Aug 17, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Dallas Cowboys tight end Gavin Escobar (89) scores a touchdown as Arizona Cardinals inside linebacker Kevin Minter (51) and safety Tony Jefferson (36) defend during the third quarter at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals defeated the Cowboys 12-7. Mandatory Credit: Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Can the Dallas Cowboys Make the 2 TE Offense Work?


 

Sep 8, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten (82) makes a third quarter touchdown catch against New York Giants safety Ryan Mundy (21) at AT

The 12 Offense has long been a goal of the Dallas Cowboys (“1” referring to the number of halfbacks, “2” for the number of TEs). Bill Parcells recognized long ago the mismatches it presents and worked hard to install it during his time in Big D. Unfortunately his dream never came true as Dallas was unable to cultivate a second TE to pair with All-Pro Jason Witten.

Dallas had opportunities to do so – they drafted Anthony Fasano but never found a way to use him. He went on to have a very solid career in the NFL and is still playing well today (in KC). He’s a great guy but Dallas just couldn’t make it work with him.

A couple years later Dallas drafted Martellus Bennett in the second round of the 2008 draft. He offered amazing potential with his off-the-charts athleticism, but he followed the same path as his predecessor. The Cowboys couldn’t develop him and were unwilling to deal with his unreliability as a pass catcher/route runner. They let him go and now he’s making big plays for the Chicago Bears.

Are the Cowboys just unlucky or is it something bigger?

It seems strange that things begin suddenly clicking for these fellows the day AFTER the Cowboys let them go. I know, Fasano still isn’t a great in-line blocker and Marty B is still a headache who drops easy passes from time to time. But these guys are excellent #2 TEs with loads of skill. They are much better than what the Cowboys have right now and aren’t getting paid an exceptionally large amount of money either.

 

On top of that, keeping either of them would have saved the Cowboys from using draft picks (6th rounder and 2nd rounder) on James Hanna and Gavin Escobar. Extra picks would have allowed the Cowboys to address another position of need rather than the same damn position every 3-4 years.

The Cowboys seem to have extremely unrealistic expectations for the second TE in this offense. Jason Witten only comes around once in a lifetime but it seems the Cowboys are determined to find a new young Witten and refusing to settle for anything less. While the high standards are admirable they are actually hurting the team. How about spreading some of that perfectionism to the offensive line?…but that’s an entirely different article…

So the question is, Can Dallas Make the 2 TE Offense Work?”

There are multiple reasons why they cannot:

  1. The coaching staff is not playing to their players’ strengths. I’m going to write more on this later concerning the current depth chart but for now look at Fasano and Bennett. Fasano wasn’t much of a blocker but a very smart route runner. He could be used as the primary Hot-Route Receiver since Romo could always rely on Fasano for making all the right route adjustments on the fly. He could also be used to run combo routes and intermediate routes where he typically thrives today. Marty B was always a fantastic in-line blocker and great with the ball in his hands. He was never a reliable or disciplined route runner so timing based routes, which require a throw before a cut, were always risky. Just don’t throw those then. He was good on short passes and screen plays. He was good deep downfield in tight coverage. He had field awareness and was involved in the play (down-the-field blocking) whether he held the ball or not.  These gentlemen had very manageable shortcomings.
  2. The front office (Jerry/Stephen) have unrealistic expectations. Like I said earlier, a brand new young Jason Witten is not walking through that door – ever. In this unrealistic pursuit of finding the next great TE, this front office is letting many other good options slip away.
  3. The Offensive Line is bad. Consider this the Trickle Down Effect. When the offensive line plays poorly, other players are asked to compensate for their inadequacies. When the offensive tackles struggle, a TE is forced to contribute in pass protecting – thus eliminating their contributions as a pass-catcher. This not only removes a potential target for Romo but it allows the defense to double or triple team the Receivers who are actually running routes.

 

Succeeding in the 2 TE offense is possible for the Dallas Cowboys. But given the history it’s unlikely.

Update - Tuesday October 1st: A look into the Cowboy’s current TE depth chart and see what they can do to excel in their current situation.

Do you have questions or comments regarding Dallas area sports? Email Reid at [email protected]. You may be included in the next weekly mailbag. Follow Reid on twitter @ReidDHanson

Tags: Anthony Fasano Dallas Cowboys Gavin Escobar James Hanna Jason Witten Martellus Bennett

  • BradAustin

    You nailed it simply when you said the personnel doesn’t match what they are trying to do. Where is the blocker? Witten has been the 2nd best blocking TE on this team for a while. Why? Because he is an above average blocker. On top of that, you would never line him up in the backfield to block. So where is the blocker you MUST have to be effective running the ball? Especially in short-yardage. Dallas completely ignored this and pretend it’s not important. IT IS!!!

    In this system with multi-TE’s, one has to be a strong blocker. The idea is not to lose the FB altogether. The idea is to have a TE become the FB during those circumstances he is needed. Just because he is not labeled a FB doesn’t mean he is not essentially the FB in certain sets. His alignment and responsibilities are identical to a FB at on occasion. Guess what, in those sets he IS the FB.

    So where is this guy? Witten won’t be taken off the line of scrimmage for great reason. Neither Hannah nor Escobar are ANY bit of a threat to ram open a hole for the RB. That’s not their game at all.

    So what do the Cowboys expect to get from this lack of appropriate type personnel for the “12″ package to function at a high level? Even if the line picks it up and moves people some, they still are at a huge disadvantage as the H-back (sometimes FB) is not even a decent lead blocker.

    The problem wasn’t the offensive set. We had the skills players to function either set as it was. The problem was the OL, FB, and lack of blocking TE. The FB and blocking TE were rather inexpensive easy fixes you don’t burn a draft pick on. But changing sets and drafting cute pics like Escobar and Williams was plain sabotaging your own team by fixing a design problem that wasn’t the real problem.

    Witten, Hannah, and a new blocking TE would have been solid. Dez, Miles, Harris, Beasley had the top 4 WR spots doing just fine. Escobar and Williams were luxury pics for a team that didn’t have the luxury to burn those. Jerry has made some smarter moves this off-season no doubt, but his draft management was awful again. No other GM would have selected Escobar in the 2nd round with our current talent at the position, and o-line and d-line deficiencies. None.

    • Reid Hanson

      Amen Brother! There is so much to discuss on this topic it becomes overwhelming. There is the value perspective which you spoke of – a blocking and/or real FB cost you nothing in draft picks or cash. Instead of repurposing expensive draft picks, just find the value in free agency. It’s out there every year.
      I don’t want to get going on the draft again too much but I agree about the Escobar pick wholeheartedly. There weren’t many OL available anymore but anything would have been better than nothing. There were a couple good DTs still available we could have used too. At the end of the day we could have easily grabbed Eric Reid at the original #18 and Travis Frederick in the second round.
      Next week I’m going to dive into the 2 TE offense again and discuss how we can use our personnel better to possibly make this work. I hope you’ll check it out and offer your thoughts as well.

      • JoeDaBeast

        Even though I agree with you both, it is not beyond the realm of possibilities that “the next Witten” is in the next draft or two. For a while, we thought that Jay Novacek was the best TE for us ever. With today’s athletes, there will be plenty better than Witten. They must put these guys where they can produce. This team has WAY too many weapons to not click off 20-30 points a game.

  • Reid Hanson

    I will be posting the article on the Dallas Cowboys specific TE situation the week after the Charger game. The Cowboys mixed a few things up last week (with the TEs) so I want to get a little more info before I completely break down the Cowboys situation with Hanna and Escobar.

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