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Cowboys' Usage of Three-Receiver Sets in 2013

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Miles Austin #19 of the Dallas Cowboys runs the ball against Josh Victorian #35 of the Pittsburgh Steelers .

    Over the past few days, I’ve examined how rookie Gavin Escobar’s arrival in Dallas could affect the team’s usage of two-tight end sets. The ‘Boys want to run more “12” packages with Escobar on the field, but don’t forget that they also drafted a wide receiver in the third round in Baylor’s Terrance Williams. There’s really an interesting dynamic between the two players because their production is probably connected via an inverse relationship since they probably won’t be on the field together. That means that as Escobar’s production goes up, Williams’ will go down, and vice versa.

    And as much as the Cowboys seem committed to getting Escobar on the field, don’t forget that this is a team that lined up with three or more receivers on over 56 percent of their offensive snaps in 2012. Much of that was due to sub-optimal game situations, but who’s to say those won’t crop up again? The Cowboys might have drafted Williams to be Miles Austin’s eventual replacement, but I think he’ll get more 2013 playing time than most expect, regardless of Austin’s status.

    And Williams should be on the field often, but not for the reason you might expect. In reality, the Cowboys and many NFL offenses run the ball most effectively with three receivers on the field. As Chip Kelly will assuredly make clear this season in Philadelphia, it’s a whole lot easier to run from spread formations with only six or seven defenders in the box than it is to cram everyone into a small area and increase the number of blocks your offense needs to make for a play to be successful.

    The Cowboys have long been successful when running the ball from “11” personnel—one running back, one tight end, and three receivers—but for whatever reason, they don’t do it much. Garrett called for a run with “11” personnel 86 times last year. That’s less than one-quarter of all running plays. The Cowboys managed 4.35 YPC on those rushes, however, compared to 3.31 YPC on all other runs. Even in short-yardage situations, it could really benefit the Cowboys to get Escobar off of the field—especially since he’s a really poor blocker—and spread out the defense to opening up running lanes. As much as I like Williams’ size and speed, his biggest contribution in 2013 could be getting on the field to allow the ‘Boys to rush the ball more effectively.

    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.