With the Browns and their dynamic do-it-all weapon, Joshua Cribbs, coming to town Sunday, there's been a lot of talk around the Ravens' practice facility about the Wildcat formation.
Cribbs, a college quarterback turned wide receiver, is the Browns' triggerman in the Wildcat, a reincarnation of the old-school single-wing offense. Browns coach Eric Mangini said this week that he plans on breaking the Wildcat out more often — "Just to get Josh more touches" — starting Sunday against the Ravens.
But is the Wildcat still worth worrying about?
In the cooky formation, an athletic skill player lines up at quarterback, and upon taking a shotgun snap, hands the ball off to a running back, runs it himself or, on occasion, fires a deep pass down the field.
The Wildcat became all the rage in 2008 when out of nowhere, the Dolphins busted it out in a shocking regular-season upset of the Patriots and continued to run it all the way to the AFC East title. Of course, the Ravens stymied it in the playoffs that year while beating the Dolphins in the wild-card round.
Since the moment the Dolphins outsmarted Bill Belichick, fans in 32 cities have been talking about how their team needs "a Wildcat guy." Michael Vick and Pat White were thought to be ideal for the Wildcat two years ago. Now Vick is again a traditional quarterback — I use that term loosely — and White is out of football.
When the Ravens used their take on the Wildcat — called "the Suggs package" — with Troy Smith under center and Joe Flacco out wide, they burnt more timeouts (trying to get the proper personnel on the field) than opposing defenses.
The element of surprise gone, it appears the craze has just about run its course, as defenses have figured out that they can shut down the Wildcat if they go into zero coverage and plug up all the gaps at the line of scrimmage. That's especially the case with the Dolphins, who use running back Ronnie Brown as their Wildcat quarterback. Teams don't have to respect his arm. (It's still effective sometimes, though only because Miami's offensive line excels at run blocking.)
As least with Cribbs, who played quarterback at Kent State, the Browns have somewhat of a passing threat. (Hey, he can't do any worse than Jake Delhomme or Seneca Wallace.) But the Browns primarily use the formation to give Cribbs, one of the NFL's most electric players, a chance to beat defenses with his legs — not his college-caliber arm.
The Ravens are prepping for the Wildcat, so I guess they still think it's a viable threat.
"If we stop [the Wildcat] early, they won't come back to it as often," Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said. "So we've just got to make sure when they do run it, [that we get] Cribbs down as fast as we can."
Ravens coach John Harbaugh is urging Baltimore fans to help the Ravens shut it down on Sunday.
"When they're on offense, we need to be loud," Harbaugh said. "And we need to be especially loud when they see No. 16 at quarterback. Let's make the communication tough when they get in that Wildcat thing."
That Wildcat thing?
More like dying novelty.