Designing the Ideal Dallas Cowboys Offense
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Since the secret is finally out regarding the offensive play-calling duties for the Dallas Cowboys, we can begin examining exactly what characteristics can be expected in 2013.
To start with, an offense that head coach Jason Garrett has little, if any, influence over is a huge step in the right direction. Newly appointed offensive coordinator Bill Callahan has much more successful experience in this role than Garrett, so it's a safe bet that the word ''balance'' should begin to describe the Dallas offense much more than it has.
The Cowboys had their worst single-season rushing performance last season, and this had better not come close to repeating itself in 2013. Callahan's first line of business is to correct that issue—and quickly.
SportsDayDFW special contributor Jonathan Bales recently offered a detailed description of Callahan's history as a play-caller, and the former head coach's track record offers some hope. The real question is going to be what players and formations Callahan will utilize most.
Lots of Two-Tight End Formations
If the 2013 NFL draft offers any indication, and it likely does, then multiple tight end sets should be seen early and often—at least provided that second-round selection Gavin Escobar picks things up during training camp quickly enough to be called upon.
Escobar was drafted to be a another target for quarterback Tony Romo. However, Escobar is not known as much of a run-blocker coming out of San Diego State, and it remains to be seen how he'll perform this critical role. We can ask the same about Escobar's prowess as a pass-protector as well.
In other words: The NFL is not the Mountain West Conference.
So, with a stronger commitment to ''12 personnel'' (one running back, two tight ends), the Cowboys should be able to keep defenses guessing much more than at any other time during the Garrett era of offense.
Having always been a fan of"'21 personnel," it will be interesting to see exactly how well Dallas utilizes an offensive philosophy which has gained in popularity over the last couple of years, primarily because of the New England Patriots. Dallas obviously feels that it has tight ends who can duplicate the success enjoyed recently by Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Jason Witten and Escobar very well might be as good.
But when was the last time New England won anything?
It's been closer to a decade than you might realize.
New Faces on Offensive Line
Speculation abounded that the Cowboys would bolster their offensive line in the 2013 NFL draft. The line wasn't just bad last year but has been lousy since 2009.
Well, they did—and they didn't.
When top interior blockers like Chance Warmack and Jonathan Cooper were no longer available, Dallas settled on center Travis Frederick.
That was it for the draft where offensive linemen are concerned.
But there are some young faces, like Ronald Leary, who could add some badly needed youth and strength along the interior. Leary arrived prior to the 2012 regular season as an undrafted free agent, and I believe he'll represent an upgrade over overpaid free-agent guards Mackenzy Bernadeau and Nate Livings from the same year.
A good friend of mine from high school, who played offensive line, recently stated to me that you can cover up a liability at tackle but not at guard—and he's exactly right. In other words: The closer to the football lousy players are, the uglier it's going to get.
The recent mention of ''12 personnel'' can go a distance in helping outside blockers like Doug Free, the assumed incumbent starter at right tackle who just took a pay cut after being the most penalized player in the NFL last year. Hope that somehow Callahan can get better productivity out of Free.
But the interior guys like Leary, Livings, Bernadeau or anybody else have to bring better play. Otherwise, Callahan's efforts will go down the tubes pretty quick.
Left tackle Tyron Smith had a difficult start in his first year protecting Romo's blind side, but he really cleaned things up during the second half of the season. The third-year veteran might be ready to spring into the Pro Bowl in 2013—I believe he has the ability to do so.
Added Depth at Running Back
Starting running back DeMarco Murray has already missed time during offseason workouts. It's not the first time he's been hobbled and it likely won't be the last. Fifth-round selection Joseph Randle will possibly be the only insurance policy for Murray once the season starts.
If Dallas stays healthy at running back then the combination of Murray and Randle could be pretty potent. The Cowboys not only need a better rushing effort from the offense in 2013 but also need the pass-catching and pass-protecting abilities of these two backs.
Dallas doesn't seem to be losing sleep about running the football, a hallmark of the sad Garrett philosophy that has wasted too many seasons and possibly even some careers by the time it's all said and done. Otherwise, the Cowboys would have likely added yet more youth and power to the interior of the offensive line.
However, Callahan will have much to say about this perception moving forward.
Two-tight end sets will create more opportunities for the Dallas rushing attack, but only once the tall and somewhat skinny Escobar can help get some push.
Wide Receivers Galore
No matter what personnel packages end up being most successful in 2013, bet money that a healthy fourth-year veteran named Dez Bryant is the centerpiece of everything—even Romo would agree.
Bryant closed 2012 looking as dominant as any wide receiver in the game, and he's having an intense offseason already. Whether he actually gets close to 2,000 yards receiving or not, he's the guy that opens everything up.
Miles Austin and rookie Terrance Williams should emerge as the next two most dangerous pass-catchers, even if they don't chalk up the number of shorter catches that the tight ends probably will.
Dwayne Harris also figures to pick up where he left off last year, which should keep him involved in the offense—especially early on.
Yes, tight ends will eat up some of the receptions that the receivers are accustomed to—but only if Witten, Escobar and second-year veteran James Hanna make the anticipated impact in the offense.
All About Romo
For most of his career, Romo hasn't had the best of running games or offensive lines in front of him. When he has had the tools that other successful quarterbacks have had, he's been a Pro Bowl performer and among the top quarterbacks in the game—the numbers don't lie.
When Romo has not had as good of a supporting cast, Dallas gets flushed in regular-season finales with playoff spots on the line. The Cowboys have lost three such games against all three NFC East rivals, on the road, since 2008.
Frankly, the perfect offense for Dallas begins with keeping Romo healthy. I believe the shifting to multiple-tight end formations will probably help achieve that goal, even if it's not the way I would go about it.
The days of this vastly underrated quarterback having to run for his life after poor snaps out of the shotgun have to stop. If not, it won't matter what formations Dallas chooses to run.
Romo should be attempting no more than 35 passes per game, and we already know that he can win while attempting even more in a few contests. But if his totals continue creeping up toward 50 and beyond, expect the ninth head coach in the history of America's Team in about six months.
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