for one team, teams with lesser ability can steal from it and improve. In no other sport is that true. It's not like someone will come up with a new pitch in baseball or a defensive scheme in basketball or hockey will befuddle opponents.

But in the NFL, it is possible. The West Coast offense started in Minnesota, but as Bud Grant would later say, the Vikings didn't have a marketing department to give it a name. Bill Walsh did and, as a result, the North Coast offense never existed.

In the late 1970s, the Dallas Cowboys re-introduced the shotgun formation. It worked. It was copied. It is now a staple of every NFL offense. The Cover-2 defense started in Minnesota as well. It didn't get any publicity until Tony Dungy brought it to Tampa Bay. The 2009 Vikings run a West Coast offense and a Tampa-2 defense, bringing the NFL circle of life back home.

Not all trends in the copycat nature have caught on. Remember the flex defense? Or the run-and-shoot offense? They ran their course. It didn't catch on and it died.

The Vikings have been the subject of debate over the latest movement du jour in the NFL – the Wildcat offense. The genesis of the Wildcat – at least in the NFL – goes back to Sept. 21, 2008, which ironically will be the one-year anniversary when Miami plays Indianapolis on Monday night. Confounding the always-secretive and crafty Patriots, the Miami Dolphins – who narrowly escaped a 0-16 season by beating the Baltimore Ravens and getting Brian Billick fired – unveiled the Wildcat formation in Week 3 having already lost their first two games of the season. It was a desperate move by a desperate team – under the de facto rule of Bill Parcells and his hand-picked head coach Tony Sporano. They had nothing to lose. They were playing the New England Patriots and, despite having their B-team quarterback in play, were 12-½ point favorites at home.

What followed was the making of a Disney sports-themed movie. The lowly Dolphins put running back Ronnie Brown in the quarterback position for direct snaps and he made NFL history – rushing for four touchdowns and throwing another is a 38-13 beatdown of the NFL's Tiffany franchise. The other 30 teams in the NFL took a step back and said "what?"

In that three hours, the NFL Wildcat was born. Some teams tried to replicate it immediately. Others warmed to the idea. By season's end, no less than 20 teams had incorporated the Wildcat formation in some form. The Vikings weren't one of those teams, which seemed a bit ironic since the formation seemed to play into the hands of Tarvaris Jackson – who, at the time, was getting splinters on the bench. What made the Wildcat work in the first place wasn't Ronnie Brown running with the ball, it was the 19-yard TD pass he threw. It could go both ways. Unfortunately, the theft of the Wildcat never took that element into account.

Of all the teams that have co-opted the Wildcat, including the Vikings, none have seemingly realized that the Wildcat is a running formation. A year later, that realization has come to fruition. Last Sunday, the Vikings led 10-3 with seven minutes to play in the second quarter. It appeared as though the Browns tied the game with a touchdown pass to Braylon Edwards, which, after being challenged by the Vikings, was overturned and the ball was placed on the 6-yard line. Following a 3-yard run by Jamal Lewis, the Browns had two plays in which to get the final three yards needed to tie the game. What did they do? They put versatile non-quarterback Joshua Cribbs at the quarterback position. He took the direct snap not once but twice and was snuffed on both occasions – forcing the Browns to settle for a field goal that kept them behind 10-6. The game wasn't decided at that moment, but it changed.

The buzz about the Vikings using the Wildcat had to be tempered by the last preseason attempt, when Brett Favre lined up at a receiver position and delivered an illegal block on Houston safety Eugene Wilson, who hasn't played since and is expected to finally make his return to action Sunday. That play made an unintended point as to why the Vikings don't need to run the Wildcat.

There are rules in place to protect quarterbacks, but if a QB lines up beyond the hash marks, he loses those rights. A cornerback can "jam" him like a wide receiver – essentially delivering a forearm to the chops. As talented as Percy Harvin may be and as much of a natural as he could be in the Wildcat, putting Favre at risk lined up as a receiver isn't worth it.

Until the Wildcat develops into a pass-or-run formation, it will go the way of the run-and-shoot – a gimmick that enjoyed limited success, but, once defenses figured it out, went the way of the dinosaur. The Vikings don't need gimmicks to win. Don't expect to see the Wildcat formation too often. Why? Only the desperate need to use it.


  • The Vikings will soon be the only revenue-producing tenant of the Metrodome, but, thanks to a compromise agreement that put the Minnesota Twins in a stadium ideally built for football (anyone sitting down the first or third base line at a Twins game has to crane his or her neck to see a pitch delivered at home plate), the potential exists for a monumental fight for space. If the Twins end the regular season tied with the Detroit Tigers, as they did last year, they would have to compete in a one-game playoff to determine which team gets the honor of being unceremoniously beaten down UFC-style by the Yankees. For that to happen, the Twins would have to dominate the remaining two home games and the series at Detroit, which would give the Twins the head-to-head advantage and allow them to host the 163rd game. The problem? It would be on Monday, Oct. 5 – when the Vikings and Favre are scheduled to play his former Packers teammates for the first time. ESPN has been pimping that game since before Favre signed with the Vikings. It could potentially be the highest-rated NFL game in the network's history. But, thanks to the lease agreement in the Metrodome, the Twins get precedence for a game Oct. 5 at the Metrodome.

    The worst of it from the Vikings perspective was that the Major League Baseball schedule for the 2009 season was done six months prior to the 2009 NFL schedule. Because of the bizarre juxtaposition of the 2009 calendar, everything seemed to get pushed back. The NFL season wouldn't begin for most teams until Sept. 13. The schedule boys for MLB knew that. What did they do? They scheduled the Twins – one of only three MLB teams that could have a shared-stadium conflict – for three home games in the first four weeks that there could be conflict. It's unclear if it was baseball's way of sticking it to the NFL, but it was obvious to the NFL that the Vikings couldn't play a home game on Sunday in Weeks 1, 2 and 4 of the regular season. As a result, it seemed obvious before the NFL schedule was released that the Vikings would have either have to play three of their first four games on the road or they would have to play on Monday night to accommodate the Twins. They did. They may get the worst of it yet again … in a building that the Twins and Gophers have left and will only remain open as long as the Vikings play there. Perhaps the Vikings and the NFL should put their foot down and tell the Twins when to play – not the other way around.

  • The final injury reports were released Friday. The Vikings' list is extremely limited. Erin Henderson remains out with a calf injury, special teams ace Heath Farwell is questionable with a hamstring pull and Jim Kleinsasser (hand) and Anthony Herrera (back) are listed as probable.

  • The Lions injury list is considerably more detailed. Third quarterback Drew Stanton remains out with a knee injury, DE Cliff Avril is doubtful with a hamstring injury, DT Andre Fluellen (knee) and CB Eric King (shoulder) are questionable and four players – OG Daniel Loper (knee), DT Grady Jackson (knee), CB William James (foot) and K Jason Hanson (right knee) – are listed as probable.

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