The Big Bang: Understanding the Bang 8


What's this, you ask?  Likely, the single most effective play-call in the Coryell system.

Bang8Irvin (via bobsturm)

Disclaimer: I am a bit too young to remember much of any non-Romo Cowboys. I'm 22. My earliest game memory was seeing Bledsoe replaced. I'm sure I've seen older games, but I just can't legitimately remember. I did play football on Super Nintendo from about age 6...and was drawing up plays most of my life. Moving on...

The Bang 8 was a well known weapon from the days of Aikman and Irvin. There are no complicated route trees. It's a quick read-and-react play. Despite this fact, I'm sure many of us have questions about it. How was it run? What made it effective? Could we run it in our offense today?

Let's address those topics, and hopefully give everyone some solid answers.

What Was the Play?

The play call, in this instance, was Queen-Right Motion, Scat-Right 838 F Flat.

Everyone understands that perfectly, right? No? Okay, here's an explanation of the terminology, paraphrased from one of Norv Turner's playbooks.

Queen-Right Motion: "Our 2 back Sets will be called in 3 distinct parts: The backfield set, strength direction, and receiver alignment." Queen is essentially a "Weak I" formation, with the fullback on the weak side of the line. Right makes the strong side (tight end side) the right side. Motion is an extra assignment of motion, with this keyword, "motion" meaning a "short movement of the F Back toward the two receiver (receiver and tight end) side."

Just a moment while I flip past almost 500 running play diagrams...

Scat-Right 838 F Flat: "Scat-Right" assigns the pass protection to "scat," beginning with the right side. With each protection scheme, the quarterback must be aware of how many rushers are accounted for on each side, and change the play if necessary. "838" assigns the receivers' routes. The outside receivers (Irvin and Harper) are both given an 8 (skinny post) route, while the tight end (Jay Novacek) is given a 3 ("Pivot 3," which is a route aimed directly at centerfield, stopping, turning towards the quarterback, and running back toward his original side of the field if necessary). "F Flat" tells the F Back (Moose) to run a flat route.

How was it run?

The key to this play's success was Jay Novacek. Against a single deep safety, the tight end was responsible for pulling down that safety. This is why Novacek has the only option route. He takes an inside release to a point directly over the ball, and then turns upfield to see if the ball was thrown. If not, he continues back across the field toward his original side.

His primary objective is to bring the safety towards him. His secondary function is to find an open area to catch the ball, if the two deep routes are (somehow) covered.

With the safety out of the picture, the two wide outs are one-on-one with corners. They each ran skinny posts, with the ball going to whoever had better leverage. Coincidentally, the ball must be thrown quickly, as the receivers will cross paths downfield, bringing an extra defender into position to make a play on the ball. The skinny post is a run downfield, a 45 degree cut, catch, and run for daylight. Like a slant, it is a rhythm route. The ball is thrown before the receiver cuts, and is there the moment the receiver looks for it.

Finally, Moose runs a flat pattern (well, tries to, but gets tackled) to serve as the checkdown. Number 22 (who's that?) was in protecting.

The ball is in Aikman's hand for at most 3 seconds before being thrown.

What made it effective?

There were a few key strengths on this Cowboys team that allowed them to execute this play flawlessly. First, they had a versatile tight end. Novacek was an effective Coryell tight end, and ran excellent routes to draw the safety upfield in order to cover him tighter.

Possibly the most important factor in running this play is the threat of the run. The Bang 8 is specifically designed to take advantage of a single deep safety, or "8 in the box" look. Emmit Smith was absolutely capable of forcing the strong safety to come up. The 8 route, when run properly, automatically beats the cornerback. The lone safety is left to decide which receiver to provide help coverage on, while the other catches the ball.

The next key was an intelligent, athletic quarterback. Aikman was able to take the snap, set up, and throw in an incredibly short window of time. He was also able to make the correct read in that small window, which is crucial in preventing jumped routes.

Finally, disciplined receivers who were in tune with the quarterback allow the timing routes to be successful. You can't simply walk onto the field for the first time and catch this pass. Jerry Rice wouldn't have been able to. It's not a matter of skill, but a matter of rapport. Additionally, the receivers have to gain inside leverage. If they don't, and the ball is thrown, you're looking at 6 in the other direction. Cornerbacks are trained to always stay inside, so the receivers must truly be skilled in order to force them away from their fundamentals. Irvin put his skills on display in this video clip. He feigned the deep route, causing the cornerback to panic and turn to run downfield. Once the corner turned his hips, Irvin made his slight break inside, and the corner was forced into a complete 360 degree rotation. This was the football version of an ankle-breaking crossover.

