The Buffalo Bills’ Wildcat has lacked bite this season.
The specialty package was supposed to add a big-play element to keep defensive coordinators up at night, but so far has been an afterthought in the Bills’ offense.
“I just hoped it would be a little bit better, what we’re doing with it,” coach Chan Gailey said. “I was hoping it would create a little more of a problem for people, but I think having it, they have to work on it and I hope that as time goes on we’ll be able to use it more and more.”
The Bills have run 17 plays from the Wildcat formation, gaining 74 yards. They’ve thrown once from the formation — and it was intercepted. (One rush by Wildcat QB Brad Smith went for a loss of 2 yards, but was negated by a penalty.)
“We haven’t done a lot of it,” Smith said. “It comes down to the situation in the game and what the coaching staff decides.”
Of the 16 called run plays from the formation, 10 have gone for fewer than 4 yards, including a loss of 15 yards after a fumble.
“It’s just like any other part of your offense,” Gailey said. “You want to be consistent with it. You want to not have negative plays. If you can go get 4 or 5, 6 or 7 [yards], it’s just like any other thing and now you’ve made them work on it because the possibility of a big play is there. So you’ve made them spend time on it but you’ve done something that didn’t hurt your offense, it probably helped it in some ways. And I think that sometimes we think the Wildcat’s going to produce something unbelievable. If it’s just consistent, we’ll be all right.”
The Bills’ two biggest plays out of the formation this season have been runs by Smith in which he takes the snap out of the shotgun and fakes a handoff to a sprinting running back. He ran that play to the left side for 30 yards against the 49ers in Week Five, then picked up 16 going to the right the following week in Arizona.
“That’s just one of the wrinkles of our offense,” said quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who plays a bit part in the package by lining up wide. “I think every time we’re in it, everybody expects to see a 30-yard run. Sometimes, even though it’s kind of a gadgety thing, getting 3, 4 yards on a run isn’t a bad thing. It might not be flashy, but that’s something I think we’re always going to carry.
“I think Brad’s a pretty dynamic player. You saw it on the kickoff return [for a touchdown] and you’ve seen it a few times where he’s been able to get in space. That’s something for us that’s not always a ‘OK, let’s get a big 50-yard play.’ Sometimes it’s just looking to control the ball and run it versus bad boxes.”
The Bills ran the Wildcat just twice last week against Houston, with Smith getting stuffed for no gain on a carry and Fred Jackson gaining 2 on a direct snap.
“I wouldn’t say disappointed,” Smith said when asked about how much the team is using the formation. “I know there’s a time and place for it. I’m happy when I can get the ball in my hands. There are opportunities to make plays when my number’s called.”
If the Bills do turn to the Wildcat on Sunday, it will be new to the Patriots this season. The only two games in which the Bills haven’t run the formation are the season opener against the Jets (Smith was dealing with a sore groin) and against New England.
“I think Chan does a good job offensively,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “He gives you a lot of things to prepare for. That’s one of them. I think all that wears on you defensively in terms of preparation. He does a real good job of game planning that, keeping you off balance and making you defend a lot of things.”
The Wildcat was popularized against New England in 2008 when Miami ran it six times and scored five touchdowns in a 38-13 upset win.
“It really hasn’t been a problem ever since the first time we saw it against the Dolphins,” Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said of defending it. “But Buffalo does run it and they have the personnel to run it.”