February 12, 2013 - 11:28 AM
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
"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
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
Gailey's preference to call a wildcat play most frequently
on first-and-10 discounts the value the formation has in short-yardage
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."