Monday, November 3, 2008

This fulfills my obligation to say something about the Chiefs.

The Kansas City Chiefs looked absolutely brilliant for the first 29:00 of their game on Sunday against the TB Buccaneers. The reason? Wildcat Offense.*

Back in week 3, the Miami Dolphins faced a daunting challenge: beat the Patriots. To do that they came up with the biggest idea in sports: getting their plays from high school football. Wildcat Offense is a very popular high school play-calling method in which the quarterback lines up as a wide receiver (or stands on the sidelines) while the running back takes the snap. The reason this works so well is that normally on a running play the quarterback hands the ball off to the runningback then gets out of the way and stands around, making it effectively 10 offensive players vs. 11 defensive players. If the quarterback swings out wide as a receiver, a defensive player must cover him, and the running play suddenly becomes a much better 10 on 10.

When Miami showed up with the Wildcat Offense against New England, the Patriots defense stumbled around confused for 60 minutes and handed Miami a great win, boosting Miami's legitimacy as a coming-back franchise. The next week, another team tried it, then another.

This past Sunday the Kansas City "We have nothing to lose" Chiefs showed an aggressive, no-holds barred approach on offense. Late in the first quarter, quarterback Tyler Thigpen lined up as a wide-out. "It's Wildcat!" TAE shrieked at The Abstracted Daughter. She gurgled happily and watched. On the snap of the ball, Thigpen made a half-hearted attempt to block the defensive back, convincing the corner and safety it was a running play. Then, Thigpen broke with all his speed for the endzone as wide receiver Mark Bradley (who?) lobbed a lazy pass over the dumbfounded Buccaneers Thigpen. Touchdown Chiefs.

With less than a minute left in the first half, the Chiefs were dominating 23-3, as the energized Chiefs offense was powering an aggressive defense to stop all attempts by the Bucs to regain momentum.

Then, in the second half, the Chiefs didn't line up a single Wildcat play. It was as if Mr. Hyde had gone to the locker room at the half and Dr. Jekyll had come back to the sidelines afterward. The Chiefs quickly gave up their 20 point margin and managed to eek out a loss in overtime.

I'll be near the front of the line to rail on Herm Edwards, and I'll cut up further in line if we all get a chance to speak our minds to Carl Peterson, but that first half Wildcat was pure joy to watch. The Chiefs, with nothing to lose, were trying all sorts of shenanigans, many with great rewards. It was as if the Bucs entire defensive plan was to smear two or three players all over Tony Gonzalez, who was basically ignored by Thigpen in the first half. Then in the second half, it was incompletion, incompletion, incompletion to Gonzalez. I felt like Gruden, the Bucs coach, had called Herm at halftime and said "wow, that Wildcat Offense sure put us on our backsides! But seriously, you guys are supposed to lose this one, remember?"

Ingenuity and risk-taking are what separate good coaches from average ones. In the first half, Edwards was being a good coach, and taking a risk on the Wildcat offense and on his young players. In the second half, Edwards was completely average, because anyone could see that the safe thing to do was to just throw to Gonzalez.

*For those readers that have watched the viral spread of the shotgun formation from high school to college to the NFL over the past 10 seasons, expect the same to happen with the Wildcat.

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