Cowboys & Wildcat Formation: Why They Should Run It More In 2010
By Jonathan Bales
The “Wildcat” (known as the “Razorback” in Dallas) has been dismissed as a gimmick which has no long-lasting potential in the NFL. Detractors of the formation claim it is useful for teams without a reliable quarterback.
While this may be the case, I see variations of the Wildcat being run in the NFL for years to come. Of course, the formation (or a non-quarterback snap-taker, at least) has been around for longer than people believe. Michael Vick basically ran a Wildcat-based offense in Atlanta. The video below even shows Walter Payton taking multiple snaps from the quarterback position.
For the Cowboys, the Wildcat was rather useful last season. In fact, it was their second-most efficient running formation. The ‘Boys ran 16 plays out of the Wildcat in 2009–all runs. They averaged 6.75 yards-per-carry on those plays.
This number is quite impressive when you consider the Cowboys ran Wildcat five times inside the opponent’s 10-yard line (31.3 percent of Wildcat plays). In comparison, the Cowboys ran just 7.3 percent of all offensive plays in that same area.
Tashard Choice was the snap-taker on all 16 plays, with Felix Jones accompanying him on the field on just one of those. They used motion on just five of the plays.
Dallas fans seem to be split in their feelings on the formation. Those who are anti-Wildcat feel there is no good time to take one of team’s best players (and most valuable)–Tony Romo–off of the field (he is on it during some Wildcat plays but poses no immediate threat to the defense).
The problem with this thinking, in my opinion, is that it assumes that Romo is always a valuable asset to the offense. This is simply not the case. In particular, Romo’s presence is negligible on obvious running plays. With no real threat of pass anyway, Romo’s ability to throw means nothing.
Of course, some may claim there are no completely obvious running downs. This may be true, but there are certainly times when the Cowboys have a very large (9o+ percent) chance of running the ball. In these situations, the defense is likely stacking the box regardless of who takes the snap.
Thus, the extra blocker which the Wildcat provides (since the ball-carrier is already taking the snap) is, in my opinion, a much greater advantage than the inconsequential presence of Romo during near-obvious running downs.
This effect is strengthened inside the opponent’s 10-yard line, where the upside of passing plays is limited. There, Romo’s passing ability means even less. In fact, in my study on how the Cowboys can improve their red zone performance, I found that running the ball (at least on first down) is a far superior strategy to passing the ball when inside the opponent’s 10-yard line.
Give Garrett a lot of credit for recognizing this fact and utilizing the Wildcat at the appropriate times.
In 2010, I’d like to see the ‘Boys run even more Wildcat. First, it will be an easy way to provide Choice with more touches. Both he and Felix Jones are likely to “steal” some of Barber’s carries in 2010, and the Wildcat is well-suited for Choice.
Further, the Cowboys now have game experience with the Wildcat. Choice has shown to be comfortable taking the snap and the cohesiveness and fluidity of Wildcat plays increased as the season progressed (after some initial struggles).
Finally, it will help with the Cowboys’ red zone woes. While the Cowboys did a good job of using the formation inside the opponent’s 10-yard line last season, they still did so on only 6.8 percent of plays in that area. If that number can jump up to around 15 percent, the Cowboys should see their red zone efficiency increase in 2010.