Early on Dallas' second offensive drive, Jason Garrett deployed in a base offset-I right set with Martellus Bennett as his lone tight end. Bennett started the play in the right slot and motioned to a spot just behind left guard Kyle Kosier. At the snap, Kosier dropped as if in pass coverage, while Bennett and the rest of his line mates fired out across the line of scrimmage.
This was a wham-trap, which requires the tight end to make the key interior block on the 300 lb. defensive tackle lined up over Kosier. Kosier dropped to pick up the DE crashing from the edge. LT Flozell Adams released that end and blocked down on the middle linebacker.
Martellus has arrived, ladies and gentlemen. Jason Witten can move out DTs and the Cowboys have only trusted him with this play in recent years. Anthony Fasano and Tony Curtis both faied their auditions on these types of blocks. That Dallas trusted Bennett with this duty, and that he repaid the trust with a solid block, means Aquaman can now handle all the roles Witten used to handle. This dimension means Dallas has two near complete tight ends, and can deploy both anywhere the field.
Jason Garrett did so yesterday and got some ridiculous matchups in Dallas' favor. Bennett only caught one ball for thirteen yards, but the matchup headaches he created freed several of his mates for big plays. Here are four examples of how the Bennett-enriched two-TE set set up the Tampa Bay secondary.
1. In the second quarter the Cowboys put Bennett and Witten on the left side of their formation, with Patrick Crayton and Roy Williams in a slot set on the right. Bennett was split wide, like a receiver, with a Witten in a traditional TE spot next to Flozell Adams.
The Bucs played man, meaning their corners matched up on the Dallas wideouts and a safety behind them. The Bucs put FS Jermaine Phillips on Bennett. The benefits of this secondary contortion fell to Witten. With the Bucs secondary spread out, he was matched on strong outside backer Quincy Black, with no help over the top. Bennett and Witten ran a post, corner combo, with Bennett pulling Phillips to the middle of the field. Witten blew away from Black on the open left side of the field and gained fourteen yards.
2. Another play where Bennett lined up wide and aided Witten. Facing third and long, Dallas stayed in a two-TE set with 3rd down back Tashard Choice (more on him in a minute) behind Romo. Dallas put Romo in the shotgun, with Witten flanking him on the left and Choice right. Williams and Crayton this time lined up in a slot set left, with Bennett in the right slot.
Before the snap, Choice went in motion and lined up wide right outside Bennett. The spread look left Witten as the lone back in the backfield. It also gave him a clean release off the line at Bucs middle backer Barrett Ruud. Witten ran wide, then cut sharply inside Ruud and took Romo's toss for another easy first down.
With Bennett drawing safeties, Witten, usually option one or two in Dallas' attack, is assured single coverage on a linebacker. Not many linebackers can go 60 alone on Jason Witten.
3. 3rd quarter. Dallas again goes slot right with Crayton and Williams and puts Bennett wide left. Tampa again puts Phillips on number 80. Romo this time makes Bennett the primary, throwing an easy twelve yard out over the overmatched safety.
The obviousness of the mismatch led to a Bucs adjustment that helped Dallas get its second touchdown. Two plays later, Bennett lined up wide left, with Witten wide right. This time, Tampa Bay matched its corners on the TEs. When Roy Williams motioned into the right slot, he was covered by strong safety Sabby Piscatelli. Williams beat him easily on a seam route and ran 66 yards with a Romo pass.
4. The mismatch problems moved Bucs DC Jim Bates to junk his base defensive set when Dallas went with two TEs and one back. On the next series Tampa used its 4-2-5 nickel in a vain attempt to match up. I say futile because the mis-matches Dallas forced on Patrick Crayton's 80 yard touchdown reception were incredible.
On 2nd and ten at its 20 Bennett again lined up wide left. Witten lined up in as a traditional TE right, next to Marc Colombo. Patrick Crayton was wide right, with Williams in the right slot. Barber was the lone back behind Romo. Williams motioned left and lined up in the left slot just before the snap.
The Bucs put CB Aqib Talib on Bennett, the nickel back on Crayton and Ronde Barber on Williams -- or so it seemed. Barber came on a corner blitz. He had sacked Tony Romo on such a blitz in the first quarter and was Tampa's best pass rushing option of the day.
The play call had Romo fake a handoff to Barber and look for Witten releasing into the right flat. The nickel corner on that side released Crayton to the safety behind him and rolled up on Witten.
Let's look for a moment at the matchups Bates was willing to risk in order to send Barber after Romo: he has his best corner on a blitz; he has his second best corner on Bennett; he has his third corner on Witten.
This means Roy Williams is alone on the Bucs middle linebacker who had to sprint from his spot over center to get in space. Williams ran a short route but had he run anything upfield, Romo could have given him a second easy, long touchdown reception. As it was, Romo looked right for Crayton, who sprinted well past Piscatelli, whose angle to the sideline was too flat to let him stay with Crayton. The Cowboy was ten yards behind Piscatelli when he caught Romo's pass and he easily outraced FS Phillips to the end zone.
By showing that he can block, and that he can catch, Martellus Bennett made life much, much easier for the stars in Dallas' passing arsenal. He's also making Jason Garrett look smart, which is a much easier task when all Dallas' offense weapons can get on the field together.
-- Tashard Choice has a role. Garrett is rotating Marion Barber and Felix Jones on 1st and 2nd down and has given Choice the duties on 3rd down. This seems a logical use of Choice, given his strong blocking and all-around skills.
-- The mismatches work both ways. The Cowboys back seven looked confused a lot yesterday and blew a lot of assignments as a consequence. Dallas was making a lot of shifting just before the snap and was caught out of position by an aggressive Bucs running game.
Early in the 2nd quarter, the Bucs ran a toss right at the Cowboys nickel defense, at a moment when the linebackers and secondary were trying to get their assignments down. Ken Hamlin and Bobby Carpenter both blitzed from the same edge gap and ran themselves beyond the play. Orlando Scandrick missed a tackle, giving Cadillac Williams a huge running lane up the right sideline. He ran 35 yards past the Keystone Cowboys until Gerald Sensabaugh ran him out of bounds at the four.
In the 3rd, Tampa Bay ran a simple stretch play to its right. For some reason inside linebackers Bradie James and Keith Brooking both charged into the same gap on the backside of the play. There was no linebacker to give pursuit on the stong side of the play and Derrick Ward this time had a huge lane on the right edge. He took his carry 22 yards.
Those two mixups were one third of Tampa Bay's impressive 174 rushing yards. These are not pretty to watch, but they are correctable. The Cowboys inside backers and SS had the same problem they faced in their mid-season losses last year. They were playing passively and were engaging blockers far on their side of the line of scrimmage. In the second half, Brooking began to crash and meet Tampa's fullback on Tampa's side of the line. When assignments were not being blown, the Tampa Bay runs got shorter.
-- One more gold star for Jason Garrett. Dan Reeves and Tom Landry used to pulll out their specials when they had a lead and the defense was scrambling. Garrett showed the same tendency late yesterday. On first and goal, leading 27-14, Garrett put Roy Wiliams left and three tight ends on the right side of his line. At the snap, left guard Kyle Kosier pulled right, adding to the overload.
The Bucs front all slanted to their left, towards the overload. The call as a naked pitch to Barber to Dallas' left. When Williams kept his block on Aqib Talib, Barber had an easy romp to a score.