Originally posted on Fox Sports Southwest  |  Last updated 6/10/13
I was going through my notes to see when we reallystarted talking about one of the latest trends to the NFL and you will beinterested to know that not so long ago - as late 2008 - we as football fansassociated 2 tight ends on the field as a running posture, formation, andpersonnel group. This is because the NFL did, too.The Cowboys had their elite 1 tight end in the form of the greatJason Witten, and that seemed to lock down that spot rather comfortably fromthe first draft of the new Bill Parcells regime. The premise of puttingmultiple tight ends on the field at the same time was a great way to cause massconfusion down on the goal-line when the defense adjusted to your personnelsubstitutions by sitting on the run, only to have your QB pull the ball backand then lob it to your blocking tight end who is standing all alone in theshadow of the goal post. It was sound tactically to assume that a manwho was a blocker was always going to block. Remember, what is nowbasic football, was still being figured out in 2010 when the New EnglandPatriots took Arizona's Rob Gronkowski in the 2nd round and Florida's AaronHernandez in the 5th round of that draft. Beforethat, others had tried it, but nobody had married the idea as a major part oftheir attack that proved as effective as the design had hoped. Locally, Jason Garrett had seen the future, and he tried to makeit happen before the Patriots ever did. As early as 2008, it wasclear what he was thinking, and although it never fully was realized, lookingback, his position as a bright offensive mind seems safe in the retelling ofthe evolution. Dan Campbell made a living in Dallas (2003-2005as one of Parcells' 1st signings) and the NFL for a decade, without evercatching more than 22 balls in a season. He was there to provide youwith what amounted to a 6th offensive lineman. He could block andpass protect, and if you forgot about him, he could hurt you with a rarereception that would make you pay. As far as receivingtight ends, if you drafted one, you were often doing it to either replace theone you have or just providing insurance because asking Dan Campbell to be JasonWitten for the year in the event of a big injury would be a very bad situation.The Cowboys drafted Anthony Fasano in the 2nd round of the 2006draft, but at the time, Fasano was simply seen as a more dynamic 2 behindWitten than Campbell, who was getting older and wasn't exactly cheap.Campbell went to Detroit and Fasano started to learn behind Witten. Fasano never exceeded anything Campbell did in Dallasstatistically, as a 2nd round pick he never caught 15 passes in a season forthe Cowboys in 2006-2007, and thus was traded to Miami (back to Parcells)before the 2008 draft for pennies on the dollar. But, during histenure with Dallas, it seemed that when Witten and Fasano were on the fieldtogether, there was nothing exotic going on tactically, that was intended to doanything more than what was being done back in 1995 with Jay Novecek and EricBjornson. 2 tight ends meant either a running play, a maximumprotection situation, or a surprise attack in short yardage for a dink anddunk. The same as it ever was - which is why many of us were confusedwith using resources like a 2nd round pick on a guy like Fasano who was neverasked to do much that Campbell wasn't asked to do. It really madelittle sense. But, now, after admitting that Garretthad little plans for Fasano and trading him back to Parcells and new Dolphinscoach Tony Sparano (who was in Dallas from 2003-2007), the Cowboys needed a 2ndtight end again. This time, with yet another 2nd round pickinvestment, the Cowboys reeled in the very intriguing Martellus Bennett, agiant of a specimen, from Texas A and M. At 6'7, over 250 lbs, andvery interesting speed, he seemed like nothing that resembled a backup tightend. He seemed destined to ultimately replace Jason Witten if he everachieved his topside or if Witten started to decline over time - bothreasonable possibilities by 2010. However, what noneof us saw was a rather new idea being discussed and conceived in the coachesmeeting rooms where they were attempting to design an offense that deployedmultiple tight ends who were weapons in their versatility. They werenot blocking tight ends or 6th OL men, they were dangerous matchup issues whowould ultimately give defenses fits. They could block, but they werereceiving threats who played a style that if you dared to put a linebacker onthem in coverage, they would run right past them. But, if you decidedto try a safety or a nickel corner, they would simply run a 10 yard route andthen like a power forward boxing out for a rebound, they would turn and usetheir body to keep a smallish DB on their back, make the catch, and move thechains. That was taking candy from a baby and a great alternative toa slot receiver who was a smaller target and a player you would never ask toblock much. This offense was not designed for simplyshort yardage spots. If they could make this work, it would beall-purpose and all-situations, just as effective on 1st down as 3rd and goal. It would hypothetically require the defense into a classic conflictsituation where there was no correct remedy. It would force thedefense's hand in personnel, and whatever they choose, the offense wouldexploit the opposite. If you loaded up to stop therun, Garrett could flex out Witten and Bennett as slot receivers and you wouldbe undermanned to stop 2 TEs and 2 WRs outside. But, if you switchedto nickel or even dime (6 DBs), then, Garrett could motion both Witten andBennett back next to the tackles and have what amounts to 7 "bigs" onoffense (5 OL 2 TEs) against 5 "bigs" on the defense and pound therock with a Marion Barber-led power running game. It is a beautifulgrouping