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NBC: Assessing Cowboys’ Use of Two Tight Ends/Three Receivers

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At NBC, I’ve been posting some 2012 stats from various personnel packages and formations. My first was on the success from two-tight end looks.

The Cowboys used their 2013 second-round selection on tight end Gavin Escobar because they clearly want to run more two-tight end sets this season. Jason Garrett has long been a fan of two-tight end packages because the offense can beat defenses both on the ground and through the air. That’s the plan, at least. And the Cowboys actually pass quite a bit from two-tight end looks, especially “12” personnel—one running back, two tight ends, and two receivers.

In 2012, the offense got away from employing two tight ends as often as they’d like. The primary reason was that the Cowboys got down in games so often, forcing them to use three and four-receiver sets. By drafting another tight end capable of beating defenses as a receiver, the hope is that the Cowboys will be able to use more packages and formations from which they can effectively run and pass the ball.

Last year, the offense was moderately effective when passing the ball with two tight ends on the field, doing it 118 times for 924 yards (7.83 YPA). That’s a decent number, but I think Tony Romo & Co. could improve their efficiency by using more “run-oriented” formations when they’re planning to pass. The Cowboys have historically had a ton of success when they use two tight ends to line up in a formation from which teams normally run the ball, i.e. any sort of “Double Tight” formation with the tight ends both lined up in-line.

I also noted that “12” and other two-tight packages are often too predictable.

Jason Garrett’s play-calls have been somewhat predictable from two-tight end sets. Looking at various two-tight end packages, there are certain formations from which the team almost exclusively runs or passes. For example, the Cowboys don’t mind passing from a traditional “Double Tight” formation, but when they do that, they usually utilize “12”personnel—one running back, two tight ends, and two receivers. When the offense lines up in any “Double Tight” formation with “22” personnel—two running backs, two tight ends, and one receiver—they rarely pass the ball.

That wouldn’t be a problem in and of itself because some predictability isn’t always a bad thing. It doesn’t matter what package or formation you use on third-and-12 because the defense knows you’ll probably be passing anyway, for example. The problem is that the Cowboys have historically utilized “22” personnel in lots of situations in which they could pass the ball. Dallas ran a “Double Tight” formation with “22” personnel on 58 plays in 2012. Well over half of those plays (34) came on first-and-10, many of them in the first half.

And finally, I examined if the Cowboys might be better off in three-receiver sets, especially when they want to run the ball.

The Cowboys have long been successful when running the ball from “11” personnel—one running back, one tight end, and three receivers—but for whatever reason, they don’t do it much. Garrett called for a run with “11” personnel 86 times last year. That’s less than one-quarter of all running plays. The Cowboys managed 4.35 YPC on those rushes, however, compared to 3.31 YPC on all other runs. Even in short-yardage situations, it could really benefit the Cowboys to get Escobar off of the field—especially since he’s a really poor blocker—and spread out the defense to opening up running lanes. As much as I like Williams’ size and speed, his biggest contribution in 2013 could be getting on the field to allow the ‘Boys to rush the ball more effectively.

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3 Responses to NBC: Assessing Cowboys’ Use of Two Tight Ends/Three Receivers

  1. Pounda says:

    Thanks for the insightful article, Jonathan. It’s really surprising the Cowboys organization doesn’t seem to be aware of these play calling issues and mix things up more to keep defenses guessing and get better results. Surely there are quality control or self-scouting staff that collect data to identify these mental ruts that Garrett gets into? Many fans have noticed his predictability as an offensive play caller; is the organization so oblivious that they don’t see it?

  2. No, they have plenty of guys in place to track this stuff (well, some of it). They lost their main analytics guy to the Browns last year. I can tell you that there were some issues with the collected data getting translated to the field.

  3. Pounda says:

    Interesting. That doesn’t speak very well for the coaching staff.

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