Jason Garrett has long been known in NFL coaching circles for his offensive genius. With the September 5th season opener looming on the horizon, Jason Garrett might have to change things up a little bit. In the preseason opener, a missed blocked lead to a busted play that lead to a ‘slightly’ lacerated spleen for Jason Witten. This injury, although it won’t require surgery, will make Jason Garrett change up a large majority of his offensive game plan.
Last year, Jason Garrett loved to use “12” personnel. In English, it simply means that there will be one back, two tight ends. The remaining personnel are covered by the six bodies used for Offensive Line and QB (six total) and the remainder are used for wide receivers. This formula is commonly used to describe formation personnel. For example, “22” personnel means two backs, two tightends, and one wide receiver.
As reported by ESPN Dallas’, Tim MacMahon, Garret used “12” personnel on 53% of his plays last year, (third most in the NFL) and gained an average of 7 yards per play. The reason behind Garrett’s use of the “12” personnel was easy, formerly departed tight end, Martellus Bennett, was a blocking machine, and Jason Witten was so versatile he could be used as a blocker, a tight end, or a slot receiver. This lead to immense amount of confusion, and a defensive game “where’s Witten” (formerly “Where’d Waldo” and invented by the Eagles with their creative use of Brian Westbrook).
The news is good, for Cowboys fans. With Witten not requiring surgery, and his mandatory “sit and wait” timeline officially over, Witten rehabbed with resistance cords; although his status for the season opener one week from today is still uncertain. Backup tight end, John Phillips, has had yet another eye-opening preseason. He is making grab, taking hits, and getting first downs. He would be credited with another catch if replay officials didn’t botch a “completion of the catch” call on Saturday night. It was a nice, one-handed grab that sadly didn’t count.
The answer to how Jason Garrett will replace Jason Witten is simple; the Cowboys dont’ need no stinkin’ “12” personnel. With arguably the best full back in the NFL, Lawrence Vickers is going to pave the way to ‘pay dirt’. (For those wondering, Vonta Leach, of the Baltimore Ravens, is the other full back considered in that conversation). Jason Garrett needs to run “21” personnel as often as possible.
This will allow several advantages for the Cowboys if Witten cannot play. The first is a viable blocker in the box. Bennett, as I said previously, left in the off season to go play for the New York Giants. His loss can be accounted for by placing the best full back in the league near the line of scrimmage, and having him attack linebackers. Putting this additional blocker will also have the Cowboys leaning more on the run game, leading to less opportunity for mistakes from Romo.
The second advantage is that the Cowboys can put the third wide receiver candidate on the field instead of an additional tight end. Between John Phillips and James Hanna, both are ‘ok’ pass catchers, but none of them have the same ability as a Dwayne Harris, or Kevin Ogletree. With more viable options in the passing game, the defense will be more spread out, and this will, in turn, aid the run game.
Losing Jason Witten isn’t something the Cowboys will be able to easily over come. But with a little creativity in Jason Garrett’s playbook, and a willingness to give up his favorite personnel package, “12” personnel, the Cowboys will have a fighting chance on offense to be among the top five offenses in the NFL.