What They Do: Deuce Offers Dallas Dozens of Options


The next in a series on Jason Garrett’s offense looks at the incredible flexibilty of the deuce, or 12 set, which features one-back and two tight ends, on the traditional “Y” back, who usually lines up just outside of one of the offensive tackles and a second tight end designed as the F-back, who moves to a wide variety of positions.

The Cowboys have tried in vain the past decade to replace Daryl Johnston, their All-Pro, all-purpose fullback from the Triplets days.  They have drafted a line of fullbacks  (Nicky Sualua, Jamar Martin, Deon Anderson, Shaun Chapas) tried undrafted free agents (Lousaka Polite, Chris Gronkowski) converted inside linebackers (Oliver Hoyte, Isaiah Greenhouse) and drafted tight ends to try at the F-back slot (Anthony Fasano, John Phillips).

In the Coryell/Gibbs/Zampese family of offenses, the fullback or F-back has an obvious, significant role in the running game, leading the halfback on inside runs and sometimes running himself.  The F-back has an equally significant role in the passing game, arguably bigger than the halfback’s.  If he’s capable, there are many plays in the playbook  which line up the F-back in a flankers’ spot, in an ”open” spot in the slot, or on a wing, and send him down the field to challenge linebackers in the deep zones.

Since Johnston retired, Dallas has been able to get half the player.  Some, like Hoyte and Polite, could mash but were poor receivers and runners.  Others like Fasano, could catch but were far less effective as lead blockers.  The best success has come converting tight ends into F-backs.  Jason Witten has an all around game can has blown up defensive tackles on inside runs and traps from the F-back spot.  Martellus Bennett’s emergence as an effective blocker on the line of scrimmage has let Witten feature more as the F.  Recently, John Phillips has played Witten lite — he can block from the backfield and catch, though he lacks Witten’s down-the-field receiving chops.

Phillips’ return, and Dallas struggle to cultivate a pure fullback, mean that the 12 ”deuce” personnel package, will likely feature a lot more in 2011.  Last year, the package was used 17% of the time, down slightly from its 2009 usage.   It was far less effective than it had been;  yardage from the package fell 33% from ’09.

A Base Set in Disguise

One reason to expect more use of the 12 package is how easily it morphs into the 21 standard set.  Here’s a common look, the ”deuce right” formation, popularized by Joe Gibbs’ Redskins in the early ’80s:

              SE                     T     G    C    G    T    TE
                                  F                QB                                          FL

By taking a step back before the snap, the F-back can motion into either the Jack or Queen sets, lining up either behind the left guard or the right guard.  You see this quite a lot when the 12 is used on first or second down.  Dallas can use both TEs on the line of scrimmage or move one into the backfield, retaining its inside running options.

Balance vs. Power

When the 12 hits the field, there are two different ways to view the formation.  One it a balanced set, with two receiving options on each side of the line and the single back in the backfield.  Here, however, there are two sub-sets.   Look again at the deuce set above.  Two possible receivers on each side of the formation, one receiver and one tight end.

There is another class of balanced set, which puts both tight ends on the same side of the field and both receivers opposite them, usually in a slot arrangement:

Flank right
     SE                             T    G    C    G    T    TE
                     FL                        QB                        F


Balanced sets of this type represent specific problems for the defense.  They put the best receiving options wide on one side and create a wide, power running side opposite. In Dallas’ case, Dez Bryant is the split end, with Miles Austin the flanker.  If a defense played them in man-to-man, it would usually park a safety behind the covering corners, for deep help.  With a second safety near centefield, there’s pressure on the strongside defensive end and outside linebackers to hold their perimeter.  If either or both are hooked inside, the running back gets a huge gain.

This type of balanced grouping also offers several sub-options.  It can be deployed in a wide sense, with the F-back acting like a second flanker:
Flex right
           SE                   T    G    C    G    T    TE
                       FL                   QB                                  F


Dallas can also bunch them tight to the offensive line, a look Garrett employs with some frequency.
Float right

                        SE      T    G    C    G    T    TE
                    FL                     QB                        F  


There is a second type of 12 formations — unbalanced ones — which have three receiving options on one side of the set, with the single back.
Trey right

              SE              T    G    C    G    T    TE
                                            QB                        F                  FL


You can roll through the variants of this unbalanced set.  The F  can line up ”open” in the slot between the tight end and the flanker.  The F back can line up wide, with the flanker in the slot between the tight end and the F-back.  The F-back and the split end can swap, with the F-back alone on the weak side of the formation, with the two receivers in a slot on the tight end’s side.  You can have a bunch set, with three receivers, be they one TE and two WRs or one WR and TEs tight one one side of the formation.

You can even flex the back into space to give an empty look, either putting him on the SE’s side or to the overloaded side, putting extreme pressure on that side of the defensive secondary.

The size and receiving ability of the Witten, Bennett, Phillips trio mean the Cowboys retain passing skill despite having two 260+ targets in the game.  Add that both Witten and Phillips show better lead blocking muscle than their fullback compatriots and I think this personnel package rises way up Jason Garrett’s favorites chart this season.


Rafael Vela

Started covering Dallas Cowboys @ TheBoys.com in '95 and '96. Two more stops along the way and here I am. Senior Analyst for SportsTalkLine.com