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?

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

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.

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