In yesterday’s post on the Cowboys’ two-tight end packages, I mentioned that the offense typically has more success passing when they do so from a “run-oriented” formation. When the team has employed both tight ends from a traditional in-line position, they’ve frequently had lots of success passing because defenses anticipate a run being on the way. When the ‘Boys run a play-action pass from such looks, the success rate is even higher.
Nonetheless, Jason Garrett’s play-calls have been somewhat predictable from two-tight end sets. Looking at various two-tight end packages, there are certain formations from which the team almost exclusively runs or passes. For example, the Cowboys don’t mind passing from a traditional “Double Tight” formation, but when they do that, they usually utilize “12”personnel—one running back, two tight ends, and two receivers. When the offense lines up in any “Double Tight” formation with “22” personnel—two running backs, two tight ends, and one receiver—they rarely pass the ball.
That wouldn’t be a problem in and of itself because some predictability isn’t always a bad thing. It doesn’t matter what package or formation you use on third-and-12 because the defense knows you’ll probably be passing anyway, for example. The problem is that the Cowboys have historically utilized “22” personnel in lots of situations in which they could pass the ball. Dallas ran a “Double Tight” formation with “22” personnel on 58 plays in 2012. Well over half of those plays (34) came on first-and-10, many of them in the first half.
The problem is that the ‘Boys passed on only 13 of the plays (22.4 percent). Again, that wouldn’t be a major problem if the Cowboys primarily utilized such formations with “22” personnel in situations when the defense might know what’s coming anyway, such as on short-yardage or goal line plays. But when you line up with run-heavy personnel in a run-heavy formation and then proceed to run the ball almost all of the time, that can be a problem.
The only way to turn the predictability into a positive would be to harness it to secure big plays downfield. If the Cowboys ran the ball almost all of the time from a certain formation but then used it to set up a deep play-action pass, for example, the early sub-optimal play-calling could create a competitive advantage. However, the average length traveled by the Cowboys’ 13 passes from “Double Tight” formations with “22” personnel was 6.85 yards. Defensive coordinators: if the Cowboys line up with “22” personnel and in any formation with both tight ends in-line, they’re not going to throw the ball deep.
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.