Basic Formation Changes Can Boost Cowboys Over Broncos


I would like to start by sending my condolences to the family and friends of former Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end L.C. Greenwood. Greenwood passed at the age of 67 on Sunday due to kidney failure. Even as a die-hard Dallas Cowboys fan, I am able to admire and respect great players and hopefully he can be inducted into the NFL’s Hall of Fame posthumously.

Let’s move to the Cowboys team that remains consistently inconsistent. I have been looking at game film and I hope to share baffling moments from the offense and defense. I will also share things done by other teams that the Cowboys should be adding to their playbook.

Sep 29, 2013; San Diego, CA, USA; Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant (88) celebrates with running back DeMarco Murray (29) after a touchdown during the second quarter against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

I believe the Cowboys should abandon the spread offense for more of a compression based set. The spread offense is great when you have talented skill players that present match-up problems for defenders. It requires receivers to beat their defender at the line and doesn’t allow a free release if the defender is playing bump and run (press) coverage. Dez Bryant usually beats press coverage with his strength while Miles Austin uses speed to beat press coverage. The spread formation doesn’t help the other receivers however.

On the Cowboys second possession, they are faced with a 3rd and 2 situation with the Chargers defense in man-press coverage. Dez Bryant (top of the screen) looks like he’s trying to get outside his defender but gets rerouted inside for the slant. Cole Beasley (second from the top) does a stutter step to get inside his defender. Jason Witten gets behind his defender and runs an IN route. Witten ends up very close to Beasley. Dwayne Harris runs an quick out at the first down marker. Terrance Williams runs a go route but doesn’t get any separation. Left tackle, Tyron Smith is pushed back into Romo, but there really isn’t any pressure. Romo may have decided he was going to Bryant before the snap, but Harris was open.

Cowboys 3rd and 2 

I looked at every Cowboys offensive possession and an abnormally high percentage of them resemble this formation. Spread formation routes need time for plays to develop. This play development reveals the coverage but the offensive line isn’t providing quality protection. This causes Romo to settle for the underneath passes which results in a very low 6.59 yards per pass attempt stat. The Cowboys would benefit more with receivers in bunch and stacked formations.

When receivers are stacked, one receiver is in front of the other receive and close together. In a bunch formation, you see receivers positioned in what looks like a triangle. These formations allow receivers to get into their routes faster and exposes weaknesses in the defense.

This video is from the New Orleans Saints — Miami Dolphins game. Notice their two receivers “stacked” on the left and how quickly Kenny Stills #84 gets open.

Saints 3rd and 2

This next video is from the Denver Broncos — Philadelphia Eagles game. The Broncos are facing a 3rd and 2 on the Eagles 7 yard line. The Eagles have to respect Eric Decker #87 going to the corner of the end zone. Demaryius Thomas #88 blocks his defender as if it’s a running play which leaves Wes Welker to break to the flat for a pitch and catch touchdown.

Broncos Bunch Formation

This Broncos’ drive consisted of 10 plays, nine of which were no huddle. The Broncos’ manage to run the ball during their no-huddle plays while the Cowboys tend to abandon the run completely.

The Chargers game doesn’t compare to the Chiefs game in which DeMarco Murray had 12 carries for 25 yards (2.5 yards per carry). Against the Chargers, Murray had 70 yards on 14 carries (5.0 yards per carry). The Cowboys were three of nine on third down conversions and went three and out three times. We won’t beat Peyton Manning by going three and out, losing the time of possession battle and starting field position.

Defensively, the Cowboys provide offenses with opportunity to pick them apart. From the Chargers game, this is third and five and the Chargers have four wide receivers at the top of the screen. The Cowboys don’t match up with defensive backs in press coverage. Instead the safeties are 20 yards away from the line of scrimmage and when the play starts, the safeties run backwards! The receiver second from the top streaks past Orlando Scandrick and is WIDE OPEN. Fortunately Phillip Rivers chooses the underneath receiver and the Chargers fail to get a first down. Peyton Manning doesn’t pick the wrong receiver often.

Cowboys Safety 2 Deep

I noticed that the New Orleans Saints have this guy, a receiving tight end named Jimmy Graham that’s really good. Graham is listed as being 6′ 7”, 265 pounds and runs a 4.53 forty yard dash. The Cowboys drafted a receiving tight end named Gavin Escobar in the second round. Escobar is listed as 6′ 6”, 251 pounds and runs a 4.84 forty yard dash. I guess the Cowboys will give up on James Hanna at 6′ 4”, 252. I want to believe the hype, but neither Hanna or Escobar had a catch against the Chargers. I believe Escobar was only on the field for two plays against the Chargers. Jason Witten is 6′ 5”, 265 so it seems we should be unstoppable in the red zone and on third downs. I can’t think of any 6′ 5” defensive backs or a team with three 6′ 5” defensive backs, so why aren’t we creating more mismatches? Plays that work in the red zone should be able to obtain first downs. I saw this play by the New Orleans Saints and wondered why aren’t the Cowboys doing this with Escobar?

Graham vs Escobar

Instead, I saw the Cowboys run throw three seam route passes to Jason Witten three times without success.

The Cowboys have a tough challenge ahead, but I believe we will “shock the world”. The game will be played on my fortieth birthday, so I’m going to wish for a victory multiple times. The Cowboys tend to win games they should lose and lose games they should win. Finally they tend to beat undefeated teams like Washington (11-0) in 1991, Indianapolis (9-0) in 2006 and New Orleans (13-0) in 2009.


Author note – I’d like to share video. Our system wouldn’t accept .mpg files, but did accept .avi files. If you can’t view these on your computer I recommend using VLC. Based on your comments, I may switch from video to photos of plays.