During training camp before the 2009 season, all the chatter was about Martellus Bennett, who had, according to reports, taken the "next step," and was prepared to join with Jason Witten to give opposing defenses fits. The reasoning was simple: successful offenses sell run and then pass, or sell pass and then run. When a team has two tight ends in the game (in a "12" formation), both of whom are receiving threats, they become extremely difficult to defend. If a team keeps its safeties back to defend the pass, Dallas has a numbers advantage in the running game. If a team thinks the Cowboys are gong to run and brings a safety up into the box, Dallas can exploit a size or speed mismatch and pass to either Witten or Bennett against either a linebacker or the out-of-position safety.
During the season, the 'Tellus experiment largely failed to pan out as hoped and the two tight end formation became increasingly defensible when he was in the game, leading in part to the emergence of John Phillips at the end of the year. After Phillips went down for the season in the Hall of Fame game and Bennett struggled with injuries throughout training camp, it appeared that Jason Garret might put the "12" on the back burner. The stats seem to back this up: because the other tight end hasn't been seen as a threat, defenses have been clamping down on Witten in the first three games; sure, he's third in the NFC with 15 catches, but he's been targeted 24 times. That's a lowly 62% completion percentage on throws to Romo's "safety net."
One play in the Houston game offers hope that the tide will turn for Witten. On the Cowboys' long third quarter drive, they faced a first and ten at the Texans' 27. Both tight ends lined up outside of left tackle Doug Free: Bennett next to him in a traditional alignment, with Witten flanked outside. Both receivers, Miles Austin and Roy WIlliams, were positioned to the right. At the snap, Austin ran a deep route to draw the safety from the middle; Witten came across behind the line, as if he were in motion; Bennett ran an 8-yard crossing pattern. When Witten came free, the linebackers, who were in pass drops, bit hard, sprinting forward and leaving Bennett virtually uncovered. Romo hit #80 for a 12-yard gain and a first down. The next play was Williams' first touchdown.
If Bennett can continue to make teams pay for selling out to stop Witten, things could get verrrry scaaarry for opposing defensive coordinators. Let's hope their version of Halloween is just around the corner....