The 2013 football season is now upon us with the Cowboys opening camp yesterday, and it promises to be one of the most watched and most exciting camps in years. Although many of the players remain the same, the defensive scheme will be dramatically different. And, even though the Cowboys will continue to employ head coach Jason Garrett’s offense, it will be significantly different as well.
June 11, 2013; Irving, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys center Travis Frederick (70) tackle Tyron Smith (77) tight end Jason Witten (82) and tackle Doug Free (63) during minicamp at Dallas Cowboys Headquarters. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Let’s start with the tight ends. The Cowboys are taking six of them to camp and no fullback. It appears that at least four of them are likely to stick, maybe more with the absence of a fullback, after the team recently cut Lawrence Vickers. In this modified version of Garrett’s offense, one of the tight ends will, at times, be the lead blocker for DeMarco Murray, or whoever else happens to line up back there. And this is a real departure from the Norv Turner offense Garrett is a disciple of that the Cowboys ran during the early 90’s, when they collected several Lombardi trophies.
That offense relied heavily on the fullback. All the accolades that Emmitt Smith received for his accomplishments as a Cowboy, and the NFL rushing record, were well deserved, but it all goes back to the lead blocking of fullback Daryl Johnston. Things change though and what has changed in the NFL is the fullback position. The fullback position has disappeared as other teams have come to rely on single back sets with, or without, the tight end as the lead blocker.
This scheme isn’t necessarily new for the Cowboys, as they had to rely on it when fullback Tony Fiammetta missed several games with a mystery illness during the 2011 season. For the 2012 season, the Cowboys signed free agent fullback Lawrence Vickers away from the Houston Texans. The Texans must have known something the Cowboys didn’t though, since I would categorize Vickers’ stint with the Cowboys an abject failure. Unlike Fiammetta, who seemed to have a knack for knowing where Murray was heading, Vickers seemed to just be in Murray’s way.
Murray appears to be more comfortable in the one back set anyway and that allows the Cowboys to go with sets that employ multiple tight ends. The goal is the keep the defense guessing and I think this scheme accomplishes that. After all, when the defense sees a fullback in the offensive backfield, it’s a pretty safe bet that they plan to run. But with a set the includes two or more tight ends, all that beef upfront might make it appear the Cowboys plan to run, but it would be so easy for them to pass as well, especially since these tight ends are also accomplished receivers.
May 21, 2013; Irving, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) talks with receiver Dez Bryant (88) and quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson during organized team activities at Dallas Cowboys Headquarters. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Add to that quarterback Tony Romo being more involved in the game plan and more in control of what happens on the field, you start to see a plan taking shape. Even though the hurry-up offense was very successful when employed by the Cowboys during the 2012 season, Garrett seemed to be reluctant to use it, only resorting to it when the Cowboys were so far behind that they had to if they were even going to have a chance to get back into the game. And even though I called for more of it every week it seems last season, it was only used to get back into the game.
I believe the plan for the 2013 season is to use a base set with two tight ends, two wide receivers and one running back. From this set, the Cowboys can run, with plenty of lead blocking from the tight ends, or pass to any of five eligible receivers. But the real key is that it requires less personnel changes between plays and allows the Cowboys to hurry things up at any given time during the game, which they will do. Romo has already shown he can call the plays when in the hurry up and his involvement in the game planning will only help.
Garrett would have to be a moron not to recognize how dynamic his offense was when employing the hurry up. Yeah, I know some of you think he’s a moron anyway, but I happen to think he’s pretty sharp and it will become more apparent to the rest of you this season. And a scheme they used out of necessity a couple of years ago will lead the Cowboys into the future.