The Wildcat formation is Miami's version of the single wing created by Pop Warner at the turn of the 20th century. The alignment - which uses the abilities of running backs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams - has helped the Dolphins win two of their past three games.
"It's been highly successful up to this point, so it's definitely going to change some things, and we definitely have to look at some things," Ravens linebacker-defensive end Terrell Suggs said. "Ronnie Brown, he's looking like the best running back in football right now, so it's definitely got our eyeballs raised."
The Wildcat offense positions Brown in a shotgun formation behind the center with Williams and quarterback Chad Pennington lining up at the receiver positions. When the football is snapped, Brown has several options: hand the ball to Williams, who races back to Brown as the ball reaches Brown; throw a pass; or take off on his own.
In Miami's 38-13 thumping of the New England Patriots on Sept. 21, the Dolphins scored four touchdowns on six plays from the Wildcat formation. In a 17-10 win against the San Diego Chargers on Oct. 5, Brown gained 49 of his 125 yards in the unusual alignment and scored the game-winning touchdown.
Miami lost, 29-28, to the Houston Texans on Sunday, but the Dolphins opened the game with a 53-yard touchdown pass to running back Patrick Cobbs from Pennington, who got the football after Brown and Williams handled it.
The formation was installed at the suggestion of quarterbacks coach David Lee, who used it as the offensive coordinator at Arkansas. Miami coach Tony Sparano said Lee had to resort to a little arm-twisting.
"To me, an efficient play in our league is a 4-yard play. So, at the end of this, [am I] surprised to gain 4 yards? No. Surprised that there were some bigger plays that came out of it? Maybe so," Sparano said. "When we put this thing in, it was just a way to get the right personnel on the field and to gain 4 yards, and we've had a couple of big plays come out of it. I think that might've surprised me a little bit that way."
Because the Dolphins have a multitude of options at their disposal in the Wildcat offense, Ravens defensive players and coaches have spent a little more time in the meeting room and film room.
"It's a body blow for a coach because you spend a lot of time. You have to prepare for it and things like that because it's a legitimate thing," defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said. "It's not something that they ran once. They've been running it ever since they broke it out. They've been running it every week, and they keep adding on to it. So it's a legitimate thing."
But linebacker Ray Lewis said the Ravens can't get caught up in the confusion Miami's alignment tries to sprinkle on opposing defenses. He stressed that the defensive players have to be sound in their fundamentals and avoid the temptation to freelance.
"It's still football," Lewis said. "There's one football on the field; there's only one person that's going to touch the football. Whether it's [Brown] back there catching the ball or him trying to hand it off to Ricky, it's still football. If you get caught up in all that, the way we play defense, it doesn't matter. All we've got to find is the football. That's the bottom line. I just think they're doing some creative things to try and really disguise and trick people. But the bottom line to is just find the football."
Notes: : Cornerback Fabian Washington is listed as probable for tomorrow's game. Washington has not played since the Ravens' 13-10 loss to the Tennessee Titans two weeks ago because of a dislocated right shoulder, but Washington said he has regained nearly full range of motion with the shoulder. "I'm going to go out Sunday, go through pre-game [warm-ups], and if I feel great, of course I'm playing," he said. "If it doesn't feel like it's worth the reward, I'm not going to play. But I had a great week of practice this week, and I think the shoulder's definitely improved from two weeks ago." In addition to Washington, left offensive tackle Jared Gaither (neck-shoulder), defensive tackle Lamar Divens (illness) and rookie safety Tom Zbikowski (shoulder) are probable.
Right offensive tackle Adam Terry (meniscus issue in right knee) and wide receiver Yamon Figurs (left knee bruise) have been ruled out. Converted center-tight end Chris Chester will earn his eighth career start at right guard tomorrow. Free safety Ed Reed (hamstring) and wide receiver Demetrius Williams (left Achilles tendon) are questionable.
Coach John Harbaugh clarified his comments to the South Florida media that apparently inflamed the Dolphins. On Wednesday, Harbaugh, who was assessing offensive coordinator Cam Cameron's single season as Miami's head coach, was quoted as saying, "Even though the results weren't what people were hoping for, he did a great job there with what he had to work with." Several Dolphins expressed outrage at the quote, but Harbaugh said he admires what Miami has done this season. "I think our message all week from our players, from me, from all of our people has been very clear," he said. "We've got great respect for their football team. It's a very talented football team, and we really are impressed with the direction of their program. It's obvious to see from a leadership standpoint where they're going as a football program. It's very clear-cut and we've got a lot of respect for it, and we're looking forward to playing them on Sunday."
Sam Koch ranks eighth in the NFL in punting average (46.7 yards) and net average (41.4). "I think, really, more than anything else, it's Sam's work ethic and it's Sam's talent that's given him an opportunity to punt like this," special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said. ... Lewis expressed sadness for the sudden death of former Ravens fullback Chuck Evans, who died of an apparent heart attack Sunday at the age of 41. "Chuck was a great and dear friend to me," Lewis said. "Me and Chuck went to war together many times, and he's just one of the greatest men I've ever met. For him to be gone, it's a shocker that he is not here anymore, but my regards go out. My prayers have been going up so heavily just for his family."