Could we run it in our offense today?

Let's see...what personnel will we need?

The key above was Jay Novacek: an experienced tight end with great route running skills who demands the respect of the defensive secondary. Do we have one of those?



Jason Witten has been named by many as the most complete tight end in football. More often than not, he will command respect from one of the safeties, and help to set up deep routes. The importance of Jason Witten to this team's success running the Bang 8, and every other play, cannot be overstated. For example, in 2009, on plays that Witten ran a route, the Cowboys averaged 9.3yds/attempt. When he stayed in to block, that average dropped to 7.4yds/attempt. Simply running a route nets the Cowboys a near 2 yards, every time, whether or not he's thrown to. This is the profound effect that a player of his caliber has on a defensive secondary. It's almost as if the sheer mass of his offensive ability forms a tangible gravitational pull, consequently drawing defenders into his area.

Then there's the threat of the run. Do we have that?



Wow. Couldn't possibly resist putting that one up. Anyway, we all know we have four of them, and two of them (including the one with the crazy costume above) may not be here next season. Regardless of who's running the football, we can be sure that we will, in fact, run the football. If a trade, a cut, and an injury leave us with DeMarco Murray and Lonyae Miller as our top two, we will still be running the football. The key question mark here is the ability of the line to make their blocks and get into the second level of the defense. If every linebacker is consistently being correctly blocked by a linemen or another lead blocker, the safety will have to make the play every time. Once it becomes clear that the safety will be essential in stopping the run, you see more Cover 1 looks. Consequently, effective blocking on the ground leads to an effective deep ball against a single safety.

The next key was an intelligent, athletic quarterback, who is able to read the defense quickly and make the correct throw. Who could that be?



Yes! Oh, wait. No. Uh...



Yea. Him. The newlywed. Love him or hate him (and I certainly don't hate him), Tony Romo is axle that drives this offense. The engine? Garrett, of course. But axles are still pretty important. Tony is well known for his quick release, said to be even faster than Aikman's (who had developed a distaste for turf in his first season or so...). His decision making, once compared to Brett Favre (female assistants, beware), has been drastically improving. We are now seeing him make the right throw, on time, which is incredible progress in this complex offense. If we are unable to successfully run the Bang 8 in this system, don't look at the quarterback as the problem. Unless it's that first guy I showed you. Then, it's his fault.

Finally, we need two disciplined receivers with rapport with the quarterback. Who might they be?



Betcha predicted that one. Miles Austin has been working together with Romo for a number of years now. He worked hard to become what he is now, and shows every sign of being able to continue progressing as a dominant wide receiver. I hope that Jimmy Robinson is able to impart some veteran savvy to Miles (and Dez), that he may start to win match-ups with his head, instead of always with his body. Gaining inside position on the 8 route can be done with physicality, but to do it with your football IQ, and then accent it with your physical skills, greatly improves the consistency with which you can be successful on these technical routes.



Yes. Roy is one of the two. Do you honestly think Dez has the same rapport with Romo that Irvin had with Aikman? Definitely not yet. But if you're questioning Roy and this. Uh, the first minute or so. It goes crazy and starts showing random things after the touchdown replays.

Roy Williams TD at Texans-Week 3 (via BIGJAMESE007)

Looks like someone I wouldn't mind catching a few balls for us.Much like Miles, however, he wins this matchup with his physical play, rather than convincing the cornerback that he's going somewhere else. I'll venture a guess, however, that Roy is not quite as strong as Miles, and read something in his defender that told him a quick shoulder check and swim would reward him with 6 points. Say what you want about Roy, but I have hope. And have you heard him speak? Miles ahead of Dez in the "apparent intelligence by way of articulation" rubric.

Besides, I wouldn't go so far as to call Dez a "smart, disciplined" wide receiver. Sometimes, it pains me to listen to him give an interview. I cringe when a broadcaster uses higher level vocabulary while asking him a question. Hopefully, it's just a phase.

In Summary:

The Bang 8 was an effective, yet specialized, weapon for many variants of the Coryell offense. Dan Fouts, Jim Everett, and Troy Aikman all had great success throwing the skinny post. As our offensive line returns to super bowl form (hopefully soon), we should begin to command the respect of an extra safety in the box. When that happens? Watch for the 8 route, and look forward to Super Bowl references during the replay.

Additionally, read this article to gain some additional perspective (directly from Troy Aikman) on this play.

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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