The Birth and Death of the Packers’ Wildcat Formation

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Aaron Rodgers Tom Clements Packers
Rodgers and QB coach Tom Clements likely not talking about the Wildcat formation. (Photo: Evan Siegle, GBPG)

We may have witnessed the birth and death of the Green Bay Packers “Wildcat” formation, or at least a certain Packers quarterback made it sound like it yesterday.

Before we talk about its potential mortality, let’s document the birth of the Wildcat in the Packers offense.

On Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Packers lined up Randall Cobb, a former college quarterback at Kentucky, in the formation on the second play from scrimmage to start the second half.

Cobb took the direct snap and ran off right tackle for a gain of four yards.

(For those who don’t know, the Wildcat is a single-wing formation in which, more recently, a skill player lines up in the shotgun with some kind of pre-snap motion. Once the ball is snapped, the runner has the option of running directly, handing off to the motion man or throwing, with the latter being the rare exception. However, that player usually has some kind of throwing experience or prowess in order to keep the defense honest to the pass. The Miami Dolphins, with Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, ran the formation successfully during portions of the 2008 season. There are different variations of the formation, but the one listed above is which most fans are now familiar.)

The possibility of running Cobb in the Wildcat formation was briefly discussed after the Packers drafted him in the second round last April. Cobb started nine games at quarterback during his freshman season at Kentucky, throwing for two scores and running for another seven. He moved to receiver full time the next season, later becoming one of Kentucky’s best all-time players. Despite the switch, Cobb obviously possessed the kind of versatility to pull off that kind of formation on occasion in the NFL.

But after just one snap in the formation, that page in the Packers playbook might have been torn out.

While nothing catastrophic happened during the Packers’ trail run at the formation, Jason Wilde’s weekly interview with quarterback Aaron Rodgers suggests that Sunday’s appearance of the Wildcat may be a one-time deal.

“I’m not crazy about it,” Rodgers said matter-of-factly when asked about the formation.

Later, when asked about the possibility of doing a Montee Ball-to-Russell Wilson type throwback pass, Rodgers said, “I’ve done that one time; scout team 2006. We had this awesome play where I pitched it to the back and ran down the sideline and then caught a ball down the sideline for 40 yards. But that was when I was a backup. I get paid to throw the football, and I need to be on the field in order to do that.”

While Rodgers obviously isn’t the one calling plays for the Packers’ offense, there is a certain amount of sway you can believe he has when it comes to a formation like this. Try it one time to get Cobb a carry because of a shortage of running backs? Sure, go ahead. But I wouldn’t expect the Wildcat to show its face again this season. It’s on tape now, and teams have to at least respect the possibility of it showing up again during a given week. That’s more than enough.

There’s also something to be said when the quarterback is that direct his answer. To think that Rodgers hasn’t already expressed that same feeling to Mike McCarthy and Joe Philbin before answering in that way probably isn’t looking at the whole picture.

And why wouldn’t Rodgers dislike the formation? The Packers actually took Rodgers off the field instead of lining him at receiver like most teams have in the Wildcat.

More importantly, taking your best player and the NFL’s likely MVP off the field for even one play probably isn’t the best use of your resources. Having No. 12 on the sidelines drastically reduces your chances of any play being as successful as it can be. Having No. 12 line up at receiver would have the same effect. There are other ways for getting Cobb the football, especially if getting him a carry or two to help the Packers depleted backfield was the sole reason, which was what Philbin said post game. The Minnesota Vikings’ playbook has a plethora of plays that get Percy Harvin the football in various ways as a running back without taking the quarterback off the field or lining him up at receiver.

I’m sure Rodgers wasn’t thrilled at the timing of the play call, either. Running it in the first half as a “surprise” is one thing, but using as the second play of the second half, after a first half that saw the Packers score zero points, was somewhat puzzling. It wasn’t the time to get cute, and it certainly wasn’t the time to take your best player off the field.

Timing might be beyond the point. Either way, Rodgers’ comments certainly make it sound like the Wildcat won’t be a part of the Packers’ offensive plans moving forward. Maybe I’m giving Rodgers too much sway over the play calls, and maybe I’m being too harsh on the usage of it Sunday.

But looking ahead, I’m more than willing to call the formation a torn and disposed of page from the Packers playbook.

RIP Packers Wildcat (Dec. 18, 2011-Dec. 20, 2011)

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Zach Kruse is a 23-year-old sports journalist with a passion for the Green Bay Packers. He currently lives in Wisconsin and is working on his journalism degree, while also covering prep sports for The Dunn Co. News.

You can read more of Zach's Packers articles on AllGreenBayPackers.com.

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  • Ron LC

    Hope practice goes well this week and they get a few guys back. Then we’ll never have to see a “wildcat” again. That play is for teams that are desperate for offense. GB needs to get their offensive dominance back on track for the playoffs. And that requires AR to do the job. Get the Oline to block well enough and the problem is solved. Whatever they have to do this week to get backup for Newsome and EDS it must be done.

    A ball control passing offense should also be considered. Long pass paterns and lousy blocking don’t mix.

