Dallas Cowboys: How Ryan Switzer can replace Ezekiel Elliott

ARLINGTON, TX - NOVEMBER 24: Ezekiel Elliott
ARLINGTON, TX - NOVEMBER 24: Ezekiel Elliott /

The Dallas Cowboys just learned starting running back, Ezekiel Elliott, will be suspended six games this season. Here’s how Ryan Switzer can replace him in the running game.

When the Dallas Cowboys first selected UNC slot receiver Ryan Switzer in the fourth round of the draft, Cowboys Nations was abuzz with speculation the team would be soon employing a “10” personnel group. “10” personnel simply means the Cowboys would march out one running back and four receivers. A package like this would allow the Cowboys to field two slot receivers at the same time.

The only problem is this personnel package requires Jason Witten to stand on the sideline. Considering last season Jason Witten logged 1,084 snaps at tight end – more than any other tight end in the NFL – him standing on the sideline is highly unlikely to happen any time soon.

Last season Dallas was just one of four teams that didn’t run a single play out of the “10” set. Therefore dreams of the Dallas Cowboys suddenly shifting to a 10 personnel group seem pretty far-fetched at this point in time. But maybe there’s another way to get Ryan Switzer more involved on offense. And maybe that way helps solve the Ezekiel Elliott suspension dilemma in the process…

“01” Personnel

A “01” personnel package fields zero running backs, one tight end (Jason Witten), and four receivers (Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, and Ryan Switzer). A package like this signals an empty set.  And in many cases making that assumption would be correct…but not always.

Personnel packages reflect the types of players going out on the field. But it does not dictate the position they necessarily line up at. In other words, when Ezekiel Elliott leaves the backfield and lines up wide as a receiver, it doesn’t suddenly change the personnel package. It just changes his role on that particular play. Likewise, just because the Cowboys trot out four receivers and a tight end in a 01 personnel package does not mean one of those players can’t line up in the backfield like a halfback.

Case in point: the Green Bay Packers. The Packers, often devoid of running back talent, have found a workaround to their positional talent deficiency. Instead of settling on inserting a below-average running back, the Packers opt to lean on their strengths – their receivers. It just so happens those receivers are also viable options in the running game.

Last season the Packers leaned on slot receivers Randall Cobb and Ty Montgomery to solve their running back problems. Montgomery rushed for three touchdowns and 457 yards on 77 attempts. Not only did he offer a legitimate a receiving threat when in the game, but his 5.9 yards per rushing attempt were far better than what the traditional backs were getting. It’s really no wonder Green Bay is making the move permanent going forward.

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The headache a 01 personnel package offers is significant. It forces opponents into nickel and dime packages, removing run-stopping linebackers in the process. Teams will be forced to honor the Cowboys’ passing game and adjust accordingly. This would open things up for a running quarterback like Dak Prescott even if the Cowboys opt to use Ryan Switzer as a traditional receiver.

It’s difficult to say if Switzer has the same type of running ability Ty Montgomery has with Green Bay or Tyreek Hill has with the Kansas City Chiefs, because he hasn’t been asked to do it yet. But Ryan Switzer fits the profile of a compact receiver capable of slicing through a spread-out defense.

Put the Best Players on the Field

One thing is clear, the Dallas Cowboys need to find a way to get the best players on the field. If that means forgoing the running back position from time to time then so be it. The falloff in talent from Zeke to Darren McFadden is severe — regardless of how highly you may think of Darren McFadden, Alfred Morris, or Rod Smith. Ryan Switzer would offer more as a receiver with occasional running back duties than Darren McFadden would at assuming all of Zeke’s missing snaps.

By no means does this mean the Dallas Cowboys can abandon fielding a traditional running game out of a 12 or 21 personnel group. But the Cowboys offense prides itself on finding the best mismatches on the field and playing to their players’ strengths. Getting creative with Ryan Switzer may be able to achieve both.

Next: How Cole Beasley may soon replace Jason Witten as primary safety valve

It’s not going to be easy to overcome a loss like Ezekiel Elliott but getting creative with personnel packages may be a good start. This wouldn’t be the first time a team gets creative with an elusive receiver in deceptive personnel packages and it won’t be the last. Are Jason Garrett and the Dallas Cowboys offense creative enough to give it try and catch their opponents off guard? We’ll see.