Hello, everyone, and welcome to my second installment on what will inevitably be a long-running series of Air Garrett posts. Due to the overwhelmingly positive response to my first article on the subject, I thought I should waste no time in updating the series.
The topic for today is Jason Witten. More specifically, I will be discussing his place in this offense, and why his position is the most important to our success as a team. If Terrell Owens is out there, please read this. We know that you are/were a great receiver. In our system, you are simply not the number one target.
The primary subject of this article is not as much Jason Witten, as the position that he plays, and why he is so good at it. This is the F Back article (note: F Back is synonymous with H Back, depending on the exact Coryell system being discussed. Norv Turner used F Back, and since he had the most obvious influence on Jason Garrett, I will also use F Back).
I heard that. "What the 'F' is an 'F Back'?" Glad you asked. Let me start by identifying the F Backs on our current roster.
Figured it out? An F Back is a versatile combination of receiving impact and blocking ability that drives defensive coordinators insane. If we come out with 5 F Backs on the field, we could be running the swinging gate or a west coast spread. This versatility is the key to the Coryell, and, thus, the Air Garrett, offense (lots of commas, I know).
In my previous post (Air Garrett 101), I discussed the overall philosophy of Air Garrett. We will send receivers toward the safeties to stretch the defense vertically (hence, the synonym: Vertical Offense). This, in turn will remove defenders from the F Backs, allowing them to go crazy all over the middle of the field. Or, you know, run a simple route, break a tackle, and get a first down.
Another quickie: F Backs (fullbacks and tight ends) are essentially interchangeable, as they play the "same position" in this offense. However, the skillset (primarily their blocking abilities) and size (fullbacks should be shorter for lead blocking) dictate where they spend most of their time lined up.
Too many times I have heard fans, Cowboys fans included, say (regarding an athlete), "just stick him at fullback; he's big, and it's easy to learn." Take that in context with the preceding paragraph, and you can see the contradiction. Do you really think we can take an undrafted defensive tackle from a division two school and expect him to play essentially the same position as Jason Witten? Exactly. Done ranting. Now allow me to show you how difficult Jason Witten's job is:
(see the full-sized version here)
Bear in mind, this is a generic Air Coryell pamphlet, but are you kidding me?!
Note, there are 12 routes, with variations, listed. Also, if that weren't complicated enough, there are five different ways to catch the ball on those routes (that's right, Witten can catch the ball in at least 5 different ways. How many can your Tight End manage?) The additional notes about running after the catch are also interesting. That's not even the full depth of it. Here are additional routes for the TE position:
These are the routes that fall outside (generally) of the numbering system. Also, there are additional routes run from the fullback position, which I have the misfortune of not having diagrams for. Suffice it to say that they are roughly the same quantity, with adjustments made for starting behind the line of scrimmage. Digest all of that.
Now, in case you forgot, remember that F Backs are primarily known as blockers. They must be effective blockers in order to stay on the field, or we will end up with Jon Kitna: The Sequel under Center. Time for some custom graphics.
These are the above two route sheets, transposed onto a two TE set (it was way too messy to put them all on one). There are 17 routes in all, in this image, counting option routes as only one route. By comparison, a "number one" receiver, or "x," only has ten routes. As if that weren't enough...
With the quarterback directly under center, these are the positions that the F Back must be able to line up in. Note that shotgun formations have additional implications, but we'll stick with this for exemplary purposes.
Let's compare jobs, shall we? An Outside Wide Receiver has to memorize ten routes from two positions. An F Back has to memorize 17 routes from 9 positions. 10x2=20. 17x9=153. 153/20=7.5...translation, the receiving portion of an F-Back, as compared with an outside wide receiver, is 7.5 times as complex. And we can't forget blocking. A perfect lineman can play at most 5 positions. Tackle to tackle. There are 'x' blocking techniques (as I don't know how many there actually are), which means a perfect lineman will know 5x blocking techniques. Applying the same logic as above, an F Back must know 9x blocking techniques, which makes his job almost twice as complex.
Back to the main point, and the headline, of this article: why is Jason Witten our number one receiving threat?
Short answer: He can block like a tackle and run like a receiver (read: he can play F Back).
Long answer: He is a rare combination of sufficient athleticism and extraordinary intelligence that epitomizes the F Back position. He requires two defenders to compensate for him: an extra blitzer to account for his pass protection, and an extra defensive back to shadow him when he releases. The beauty of it? The defense doesn't know when they need which, and will often either:
a) choose wrong, leaving either an insufficient pass rush or an unguarded receiver,
or b) choose both, leaving 9 defenders to account for the other 10 players we have on offense.
Translation? Every down Jason Witten plays is a "Power Play" (hockey reference) for our offense.
Is Jason Witten unstoppable? No. He isn't. Hard to stop? Certainly. But I will say this, to every defensive coordinator who will play the Cowboys in the next decade: "Please, please, stop Jason Witten."
"Why would you want them to stop Jason Witten?"
When the defense focuses on stopping Jason Witten, things quickly get out of hand. When they bracket him (Strong Safety and Linebacker double team), you leave one safety to give deep help to two corners. This is how Miles Austin, Roy Williams, and Dez Bryant kill you on the outside and deep passes. When they 'respect' him (Zone coverage, cheating towards him to crowd passing lanes), you widen the holes in the zone, and become vulnerable to the draw (you know, that staple play we used to run).
Other teams realize this (one or two touchdowns later), and begin to play straight, honest coverage again. You cannot stop Jason Witten with honest coverage. This vicious (for our opposition, at least) cycle is the reason why Jason Witten is routinely leading us in many receiving categories.
Finally, not to forget our other four F Backs, I hope that we can all see the promise that they have in growing behind the league's best. Even our fullbacks will show improvement due to Jason Witten's leadership and mentoring. When evaluating these players, bear in mind the immense offensive responsibilities, and, often times, the special teams commitments that these players have. There is definitely a light at the end of the tunnel. If they're anything like Witten, there's a bronze statue, too.