The Cowboys used their 2013 second-round selection on tight end Gavin Escobar because they clearly want to run more two-tight end sets this season. Jason Garrett has long been a fan of two-tight end packages because the offense can beat defenses both on the ground and through the air. That’s the plan, at least. And the Cowboys actually pass quite a bit from two-tight end looks, especially “12” personnel—one running back, two tight ends, and two receivers.
In 2012, the offense got away from employing two tight ends as often as they’d like. The primary reason was that the Cowboys got down in games so often, forcing them to use three and four-receiver sets. By drafting another tight end capable of beating defenses as a receiver, the hope is that the Cowboys will be able to use more packages and formations from which they can effectively run and pass the ball.
Last year, the offense was moderately effective when passing the ball with two tight ends on the field, doing it 118 times for 924 yards (7.83 YPA). That’s a decent number, but I think Tony Romo & Co. could improve their efficiency by using more “run-oriented” formations when they’re planning to pass. The Cowboys have historically had a ton of success when they use two tight ends to line up in a formation from which teams normally run the ball, i.e. any sort of “Double Tight” formation with the tight ends both lined up in-line.
Of the Cowboys’ 118 passes from two-tight packages, 57 of them came with both of the tight ends lined up either in-line or in the backfield. On those attempts, Dallas averaged 8.42 YPA. In contrast, Garrett used two tight ends out wide on 22 passes. When both tight ends were away from the line, the Cowboys averaged only 5.68 YPA. It’s a small sample, but we see the same trend if we look back at past data. On the other 39 passes, the Cowboys had one of the tight ends lined up out wide and one in-line or in the backfield, and they totaled 8.18 YPA.
When it comes down to it, a big part of the passing success from “12” and other two-tight end packages is due to the element of surprise. Defenses don’t know what’s coming, and it shows. By lining up in a run-oriented formation with at least one tight end in-line, Dallas can “confirm” the defense’s initial suspicions and potentially increase their two-tight end passing efficiency even more.
Jonathan Bales is the founder of The DC Times. He writes for DallasCowboys.com and the New York Times. He's also the author of Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft.