Cowboys' Art Of War

Many of us are familiar with a book written in Ancient China entitled "The Art Of War". It was written by a man named Sun Tzu and in its current rendition is supplemented by entries of several of his students and great Chinese thinkers. The knowledge comprising this book is as relevant today as it was twenty-five-hundred years ago. It is common reading for CEOs, coaches and investors. If you have not read it, get a copy. Buy it if you can, every personal library should include it. I am using a copy put out by Shambhala as part of their Dragon Editions, translated by Thomas Cleary. Any errors or omissions are mine

 The ideas in the book are laid out in thirteen sections as originally organized by Master Sun. This post will combine some sections, each highlighted by a few choice examples of the Masters’ thoughts on what was meant by the overarching idea. Taoism is full of paradoxes, and the common thread of AOW wisdom is how to overcome an enemy without war, and if war must take place, how to win with minimal bloodshed. This is football, not combat, please read survive, die, kill, perish as win, lose, overcome, defeat.

This post started as a result of two thoughts. First, on one of my recent posts TruBluToTheCore dropped this grand nugget of intuition:

…When you see how well Rob is spoken of in coaching circles I think you have no other option than to be excited about what the future holds for this team. His revolutionary approach to the defensive side of the ball surpasses even his brother. When you factor in how competitive practices are going to be between JG and RR it just adds another level to the professionalism and focus that this team will attain this year.

Our offense and defense will both evolve as the season goes along, that is a given due to lack of familiarization before the season starts. There has been a ton of great information put out recently about Garrett’s offense,  and after reading up I realized this is the offense that I have been intimately familiar with since childhood.

Second: Punch me in the face, but I have always been an offense guy. I can explain theory on CB and S play, but LB and trench play in most systems has been beyond me. Age has brought an appreciation for front-seven play. This is the aspect of the modern game that forces evolution, along with QB play. There has been a lack of substantial information put out on Ryan’s D (until Keg just posted this,). We just know it is supposed to be an attacking defense that utilizes angles and caters to players’ individual strengths. So, I wanted to mature as a fan and bring the BTB community insight on how JG and RR’s schemes will help one-another evolve. Follow the jump for analysis on the next NFL evolution.

Strategic Assessment, Terrain:

Master Sun: "Therefore measure (yourself and your opponent) in terms of five things, use these things to make comparisons, and thus find out what the conditions are. The five things are The Way, The Weather, The Terrain, The Leadership and The Discipline. (…) The Way means inducing people to have the same aim as the leadership, so they will share death and life, without fear of danger. (…) Leadership is a matter of intelligence, trustworthiness, humaneness, courage and sternness. (…) Discipline means organization, chain of command and logistics. (…) A military operation requires deception. (…) When you are going to attack nearby, make it appear as though you are going a long way. (…) Draw them in with the prospect of gain, take them by confusion. Tire them by flight. Cause division among them. (…) The one who figures on victory at headquarters before ever doing battle is the one who has the most strategic advantages…"

Mei Yaochen: "When people deserve reward, this should be notated even if you personally detest them. When people deserve punishment, this should not be forgone even if you are close to them."

Jia Lin: "There is a way of survival, which helps and strengthens you; there is a way of destruction, which pushes you into oblivion."

Having a GM with the same character traits as Mr. Strickland from King of the Hill can’t possibly help our chances. It is Coach's job to structure the team after his own personality instead of the zany antics of Jerruh. I believe this is an area in which Coach is going to shine. One of Coach Landry’s best traits is that he was a stable presence. Coach is not a stoic, as Landry was, but he is going to be consistent with the players.

Coaches Garrett and Ryan are both known for their game planning. I strongly believe that this extra time afforded them by the lockout has been well utilized, and we will see many wrinkles added to their playbooks. Players’ willingness to participate in offseason workouts is indicative that they may have these wrinkles introduced into gameplans in an expedited manner; why would our newly rededicated team not be willing to put in a little extra time during TC and the season?

Rob primarily works out of the 3-4, but by the time line shifts and zone blitz indicators are done, the set looks more like a 4-3, 1-5-5, 2-4-5 or 46 at the snap. This brings up what I believe TruBlu’s point was. We are going to have an elite, attacking offense this year. Our D is going to have to know its job. However, with this many fronts being shown, they are going to return the favor to our O-line, TEs and backs. Much as working against Ware helped mould Free into one of the best in the league, the constant pressure in practice is going to raise our level of play. The aggressive, proactive natures of our systems leave a lot of room for deception. We should also have no problem wearing out our opponents through flight, and dividing them through confusion.

What’s that you say? Master Sun also said "Even though you are competent, appear incompetent."? I say that with JJ’s presence and coming off Wade’s reign, consistently appearing competent is crucial to our team’s mindset. Also, this is the NFL, not two unfamiliar armies from some distance apart.

Formation, Adaptations, Maneuvering Armies:

Master Sun: "In ancient times skillful warriors first made themselves invincible, and then watched for vulnerabilities in their opponents. Invincibility is in oneself, vulnerability is in your opponent. Therefore skillful warriors are able to be invincible, but they cannot cause opponents to become vulnerable. That is why it is said victory can be discerned but not manufactured. Invincibility is a matter of defense, vulnerability is a matter of attack. Defense is for times of insufficiency, attack is for times of surplus. Those skilled in defense hide in the deepest parts of the Earth, those skilled in attack maneuver in the highest heights of the sky. Therefore they can preserve themselves and achieve complete victory. (…) Their victories are not flukes because they position themselves where they will surely win…"

Cao Cao: "Skilled users of arms first cultivate the Way that makes them invincible, keep their rules, and do not miss defeatist confusion in opponents."

