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Is the Wildcat formation in football an example of cultural evolution?

resonance: 27.2% from: robg


With Michael Vick signing with the Philadelphia Eagles, the reasons appear to include strategic thinking [1] beyond the traditional quarterback role. In the Wildcat formation, a "Wildcat" directly receives the snap from center and executes the play. In this formation then the typical quarterback becomes a runner, a receiver, or a blocker while the Wildcat leads the play. The biggest weakness perhaps in this offense arises if the Wildcat is less successful in throwing the ball. The defense can then aggressively charge the line. By contrast, the formation is at its best if the Wildcat is capable of breaking a play with his feet and also throwing over the defense, especially if the typical quarterback is a capable receiver.

The Wildcat formation is making a resurgence in the NFL with the 2008 Miami Dolphins leading the revolution [2]. Because the formation can easily disrupt typical defensive schemes, but with the insertion of only one player, the offense can be highly effective and efficient while sneaky and strategic. The Dolphins used the Wildcat to score on five of six plays in beating the Patriots 38-13 in a huge upset win during the first weeks of the 2008 season. The win served as a clear statement as to what the formation could do and teams throughout the rest of the season developed Wildcat aspects in their playbooks. The Eagles were one such team and with a jocular coach, Andy Reid, who must suppress his mirth when the topic of interviews drifts toward the Wildcat.

Vick, as a speedy, but rusty, quarterback then represents close to the ideal prototype of a Wildcat. So long as his jail sentence didn't change his physique, the last we saw he was extremely quick and had a powerful arm. So he can turn the corner on running plays and can defeat a defense that tries to rush the line by throwing downfield. The Eagles seem to be interested in fully exploring what the Wildcat offense can do and specifically with Vick. The interesting question for me is what happens if they succeed? Does the sport evolve or does it successfully suppress the innovation?

It may be easy to forget but Michael Vick was one of the most prominent, and skilled, football players prior to his arrest. If the Wildcat proves, um, wildly successful it's not hard to imagine we could witness an evolution in the sport, akin to the dunk in basketball or the homerun in baseball. In order to meet the pressure of an additional quarterback, the defense may have to radically reshape itself. However it's also possible that the set of skills required in a potential Wildcat is so rare that it reduces the offense to trick play status.

Since the Wildcat needs to have both fast legs and a strong, and accurate, arm while making quick decisions, a highly skilled player is necessary to execute the offense. Problem is, those players are typically very hard to find, even in existing quarterbacks. Where it gets interesting is in recognizing the increasing frequency of these multi-talented players over the last decade. To the extent we continue to see them they'll likely be featured in the Wildcat.

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/18/sports/footba...

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wildcat_formation

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