Oakland Raiders Personnel Tailor-Made for a Savage Wildcat Hybrid

DjangoContributor IFebruary 24, 2009

In 2008, the Miami Dolphins introduced the incorporation of the Wildcat formation to the NFL—a variation on the "single-wing" of the 1940's, and a scheme once considered to be a 'gadget-play', or only applicable at the college level.  

New GM Bill Parcells and rookie coach Tony Sparano recognized the few strengths of the 1-15 team that they inherited: that being a stable of two Pro Bowl caliber running backs in Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, and decided to focus a large part of their offense to utilizing both backs simultaneously (as opposed to the increasingly popular rotating two-back systems dominating the NFL recently).  

In this set, the direct snap could go to either back, who could either: run directly, hand it off to the other back, do a contrary version of play-action and misdirection, flip it to a receiver for an end-around, or option and then pass it downfield.

More often than not, Ronnie Brown took the snaps, due his being an ex-high school quarterback, and a proven, competent passer.

In so doing, the the Dolphins became a successful offense, one that was puzzling to all defensive coordinators, and made a complete 180—ending the season 11-5.  Due to their success, they inspired copycats sprouting up in NFL playbooks around the league. 

The Oakland Raiders practiced their version of the Wildcat, dubbed the "Stallion," but rarely used it come game day. I would suggest in 2009 they do so, every game, every quarter.

Consider their offensive strengths. Other than soon-to-be Pro Bowler TE Zack Miller, and the upside of Johnnie Lee Higgins and JaMarcus Russell, that would be their luxuriously strong stable of three running backs, and an offensive line forged by Tom Cable in the zone-blocking scheme.

The line has been adequate to strong in the run game, yet due to weak tackles, poor in pass protection. They should continue to  build in run-blocking with the addition of offensive line coach Jim Michalczik, who led Cal's rushing attack to record years five of his seven years at the university.  

Factoring this in with the gradual development of Russell, it seems obvious that this team is geared towards running, running, and running some more.

Of course this goes without saying, as our leading receiver last year was a tight end, and even he was underutilized, having to remain in pass protection too much of the time.

However, the Raiders have a stable unlike any team in the league. Ronnie Brown can throw, and so can LaDanian Tomlinson, and they have run the option successfully for years. But the Raiders have not one, but two equally powerful running backs who were both once star high-school quarterbacks, in Darren McFadden and Michael Bush.  

McFadden played his part in the evolution the Wildcat in college football. He threw three touchdowns and was 7-for-9 passing at Arkansas, where the formation was arguably born and formed in 2006.

Furthermore, Bush is a 245-pound beast, who gamely played fullback for a couple of games the past season due to a depleted fullback core; and Justin Fargas' crash test dummy style probably could adapt pretty well in lead-blocking situations.

On another note, this option could help spell Oren O'Neal, who is coming off a season-long knee injury, and likely to be somewhat fragile for at least another year.

So now, imagine facing a Wildcat formation in which both running backs could take the snap and run or throw effectively at any time?

Further, consider the fact that if a defense sees Bush in the "I", they can pretty well assume that he will be running North-South between the tackles, and contrarily if McFadden is in he will probably soon be running off-tackle, sweeps and pitches (although granted, management hasn't seemed to figure out yet that these are better suited to his style and skill-set).

However, if they are both lined up together, coordinators will inevitably be caught up in a guessing game. Anything is possible at that point.   

Another interesting factor is Russell. Sometimes the Wildcat is audibled at the last minute so as to not reveal one's hand, and to keep mis-matched defensive personnel on the field.  But in this situation, the quarterback is often rendered useless.  

For example, last year I believe I saw Brett Favre line up at wide receiver at one point! I'm not sure why the corner even bothered covering the geriatric old coot, other than out of sheer confusion.

But JaMarcus Russell is a 260-280-pound behemoth of a quarterback, and if a body like that can't learn to at least detour a linebacker on a running play, then god help him. If need be, at the least he won't be just a useless wasted man on the field in those situations.

And the final possible pieces hinge on the draft and free-agency. Now I know everyone is going to say that we need a left tackle, first and foremost, and I couldn't agree more.  

But wide receiver is a glaring need, and though I do believe that Flash Gordon himself may be useless at receiver if someone doesn't have Russell's back, let's assume that Al Davis can't resist the prospect of either Crabtree or Maclin, and we end up drafting one of them.

With his newly-discovered stress fracture, Michael Crabtree could actually fall to the Raiders at seven, and though I don't think the Red Raiders used him in the Wildcat, he too was a high-school quarterback.

If he is drafted, the possibility of a backfield with Crabtree, McFadden and Bush hybrid-quarterback/running backs coming at you on first down would be maddening, and terrifying, especially considering the learning curve of defensive coordinators just now catching up with a standard Wildcat formation. 

Jeremy Maclin and his gliding speed was never a quarterback, but he ran consistently and successfully from the Wildcat at Mizzou, in fact leading the nation in all-purpose yards in 2008.  

If he and Mcfadden were lined up in the backfield, that would be two threats at both wings with sub 4.4, and potentially sub 4.3 speed, something that I am certain has never been seen before.

And last but not least, there is always the possibility that no one but old Al would be crazy enough to pick up 4.2-con-Michael Vick in the end (see recent Yahoo Sports article projecting him going either to the Raiders, Cowboys or Bengals), and using him as some sort of Reggie-Bushish H-back, and then the prospects from thereon out become dizzying.

Vick, McFadden, Bush, Crabtree/Maclin in the backfield, and Johnny Lee Higgens running about all willy-nilly down field waiting for someone to option a bomb for him. Okay, now I may be getting a bit ridiculous, but strangely enough, some combination of this sort is at the least conceivable.

So there you have it.

The Wildcat is in its fledgling stages, and unless defensive coaches figure out a weakness in it soon (remember defensive mastermind Bill Belichick looking on helplessly as the lowly Dolphins scored four touchdowns on them week 4?) it appears to be here to stay.

It played a part in turning the Dolphins around, and now the Raiders should learn from them, and play to the strengths of their unbalanced personnel.

The Wildcat, or the "Stallion" ought to evolve from Oakland, as despite being a very structurally flawed team, they are certainly the most suited towards running this offense than any other team in the league, guaranteed.

Gone will be the past six years of rudimentary, predictable play-calling. Gone will be years of offensive futility. A diversified running attack will translate into less time on the field for our defense, which by nature will make them infinitely more effective.

Russell will have help, giving him time and successful play-action options to develop under, as it is likely our line won't be very good in pass protection yet again (unless Mario Henderson turns out to be the real deal—pretty please).  

And at the least, if it helped Miami go from 1-15 to 11-5 with two options as Wildcat playmakers, then it is quite conceivable it could turn the Raiders, with at least four options, into a playoff team, or at the least a contender.

The Autumn Wind is a Stallion...

Thanks for reading.  


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