as you literally can go 5050 in your play-calling from under centeron 1st and 2nd down. In 2008, the Cowboys ran theoffense a bit, but they were just stretching their legs. In theoffseason between 2008 and 2009, there was plenty of discussion about how thismight be the next big thing - a proper replacement idea for Terrell Owens goingaway - getting Witten and Bennett both on the field at the same time and makingup for lesser personnel at Wide Receiver with superior personnel at Tight Endand accomplishing similar things but with a different method. Of course, it looked good on paper when I spent time writing aboutit back in August of 2009 bothhere and then again here.Here is what I said back on August 7, 2009: I think that is the cat and mouse game that will be played. But,as we know, the defense only has to be wrong once and they pay dearly. WithBennett and Witten, I think they can load up the line, but if they get beatonce, they will lose their nerve and play more conservative. You must bracketthose TE's from running down the seams. If you do not, I think it will be aneasy 20 or 25 yards. If you guess right, you are golden. But that is thebeauty of "12" over almost any other personnel grouping. There is noway to pre-snap read the tendencies of the offense. It is almost a perfect 5050group. With Deon Anderson out there, you lean run. But with Witten and Bennett,you honestly have no idea. And with 2 WR's also on the field, you better leaveyour safety high. If you do, then the Cowboys can run it. Also, we saw plentyof 80 and 82 at the "F" back last year, too. There are so manyoptions that a defense has to respect. Easy,right? Well, not so much. They did have success with"12" in 2009, but not in the traditional sense of Bennett being ahuge receiving threat. The team passed for 9 yards per attempt inthis group, but it wasn't because Martellus was running for another touchdown.It was more because they were a running dominant team in 2009 andmuch of it happened with 2 TEs on the field. Below isa list of "12 Personnel" usage for the last 5 seasons. Thisincludes every single situation where they were in "12", includingshotgun situations and it does not break down run versus pass. Itsimply sets a baseline for this idea that "12" is going to be thebase offense in 2013. At its high water mark to this point, with arather large amount of conviction, the most they ever ran "12"personnel was 31 of snaps back in 2011. YearTotal Snaps-Yards12 Personnel Snaps -Yards ofTotal Offense in 12 Snaps-Yards2008979 -5512201 - 100120 -1820091146 -6982320 - 222228 -3220101026 -5821201 - 96621 -1620111007 -6011317 - 217831 -3620121042 - 5987185 -102217 - 17 We can break it downfurther, as you know I will. First, let's look at 12personnel from under center. This defines any time there is 1 RB and2 TE on the field, regardless of where they are in the formation. Wedo this because it is all the information the defense has when they send inpersonnel. Formation is deployed AFTER personnel is declared, andtherefore there must be a distinction between the two. This does not count "22" personnel (2 RB, 2 TE) a running lookthat is very difficult to do successfully, but the 2009 Cowboys did great atit. UNDER CENTER YearTotal Snaps12Personnel Run12 PersonnelPass200817077- 396 (5.14 per)93 - 460 (4.94 per)200919391- 373 (4.09)102 - 918 (9.00)201015377- 308 (4.00)76 - 463(6.09)201122498- 420 (4.28)126 - 1055 (8.37)201214365 - 251(3.86)78 - 516 (6.61) Remember, there are somepersonnel variables to consider. 2010 was the Kitna year and JohnPhillips was gone throughout with his ACL injury. 2012 was the yearMartellus Bennett was gone altogether. You can see how the success in2010 and 2012 was poor, and that when you try 65 runs and get nowhere, youaren't going to keep running your head against the wall. Bennett wasa fine blocker and therefore his absence hurt the offense, even if you have nofantasy football regret for cutting him loose. But,look at the runpass balance in snaps. It often favors the pass, butnot by a huge margin. It should hurt the defense in both ways andthat keep the linebackers and safeties guessing. If you can do that,your play has a much higher possibility of success. SHOTGUN Here are their attempts at 12 personnel inshotgun over the last 5 seasons: YearTotal Snaps12Personnel Run12 PersonnelPass2008312- 8 (4 per play)29 - 137(4.72)20091279- 34 (3.77)118 - 897 (7.6)2010485- 24 (4.8)43 - 171 (3.97)2011939- 52 (5.77)84 - 651 (7.75)2012421 - -1(-1.00)41 - 256 (6.24) As you can see, this isnot a very large part of the offensive attack, so we should assume that"12" as base will not mean "12" in shotgun very oftenunless Gavin Escobar is everything that Bennett wasn't. He will neverbe the blocker that Martellus was, so their hope is that he is the receiverthat every team is looking for in this package. In the end, as long as JasonGarrett is this team's offensive architect - and regardless of who is actuallycalling the plays, we are led to believe that it still will follow theblueprints that have been installed back in 2007 by Garrett, we should assumethat they will always be rotating personnel groupings every snap. Therefore, how much does the "base offense" play?33? 50? It is very difficult to conceive itbeing higher than that. If it did, why would you spend a premium pickon a 3rd WR if he is not going to play? Now, they are going back to the future.It might seem that in 2013 they are 4 seasons behind the Patriots,but this seems to have been Garrett's idea all along. If nothingelse, the drafting of Gavin Escobar to try a 3rd tight end in the 2nd round ofthe last 8 drafts proves they are stubborn and determined to get it right in 2013. We willsee how Bill Callahan and Escobar help make all of this happen.
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