  • Dan

    I agree 100%, keep Rodgers on the field (at QB) at all times. He’s the best weapon we have. That being said,, and I’m only saying this out of frustration regarding the loss, but I wonder how much it would have really hurt to run the wild care more in the KC game.

    I can’t help but think , due to the circumstances of this one game,that running the wild cat more, couldn’t of been much worse then what I had witnessed on offense Sunday.

    The Chiefs had a good game plan for the Pack and running the WC would have threw them for a loop. It was obvious that we should have ran more in this game. Cobb had 4 yards on his 1st carry.

    I’m not saying that the Pack should have ran the WC more and of course they did the right thing not to, but could the results been that much worse in this game?

    If MM would have made the proper in game adjustments to combat what KC was doing, this probably would have never crossed my mind. And of course running the wild cat more wouldn’t of helped the receivers from dropping the ball.

    They would have had to practice it all week also, but its just fun saying what if. The Pack was horrible on O Sunday, it couldnt have been to much worse, but who knows.

  • Tarynfor 12

    I had to give the time to read this because of the time you put in to write it.

    Normally,as soon as the word “wildcat” whether,written,spoken and or implied in any fashion pertaining to football I cringe.When it is mentioned in any of the fore mentioned ways as to Packer offense,I want to volunteer for a “lobotomy” to ease the pain and suffering I know that is coming from those offensive geniuses who think it is viable and worthy of being in an NFL playbook.

  • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

    As I wrote back in August, (http://allgbp.com/2011/08/05/randall-cobb-in-green-bay-the-beginning-of-the-end-around/) I’d love to see the Packers use Cobb in a creative fashion. However, I agree with your take Zach, let’s see them do it more like Percy Harvin is used, with the qb ON the field.

    • zeke

      i dont see taking your best player out of the play as being even a decent option. to me, shoring up the offensive line with some healthy top rate talent would be the answer, but how many valuable draft picks can we use on offensive line before we suffer more on defense. injuries have a way of making ted thompsons job a lot more difficult.

  • Dan

    I agree Ron, we needs some lineman back and the problem would be solved. When I saw them run the wild cat in the beginning of the 2nd half, I shook my head. It looked desperate.

    My post was out of frustration due to MMs stubbornness to stick with the original game plan and not make adjustments. It was ment as hypothetical hindsight fun.

  • Dan

    I watched the game again last night, even though I knew it would be painful. Observation….. the Pack has problems with zone coverages. they give up a lot of yards playing off the receivers. guys are so wide open half the time that it confuses me why DC sticks with it. I guess he dosn’t trust some element of man cover with his personal?

    it would seem that with man coverage it would be hard to loose the receivers (in zone gaps) because the guy would be next to the DB. look how effective the Chiefs were playing man with cover 2. they played the WR at line a disturbed route timing.

    The Pack had only scored one TD in the first 57 minutes of the game.
    When the Pack scored thier last TD it was when KC went to Zone ,on 90% of the snaps , on that final drive.

    Of course this wouldnt help our pass rush, but I’m getting sick of watching receivers wide open. Bend but don’t break sucks. The D plays better inside the 10 because its harder to lose the receivers in a tighter space.

    Losing Collins hurts.

  • Dan

    I know DC runs his variation of zone coverage to disguise things, DB blitzing, roaming Woodson, dropping OLBs into coverage, ect, , but maybe changing things a little bit would help. Have Williams and Shields play closer to line on the Rec and man up with them.

    All I’m saying is what thier doing now font seem to be working well. # 31 in the league.

  • BubbaOne

    If Aaron Rodgers plays anywhere near the same level the next 7-8 years that he has in his 1st four years he’ll be a HOF’er. It’s obvious in today’s pass happy NFL having a franchise QB is a huge advantage . In the last few years our OL has given up too many sacks. I know they’re are no givens but for the reasons mentioned are why I’m FOR the wildcat…the Packers version I call “Wildpack”.

    If they’re 70 offensive plays a game and Cobb does 7 a game it lessens the wear and tear on Rodgers. 7 plays X 16 games means he roughly plays 14 1/2 games a year which should prolong a highly successful career. It also means less chances AR gets sacked and/or injured.

    W/ Cobb’s success in college and how dynamic a player he’s shown here the Wildpack could be a point producer not just a gimmick scheme. I know taking AR off the field or moving him to WR has it’s downside but I’m not willing to dismiss running the Wildpack out of hand.

    • BubbaOne

      Addition: The man under cover 2 has been the most successful D vs the Packers. Cobb’s running ability at QB would put alot of strain on this D. If the D changes Cobb has the ability to throw to a talented array of receivers.

    • Tarynfor 12

      How about factoring in that 7 times a game,the risk of it ending a possession increases.With 12 possessions a game near the average,that is too much chance when you have a QB like AR.

    • Steve Cheez

      The way things have been going, we might even want to move him to tackle for the Wildpack

  • Lucas

    How is Cobb in the WildCobb any different than A-Rod handing it off? Every hand off takes it out of A-Rod’s hands. Oh…but it’s the threat of Aaron throwing? Moderation is the key with play calling. Aaron cannot win a game throwing 100% of the time.

  • homerunsimpson

    well… it did get 4 yards…