Thursday, November 19, 2009

Wild No More

The Wildcat just got tamed.

The Miami Dolphins placed running back Ronnie Brown on injured reserve yesterday with a right ankle and foot injury, shelving him for the rest of the season.

Brown’s injury is a huge blow to the remainder of Miami’s season.

Part of a fourth ranked rushing attack, Brown had 648 yard rushing and eight touchdowns, leading the Dolphins in both categories. What makes him more irreplaceable to Miami though is how well he ran the Wildcat offense.

Miami’s offense, minus the ‘cat, is pretty bland. Ranked 30th in passing offense, Davone Bess is the team’s leading receiver with only 334 yards through nine games and only one tight end or receiver, Joey Haynos, has caught two touchdown passes.
The Dolphins rely heavily on the rush, but what gives them flexibility and makes them unpredictable in order to keep defenses honest is their ability to run the Wildcat.

Brown was the triggerman for the unorthodox formation. First things first, he is able to cleanly catch the direct snap. Although basic, running backs aren’t familiar with taking snaps from the center, and dropping the snap easily botches the entire play. Also, he was able to make clean handoffs to Ricky Williams. Again, while they get the handoff, actually passing the ball on to someone is not something they do very often and would ruin the play.

Everyone is aware of the ability Brown has as a runner but what made him so effective in the Wildcat was his ability as a passer.

During his career, Brown has completed four of 10 passes for 63 yards, two touchdowns, zero interceptions, and has a 101.2 passer rating. His ability to roll out and throw a left handed pass to a receiver in the end zone keeps defenses off-balance.

While Ricky Williams, the 2002 NFL rushing champion, is having a fine season himself—compiling 558 yards on the ground with six touchdowns, with an additional 193 receiving yards (fourth-best on the team) and one receiving touchdown—and is a more than capable backup running back, replacing Brown in the Wildcat will not be something easily done.

How well will Williams throw the ball? The possibility of a pass, even without a quarterback, keeps teams guessing. If Williams is a lousy passer, then the formation will not be effective.

And who will take Williams’ role in the formation? With Brown taking snaps, Williams has been the key motion man, and without him, the play becomes even less effective.

Without Brown, Miami fans could see more of the Pistol formation, where backup quarterback Pat White enters the game. White has completed zero passes on three attempts, but the threat is there. He does have 48 rushing yards on 11 carries and is a dangerous ball carrier.

Another question that begs to be answered is with Brown accumulating another injury is his career as a Dolphin in jeopardy?

In five NFL seasons, only once has Brown played in all 16 games and this will be the second time in three years that he plays in less than 10 games due to an injury on his right leg.

While he is a very talented player and plays a critical role on the team, durability is a big issue, especially with Bill Parcells and his crew running the team. If Brown is not healthy and cannot perform on the field, what sense is there in keeping him around?

Brown is in the last year of his rookie contract and will turn 28 years old next month. With questions of his durability coupled with his advanced age, will Miami be willing to bring him back or will they start to look in a new direction?

This latest injury to Brown creates a new question the Dolphins will have to answer: how much longer will both the Wildcat and Brown be around in Miami?

NFL Week 11 picks:

Another Thursday night game this week. Miami (4-5) faces off against Carolina (4-5).
The Panthers had a big win last week against Atlanta, while Miami just squeezed by Tampa Bay.

The biggest factor here, as stated above, is how Miami’s offense responds without Ronnie Brown in the lineup.

Will they still run the Wildcat?

Can Ricky Williams shoulder a larger load?

Can the Dolphins be successful in a more conventional style of offense?

On the other side of the ball it will be Miami’s pass rush against Jake Delhomme.
While Miami’s pass defense is not very good, their pass rush has generated 25 sacks, good for fourth best in the NFL. They also get the return of Joey Porter, who has not been as effective as he was last season, but still has enough talent and bravado to provide some extra punch.

Delhomme is second in the NFL in interceptions thrown with 13 (Jay Cutler, 17, is first). However, he hasn’t thrown an interception in his last three games, two of which were Carolina wins.

On Tuesday, Carolina placed left tackle Jordan Gross on injured reserve with a broken ankle. Gross has been one of the league’s best left tackles and Delhomme, in his rockiest moments, has depended on the 6’4”, 305 pound man to protect his blindside.

The Gross injury will have a greater effect in the game than the Brown injury because Miami will take its aggressive pass rush and attack Delhomme, coming after him and forcing him to make plays and causing turnovers.

Miami wins.

Photo Credits.
Top: AP Photo/Hans Deryk
Right: AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

Ronnie Brown and Wildcat highlights. Video from Youtube.

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