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Dolphins force snap judgments Bills 'D' must tame Wildcat formation

"Discipline" was the buzzword going around the Buffalo Bills' locker room Wednesday as the team prepared to face the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.

The Bills will try to contain Miami's "Wildcat" formation, which has been the gadget play of the year in the NFL this season.

The scheme, in which running back Ronnie Brown takes a direct snap in the shotgun formation, has produced 256 yards in 30 plays with six touchdowns over the past four Miami games.

"Basically it's an option offense, kind of like teams run in college," Bills defensive end Ryan Denney said. "If someone bites into the fake, that's where you get burned. The whole success of our defense depends on us being gap-responsible and playing our assignment."

Miami sprung the formation on New England on Sept. 21, and it produced four touchdowns and 119 yards in six plays. Miami won, 38-13.

The basic play goes like this: Brown takes the snap in typical shotgun position, about 6 yards behind the center. Fellow running back Ricky Williams typically lines up as a receiver on the far left. Quarterback Chad Pennington lines up as a receiver on the far right. The fullback is in the slot receiver spot on the right. Then Williams goes in motion to the right.

Brown either hands off to a sprinting Williams for a run off right tackle -- the strong side of the formation -- or Brown takes off and runs himself.

"It's almost like backyard football," Bills linebacker Keith Ellison said. "After he fakes it, he finds a hole, he hits it. We have to do a good job on stopping that."

The formation went for 49 yards and a touchdown against San Diego and 84 and a touchdown against Houston. Against Baltimore's No. 2-ranked defense Sunday, however, Miami managed just 4 yards on five Wildcat plays. Miami lost, 27-13.

Miami coach Tony Sparano said the genesis of the formation was simple: Miami has two talented backfield weapons in Brown, the former second overall pick in the draft, and Williams, who has more than 7,000 career rushing yards.

"There's not enough footballs to go around so Ronnie and Ricky on the field at the same time gets our best personnel out there in these situations," Sparano said on a conference call with Buffalo media. "I think formationally, it's something that you have to pay attention to. You have to line up to it on the defensive side of the ball. If you don't, and you don't pay enough attention to it, it could hurt you."

Bills coach Dick Jauron acknowledged the Dolphins have forced opponents to devote precious practice time to stopping it.

"The reason why it's successful is how they do it," Jauron said. "They execute it well. It does take time, there's no way around it. . . . It takes preparation time for your opponent. It's been very good to them, and we are having to put in time."

Baltimore was able to get penetration up the middle to slow down Brown's advance before he got going.

"Baltimore did a good job against it," Denney said. "Their key appeared to be just that they were attacking it, as opposed to just containing it. They were able to get the ball carrier down before he hit a hole or was able to get yardage. Obviously, you want to contain it, but you can't really sit back and let them do what they want to do. You still have to be very aggressive."

Teams are forced to make some alignment adjustments, because Miami typically uses an unbalanced offensive line. The Dolphins put only a guard and a tight end to the left of the center. To the right of the center is, in order, a guard and two tackles. The guard on the left pulls to the right to help lead the play -- if Brown goes right or Williams takes the handoff.

Against New England, Miami often had six men blocking four on the strong side of the play.

"The advantage we have that New England didn't have when they played them when they broke out the Wildcat formation is we've had a chance to break down the film and make ourselves aware of what they do," Denney said.

"It's kind of like playing against an option team like we did in college," Ellison said. "Everybody has a job to do, and you do your job. It comes down to guys being disciplined."

e-mail: mgaughan@buffnews.com

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