Run, run, and more run…
Let’s clear up a few things:
1. Running can exist of:
- Handing the ball off to RB
- QB designed run
- Jet sweep/Counter
- RB Direct Snap
2. As expected, running from formations with fewer tight ends leads to more Yards Per Carry:
Scott Linehan was notably stubborn with his approach and play calling to the dismay of many. This year, Garrett has preached the offense be a “collaborative approach” with not only the coaching staff making adjustments, but also players like Dak, Zeke, Coop, and Randall Cobb.
The Cowboys have a plethora of options for running the football. Not only do they have Zeke and Dak, but also 4th round pick Tony Pollard, ex-Kentucky running back Randall Cobb, and for the foreseeable future gadget player Tavon Austin. (At some point the expectation is Pollard takes Austin’s job but such development has yet to occur)
At Boise State, Kellen Moore used to line up in different formations only to run the same draw play or inside zone. The media and fans don’t know which formations Moore will elect to run from, however, if mini-camp is any indication we might be seeing something similar to the Rams.
The Rams? Surely Kellen Moore isn’t the offensive mind of Sean McVay? Running from 11 personnel is nothing unique. (1 RB/ 1 TE) If you have enough wide receivers on your depth chart, analytics would suggest you should be calling plays from this personnel a good majority of the time. (An area where the Rams led the league)
Also, a big reason why the Cowboys allowed so many yards to the Rams in January was because of the constant misdirection and sweeps by the Rams wide receivers. This constant movement in the backfield made it difficult for Jaylon Smith, Sean Lee, and Vander Esch to know where the ball was going.
In Boise State, it was common to see constant shifting by skill players pre-snap. What this allowed the offense to do was to pick the matchup they wanted to exploit and run the ball down the appropriate hole.
Something else that could occur is the use of tight ends. Last season it was no oddity to see the Cowboys line three tight ends inline and strong right on a first down. (When they threw the occasional play action pass, it threw me for a loop)
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Jason Witten expects to garner a lot of snaps especially as a run blocker. As a blocker, the next in line would be Schultz, however, the next tight end on the depth chart should be Blake Jarwin. If the presentation is to look different on 12 or 22 personnel are the Cowboys looking to send Jarwin or Schultz outside into the slot? (I’d imagine not but it’s fun to wonder)
Another example of the Boise State offense is how they lined up and motioned out their receivers. In an attempt to outsmart the opposing defense, they wanted to find the right matchup pre-snap and exploit it on the pass.
The reason I bring up the above example is several things have changed since Kellen Moore’s time at Boise State. Back then, running from some form of I formation was the expectation. RPOs were not a focal point of offenses. The correlation between running plays and play action effectiveness had not been analyzed.
Simply put, if the Cowboys are looking to improve their run game, the formation and sets they run from must disguise their intention to do so. New plays and concepts have entered the professional league making it harder for defenses to know what’s going on. The Cowboys lack of modernization was the biggest grievance with Cowboys fans last season; the prayers might finally be answered.
There are so many variables in making the run game effective. Understanding the perfect balance of all these components is what ultimately will lead to the most efficient rushing attack. It’s hard to declare anything without the Cowboys having attended training camp but these questions will dictate much of the conversation leading up the start of the season. The Cowboys have a goal in mind, now we must wait for the execution.