Declawing a Wildcat
It might only appear for a single play, or perhaps two. Blink and you may miss it. But the Wildcat will most likely appear Sunday at FedEx Field.
The Browns began running their variation of a single-wing offense last season, with receiver Joshua Cribbs under center and QB Derek Anderson split out as a wide receiver. Cribbs, an elusive runner and superb return specialist, is also a former college QB, so he presents the threat of keeping the ball, pitching it to a running back, or throwing an option pass out of the formation. (Miami used its version of this formation with RB Ronnie Brown, under center, handing off to RB Ricky Williams, who flipped the ball to QB Chad Pennington, who had lined up at receiver, with Pennington then throwing a TD pass to Patrick Cobb. Amy Shipley will have more on how Miami uses the offense in tomorrow's paper; up here late tonight)
Cleveland does not use the formation nearly to the extent that the Dolphins do - it's become a primary weapon for the Fins - but it is a wrinkle you have to respect, nonetheless, and certainly a look far outside the norm. Even if it's just one play inside the red zone, if the gadget play results in a touchdown, it can be the difference in the game.
Defensive coordinator Greg Blache said he did not devote an abundance of practice time to the Wildcat this week, running three or four plays with the scout team in practice to give the Skins a feel for what they would see. Blache also uses time early in training camp to work against a few of these strange formations - an empty backfield, etc. - and the Redskins also worked to this end a few years ago, when rookie QB Vince Young and Tennessee were doing these kinds of things.
"We work on a bunch of crazy things from the beginning of training camp," Blache said. "No backs, crazy formations and alignments. We call that the 'zip series' and we have rules that we have against the zip series. So if somebody throws it at us, it's not like it's something our guys haven't seen or worked on at all. But we don't spend a lot of time on it."
Defenders must remain disciplined in their gap and guard against overpursuit. The Skins used practice squad corner Byron Westbrook - brother of Pro Bowl RB Brian Westbrook - as the stand-in for Cribbs in this formation with the scout team. He played at Division III Salisbury, which ran an option, so he was comfortable in the role.
"I know how to read the D end," Westbrook said, in explaining how the "QB" in this offense operates. "And if he comes down hard I take it, and if he comes at me I pitch it. You've got to read the D end."
London Fletcher said that the Redskins have to be prepared for Cribbs to throw out of the formation - even though he has yet to do it this season. "They might give us a new wrinkle out of that formation," he said. "Obviously, the main thing they try to do is run the football out of it. It's his option to hand it off to the running back, or keep it himself. That's his read."
While everyone is generally focused on the ball, should the Browns get in this formation Sunday, try to keep an eye on Anderson. He's a big QB - 6-foot-6, 220 pounds - but still, any time a passer is on the line of scrimmage, unprotected, you've got to try to pound him a bit within the rules.
"That's the one time he's actually not protected by certain rules," Fletcher said, "So ..."
Corner Shawn Springs figures he won't get the shot on Anderson, since he usually is on the slot guy, and not out wide in these situations. Still, there will be a temptation to lay the lumber.
"I'm quite sure everybody who sees that has tried to take a shot on him," Springs said, "but he's probably a lot bigger than most corners think. It ain't like he ain't expecting somebody to try to do that to him."
Note that declawing a Wildcat is kind of like skinning a coyote.
Jason La Canfora
October 17, 2008; 7:53 AM ET
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