By Tim Graham
Doug Marrone's last season as an NFL play-caller was for the New Orleans Saints in 2008. That was the year the Miami Dolphins introduced the wildcat formation, so we don't know how viable Marrone believes it can be as an NFL device.
Marrone did, however, use the wildcat -- or "stallion," as he sometimes called it -- on occasion as Syracuse's head coach.
With that in mind, it's worth reviewing how effective the Buffalo Bills were with the wildcat last season. The players former head coach Chan Gailey used in the direct-snap formation still are on the roster for Marrone to consider.
"It's an effective play, and you can be successful at it," Bills receiver/quarterback/wildcat pilot Brad Smith told me recently.
Smith claimed the Bills' version of the wildcat last year wasn't too far removed from the pistol, zone-read offenses popularized by the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks last year.
"When you talk about Wildcat, people kind of group it incorrectly," Smith said. "Wildcat is two running backs and you run a dive or a counter play or things like that. The way we ran it was a zone read or speed option with sweeps.
"You have to account for 11 people. With the quarterback in the game, it's often 10 against 11. That's why it's been so successful in the playoffs when you have to account for every single guy."
The wildcat was a bad word around Western New York last season. Stats indicate it was effective, but the timing of certain calls and critical errors out of the formation made fans weary.
Gailey called 28 wildcat plays last year. Smith was the quarterback for almost all of them. Tashard Choice handled it three times. Fred Jackson took one snap.
C.J. Spiller ended up with the ball six times for 26 yards, including runs of 7, 7, 7 and 9 yards.
On 26 wildcat plays (penalties wiped out two), the Bills gained 175 yards and scored two touchdowns. The Bills averaged a respectable 6.7 yards, but 62 of their yards came on two plays.
Smith threw a wildcat interception that jeopardized an eventual victory over the Arizona Cardinals in Week Six. On 46 percent of their wildcat plays, the Bills were stopped for 2 yards or less.
A wildcat breakdown by situation: first down (15 times), second down (nine times), third down (four times and not before Week Seven), 10 yards to go (16 times), 3 yards or less to go (five times), farther than 10 yards (twice).
Gailey's preference to call a wildcat play most frequently on first-and-10 discounts the value the formation has in short-yardage situations.
Nevertheless, Smith is under contract through the 2014 season at base salaries of $2.75 million this year and $3 million next year.
Gailey couldn't seem to figure out how to use Smith, who was the third quarterback in the summer and then a receiver again by the time the season began. But only Spiller, Stevie Johnson and Scott Chandler scored more touchdowns than Smith did.
Smith had 14 carries for 116 yards and a touchdown and 14 catches for 152 yards and two touchdowns. On kickoff returns, he averaged 27.6 yards and scored a touchdown.
"I love having the ball," Smith said. "I love having the chance to make plays, but who doesn't? If you don't want to have the ball in your hands and make plays, then you probably shouldn't be playing.
"But whatever coach says. I'll block. I'll tackle. I'll do whatever as long as we're playing this time next year. That's all that matters to me."
taggedBrad Smith | C.J. Spiller | Chan Gailey | Doug Marrone | Scott Chandler | Stevie Johnson | Tashard Choice