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Patriots had no answers for Miami's scheme

By Mike Reiss
Globe Staff / September 21, 2008
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FOXBOROUGH - The Wildcat got 'em.

That's what Ricky Williams called the unconventional offensive package the Dolphins sprung on the Patriots during today's 38-13 beatdown at Gillette Stadium. The unique strategy had running back Ronnie Brown taking a direct snap while lined up in the shotgun as the quarterback, Williams coming left to right in motion as a receiver, and quarterback Chad Pennington at receiver.

Some might call it a gimmick, but gimmicks are usually one-time deals, trick plays used sparingly. In this case, the Dolphins went to the Wildcat six times, and clawed the Patriots' defense into submission with touchdown runs of 2, 5, and 62 yards, as well as Brown's 19-yard touchdown pass.

That's no gimmick. It's just domination.

"It's something we hadn't seen," Patriots safety Rodney Harrison said. "Obviously, they practiced and practiced a lot, and they caught us by surprise. We tried to make adjustments. We still didn't stop it. We tried to make more adjustments, and we still didn't stop it. It was one of those days."

The Dolphins explained they went with the Wildcat because of how much respect they had for the Patriots' defensive front seven - the three linemen and four linebackers. Williams said the Dolphins first needed to find an answer for Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork, who anchors a sturdy run defense by lining up over the center and helping control the line of scrimmage.

Try to run at them, or through them, and the Dolphins figured they would be in for a long day.

"We needed to get them off balance and show them a different look and not let them get too comfortable," said Brown, who finished with 113 yards on 17 carries and four rushing touchdowns. "I think when they get settled, they're pretty fundamentally sound as a defense. We tried to give them a new look."

Part of that look included moving left tackle Jake Long to the right side, creating an unbalanced line that looked like this:

Tight end/left guard/center/right guard/right tackle/right tackle.

By overloading the right side with two tackles, the Dolphins altered the look of the gaps the Patriots' run defense had to fill. In turn, assignment-sound New England defenders suddenly found themselves struggling to be in the proper position.

"They ran some unbalanced formations that it didn't seem that we had any answers for," Patriots defensive end Richard Seymour said. "We would slide over [to match the strength of the formation] and sometimes we stayed. We were running around like chickens with our heads cut off. We really didn't know what to do."

The Wildcat, it turns out, was let out of the cage on the Dolphins' plane ride home from their 31-10 loss to Arizona Sept. 14 after the team dropped to 0-2. Coach Tony Sparano said he called quarterbacks coach David Lee up to his seat, and they discussed ways in which they could get the running game going with Brown taking direct snaps from center.

Lee had run something similar last year at the University of Arkansas, so the idea was fused with Miami offensive coordinator Dan Henning's schemes. Sparano joked that the package could best be referred to as "the David Lee Special."

One Patriots defender also figured Pennington probably had something to do with it as well, because the package was similar to what Pennington's former team, the Jets, utilized last year against the Patriots with receiver Brad Smith.

"It was something we pulled out every once in a while," Pennington said of the Dolphins using it today. "It's a different look, it really is."

The Dolphins first called upon the package with 4:49 left in the second quarter while holding a 14-6 lead. Williams came in motion from left to right, and took a handoff from Brown. He tripped and gained just 3 yards.

Five plays later, the Dolphins called the same play and Williams raced 28 yards.

And three plays after that, Brown kept the ball on the direct snap and raced through the right side for an easy 5-yard score.

"They were ready for [Ricky], setting up for that, so when he came across in motion they would flow with him, and it just opened things up [for me] in the middle," Brown said.

Figuring the Patriots would adjust in the second half, the Dolphins added yet another wrinkle. Facing third and 3 from the Patriots' 19, Brown took a direct snap, rolled to his left, and fired a lefthanded touchdown strike to tight end Anthony Fasano.

"By that point we had them off balance and they didn't know what to expect," Brown said. "I think we were able to catch them off guard and keep them on their heels a lot. I really don't think they expected me to throw the ball."

Brown capped the impressive day by taking a direct snap in the fourth quarter and racing untouched for a 62-yard touchdown.

In all, the Dolphins had five runs for an even 100 yards out of the unique package, in addition to the 19-yard touchdown pass.

It was a ferocious Wildcat attack.

Mike Reiss can be reached at mreiss@globe.com.

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