The wildcat formation (or wildcat offense), a variation on the single-wing formation, is an offensive American and Canadian football scheme that has been used at every level of the game including the CFL, NFL, NCAA, NAIA, and many high schools across America. The general scheme can be instituted into many different offensive systems, but the distinguishing factor is a direct snap to the running back and an unbalanced offensive line.

BaseWildcatOffenseThe wildcat is an offensive package rather than an offense, in that it uses the same pre-snap motion coming across the formation on every play in the package and every play initially looks like a sweep behind zone blocking. However, after the snap several things may happen once the motion man crosses the player receiving the snap.

In a December 24, 2006 game between the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons, the Panthers deployed a formation without a quarterback and directly snapped the ball to running back DeAngelo Williams. The Panthers ran the ball—mostly in this formation—for the first twelve plays of the opening drive. The offensive coordinator of the Carolina Panthers at the time was Dan Henning, who later developed this concept into the Wildcat as the offensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins.

Relying on the experience of quarterbacks coach David Lee who had run the scheme at Arkansas, the 2008 Miami Dolphins implemented the Wildcat offense beginning in the third game of the 2008 season with great success, instigating a wider trend throughout the NFL. The Dolphins started the Wildcat trend in the NFL lining up either running back Ronnie Brown (in most cases) or Ricky Williams in the shotgun formation with the option of handing off, running, or throwing. Through eleven games, the Wildcat averaged over seven yards per play for the Dolphins. “It could be the single wing, it could be the Delaware split buck business that they used to do,” Dolphins offensive coordinator Dan Henning said. “It comes from all of that.” On September 21, 2008, the Miami Dolphins used the Wildcat offense against the New England Patriots on six plays, which produced five touchdowns (four rushing and one passing) in a 38-13 upset victory.

As the popularity of the Wildcat spread during the 2008 NFL season, several teams began instituting it as a part of their playbook, including the Kansas City Chiefs, Chicago Bears, Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, New England Patriots, San Francisco 49ers, Cleveland Browns, Philadelphia Eagles, St. Louis Rams, New York Jets, Arizona Cardinals, Minnesota Vikings, and the Dallas Cowboys.

Many teams admit to spending an inordinate amount of time having to prepare for such a scheme. [via]

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