The Cowboys Offense 2013: Different Looks, Same Play, Big Plays

That’s it.  You would be surprised how many plays are the same play, just from different formations…Again, it’s all the same stuff, you’re just moving guys all over the place.  You’re giving different looks, but you are running the same plays over and over again.
— Rich Musinski, The Coordinator’s Craft, Part 2, CN, May 20, 2013

Here are examples from two 2012 Cowboys’ games which prove Musinski’s point.  They show Jason Garrett breaking tight end Jason Witten free on a deep seam route.  The plays are versions of 370 shoot swing, a pet play in the Turner/Zampese/Martz scheme.   The play puts two receivers on one side of the formation and has the split end run a shallow crossing or 0 route. The receiver inside of him runs a corner, or 7 route, which starts up-field, then breaks diagonally towards the sideline..  The lone running back runs a swing route, or a wide route parallel to the line of scrimmage, towards the split end’s side.  
On the opposite side of the field, the tight end (Y) and a flanking receiver both run vertical routes.  In 370, that wider target is the F-back. who will sometimes line up in the backfield or sometimes flank the Y, depending on the formation from which the play is run.   The tight end runs a 3-route, a combination out and up which is supposed to shake his primary defender.
When the Cowboys hosted the Eagles in week 14, Garrett got a big 4th quarter play calling flank right 370, F-shoot swing:

 The personnel package is deuce, or 12 — one back, two TEs and two WRS. The formation is flank, a balanced set which puts the back directly behind Tony Romo and two receiving targets to each side.  In flank, both of the receivers, Dez Bryant and Miles Austin, are in a slot on the left, while both tight ends, Witten and F-back James Hanna, are on the right.  Flank offers a dilemma for opposing secondaries. It overloads run muscle on ond side and overloads the receiving speed on the opposite side.  Dallas has four blockers to the right of the center, butr all the deep speed on the left.  Does the defense commit to stopping the run, or the pass?
The Eagles match up in man-to-man.  They put both cornerbacks and safety Curt Coleman on Dallas’ left and overshift their defensive line towards the tight ends.  They walk up safety Nate Allen to offer more run support.  The Eagles have eight men “in the box” at the snap.
Watch in this next sequence of still how James Hanna’s speed affects Allen. When Hanna and Witten make their initial breaks towards the near sideline, Allen tries staying over the top of Hanna, and moves himself outside of the numbers:

When Witten makes his second cut up-field, he’s already on top of Allen and far inside of the safety.  What’s more, Austin’s corner cut has pulled Coleman to the numbers on the opposite side. There are no Eagles defenders inside the numbers past a depth of  ten yards.  Romo has plenty of room in centerfield and his throw leads Witten towards the post, away from the chasing Allen:

Coleman recovers to make a score-stopping tackle, but he’s so wide that Witten is able to reach the Eagles’ 4 before he’s tackled.   The play worked as designed.  
Let’s now go back to week two, when the Cowboys played Seattle. In the 2nd quarter, Dallas faced a 2nd-and-8 situation just past mid-field.  In this instance, Garrett put in his posse, or 11 personnel package. It has DeMarco Murray as the lone back, Witten as the Y and three receivers, Bryant, Austin and Kevin Ogletree.  Bryant is at his usual spot as the X, or split end.  Austin is the Z, flanking Witten and in this package Ogletree plays the F.
Garrett uses a formation called  gun double right, which puts Romo in the shotgun. The X and the F deploy in a slot set on the left side, with the Y and Z on the right.  The halfback flanks Romo on the weak side, the left in this case.
The wrinkle here is that Murray is split slightly wider than normal.  In gun double right, the halfback is usually directly behind the left tackle.  In this case, he’s between LT Tyron Smith and slot WR Ogletree.  The idea is the same as in 370 —  to move the safeties laterally and clear the deep middle for Witten. Pre-snap, the Seahawks are in a man-under look with their safeties, Earl Thomas and Cam Chancellor, covering deep halves of the field. 
You can see in still two that the routes are identical to those in 370.  Bryant is running a zero route, Ogletree is starting a corner route towards the left, and Murray is cutting wide on a swing route. On the right, Austin, who starts the play wide, runs a fly route (9) straight up the field. 
The Seahawks are playing a cover-3.  Their strong-side inside linebacker, who started the play over Witten, is working towards the far flat.  The SS Chancellor is coming forward into the hook zone at the right hash, looking for Witten to run an intermediate route.  The corners are dropping into deep thirds, while Thomas plays centerfield.  
In still three of this sequence, Witten is making his initial cut towards the right sideline.  Getting him free depends on getting Earl Thomas to move towards Dallas’ left. In still four, you see Romo look towards Ogletree, who is making his cut towards the left pylon:

Romo’s eyes move Thomas two steps towards Ogletree.  When Romo turns back towards Witten in still five, Thomas applies the brakes, but he’s far out of position.  When Witten makes his second cut, he’s free behind Chancellor up the right seam.

Romo hits Witten in stride, but this was the immediate post-spleen injury Witten.  He drops the ball, costing Dallas a big play:

Despite the bobble, you can see Rich Musinski’s point.  Jason Garrett ran the same play from two different personnel packages and two very different formations. In each case, he got his primary target wide open for big plays.  This is the game — keep your plans simple for your players and difficult for the opposition.

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

7 Replies to “The Cowboys Offense 2013: Different Looks, Same Play, Big Plays”

  1. What I really like about this play is the way they attacked the defense…straight (for the most part) up the field about 15-20 yards down the field. Lots of positives for the Cowboys:

    1. Romo can get the ball out of his hands quickly
    2. It attacks behind the linebackers and in front of the safeties.
    3. Even in tight man coverage, it forces the DB to ultimately turn his back to the WR in order to make a play on the ball (advantage WR) unless, of course, the WR has inside leverage (advantage WR). Assuming the DB can even find the ball in the air, I think the inherent advantage still lies with the Cowboys big, athletic pass catchers to make the play (6’2″ Dez; 6’2″ Austin; 6’2 Williams; 6’6 Witten; 6’4 Hanna; and 6’6 Escobar) against the shorter defender.

    Plays to the Cowboy strength and mitigates the Cowboys weakness (pass protection). Hard to go wrong with that combination.

  2. Well done Raf. Garrett’s offense is fine, and I have always liked an OC calling plays rather than the HC. Normally a coordinator is a little less conservative than a HC, which IMO is a good thing, and also should allow the RHG to focus on decisions.

  3. This was a good breakdown, I hope we see a lot of Witten down the middle from several formations.

    But the success of this will rest on our ability mix things up by running the ball well. And we also have to be able to protect Tony Romo.

    In other words it all comes down to the play of our offensive line. Just don’t want to keep repeating that and beating a dead horse.

  4. The thing will be finishing games this year. Too many “coulda, woulda, shoulda.” Need to become a smart team and execute down the stretch – mastering the simple plays would be a good step. How cool would it be to have a few blowout wins too!

  5. He was more open that I remembered.

    As for keeping it simple for your players, I hope Kiffin will be able to do the same with the defense. Indicators so far are good.

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