The use of Tyrod Taylor on the same field as Joe Flacco in Sunday’s 19-3 win over the New York Jets has sparked debate about whether the Ravens should bust out that scheme again. It has also led to another, less-heated conversation in the Baltimore Sun newsroom.
What the heck should we call this two-quarterback offense, anyway?
Well, besides a “high school offense,” as Flacco called it on Tuesday.
Some of my colleagues and other members of the Baltimore media have been calling it the wildcat, perhaps out of convenience. And Ravens players, including Flacco, haven’t corrected them when they asked questions about using the scheme. But the reality is that this isn’t technically the wildcat offense.
The wildcat became a buzzword in the NFL back in 2008 when the Miami Dolphins used the scheme, which came from the college ranks, to stun the New England Patriots. Coincidentally, the Patriots defense was coordinated at the time by Dean Pees, who currently works in the same capacity for the Ravens.
In the offense, which is explained in detail in this post by Chris Brown from a few years back, a non-quarterback lines up behind center in place of the quarterback, takes a direct snap and almost always runs or hands the ball off to another skill position player, such as a wide receiver running a jet sweep across the formation.
In that Dolphins-Patriots game, Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington lined up as a wide receiver -- just like Flacco did against the Jets -- and Dolphins running back Ronnie Brown was the triggerman behind center, running for four touchdowns and throwing for another.
But passes are a rarity in the wildcat offense because, well, there isn’t a true passing threat under center. Brown’s passing touchdown can be chalked up to a confused defense, not an NFL-caliber arm.
And the Jets used Josh Cribbs, who was a dual-threat quarterback during his college days, as their wildcat guy on Sunday, but there is a reason he never became a dual-threat quarterback in the pros.
Now that the history lesson is over, let’s apply it to the Ravens.
What the Ravens were running Sunday was not the wildcat. Sure, Flacco lined up as a wide receiver -- and did nothing more than warm up his hands -- but Taylor is not a running back nor a wide receiver. He is a quarterback, a legitimate passing threat, though that was not reflected in the one pass, which was incomplete, that he threw in his five snaps behind center.
Sure, Taylor mostly ran the ball against the Jets, picking up seven yards on four carries, but technically he was a read-option quarterback with a disinterested signal-caller playing wide receiver, not a wildcat triggerman.
I knew we could be talking about semantics here, so I reached out to Brown, the author of Smart Football and a contributor to Grantland, to confirm that the Ravens were not running the wildcat and that a new name was needed.
“It’s such a semantic mess,” Brown said. “It depends on what they do with it. I'm pedantic in that I think of wildcat as a running back at quarterback with an unbalanced line and the offense running jet sweeps. Most now use the term whenever a running back comes in at quarterback. I don’t like it if they just use it when an athletic quarterback comes in. I’m OK with it if Taylor is running Ronnie Brown dives into the line from it, like the Jets still do. But I’d prefer it just be called a two-QB set.”
We in the media lucked out the last time the Ravens used two quarterbacks, back in 2008 when they used Flacco and Troy Smith on the field at the same time. That scheme was playfully dubbed the Suggs package by coach John Harbaugh after linebacker Terrell Suggs publicly said that Smith should be the team’s quarterback, not the big rookie.
A catchy name is needed for this scheme, too. Calling it the Wildcat is technically inaccurate. And “the two-quarterback offense” is too clunky -- especially if you are a headline writer.