Bob Lilly said about Coach Landry that if you gave him two weeks to plan, he could end the war in Iraq. The ability to perceive minute details is a trait that has been missing in our recent head coaches. Now, Garrett has proven inadequate at reading the flow of the game in my opinion, kicking field goals when he should have attempted to convert and vice-versa. This is something that can be developed in time, though, so I am not panicked.

Master Sun contradicted himself when he said that you cannot cause opponents to become vulnerable. Who am I to say that, right? There is actually a reoccurring train of thought he builds throughout The Art Of War dedicated entirely on how to make your enemy vulnerable. I take this statement to illustrate the difficulty of manipulating a well-prepared opponent. Enter the schemers.

Quick history lesson… Rob’s dad Buddy pioneered the 46 while defensive coordinator for the Bears and Oilers. Buddy appeared in five SBs as an assistant/coordinator, winning two. He developed this system as a result of the NFL moving toward the pass, with a goal of rushers meeting at the quarterback. Rex still runs this D sometimes in NY, but for the most part it has lost popularity in the NFL because of the development of the West Coast offense. Walsh said the 46 was the single most important innovation on the defensive side of the ball in the last 25 years. He then perfected Coryell’s system to beat it. The whole situation is very ironic for the Cowboys, huh?

Ryan is a master at creating opportunity. Picture Bowen feinting a rush on the weak-side B gap, occupying the tackle and guard, and then allowing himself to be pushed laterally to the flat. Rat attacks the strong side A gap, leaving a hole for Bruce Lee to access the QB. Nothing is lost, we maintain our pocket, Bowen can contain the outside edge and Ware can cover backs in the flat or drop back into coverage.

The thing that I am most excited about is offensive and defensive free styling. How many miscommunications between our QBs and receivers were not a blown route, but a different take on read and react? EG: "When you get twelve yards deep, if the safety is here, and your cornerback is here, you are going to go here." Romo and his receivers are only getting more familiar with each other, and I expect to see many more balls thrown before the receiver makes his break. Likewise, we are liable to see the development of off-the-cuff blitzes based upon what our defense sees.

Doing Battle, Emptiness and Fullness:

Master Sun: "When you do battle, even if you are winning, if you continue for a long time it will dull your forces and blunt your edge; if you besiege a citadel, your strength will be exhausted. (…) Therefore I have heard of military operations that were clumsy but swift, but I have never seen one that was skillful and lasted a long time. (…) So the important thing in a military operation is victory, not persistence. (…) To unfailingly take what you attack, attack where there is no defense. To unfailingly secure defense, defend where there is no attack. (…) Therefore good warriors cause others to come to them and do not go to others. (…) Be extremely subtle, even to the point of formlessness. Be extremely mysterious, even to the point of soundlessness. Thereby you can be the director of the opponents’ fate. (…) To advance irresistibly penetrate through their gaps. To retreat elusively, outspeed them…Therefore when you want to do battle, even if the enemy is deeply entrenched in a defensive position, he will be unable to avoid fighting if you attack where he will surely go to the rescue. (…) Induce them to adopt specific formations, in order to know the ground. (…) Therefore you induce others to construct a formation while you yourself are formless. (…) Military formation is like water-the form of water is to avoid the high and go to the low. The form of a military force is to avoid the full and attack the empty…So a military force has no constant shape: the ability to gain victory by changing and adapting according to the opponent is called genius."

Li Quan: "Advantages and disadvantages are interdependent; first know the disadvantages then the advantages become apparent."

Jia Lin: "Those who first place themselves in an advantageous position and await opponents are prepared, so the troops are relaxed."

Seeing as how our offensive and defensive styles evolved as a result of one another, how much room for innovation can there really be? Let’s look at some current trends.

For sheer stats, I am not going to duplicate work. A position coach (the equivalent of our contributing writers) at SB Nations’ Mile High Report  by the name of Maxwell’sDemon has gone on a tangent over the last few weeks, examining trends in offensive and defensive stats.

The no-huddle offense: Sam Wyche and Bruce Coslett pioneered no-huddle in CIN, both were Walsh disciples. The no-huddle/K-Gun made five Super Bowls from 88-93, losing all five. Over the last several seasons the Colts are the only team who has used this regularly. Many teams use this in hurry-up situations; fewer will use it sporadically throughout each game plan, but none on a regular enough basis to call them a true no-huddle. Pat Kirwan said "Perhaps by 2020, we’ll see teams only huddling 10 times per half, and eventually, it’ll be eliminated altogether."

Despite lacking talent, CLE used the no huddle second most often last year. This is rudimentary evidence suggesting we may go no-huddle more often, seeing as how their offense prepared against Ryan’s D every week. Romo has proven capable of calling plays and blitz pickups at the line, but our linemen have to be able to call assignments also. With no guarantee Kosier will be back next year, that is a murky area.

This area is vital to us appearing as formless and drawing defenses into coming to us. We have definitely made changes to accommodate the system recently. Mobile offensive linemen are pivotal because in the NFL if the offense substitutes, they must allow time for defensive substitutions. With our O’s quick strike ability, we could run opponents into the ground. Yes, if the offense goes three-and-out in a no-huddle, your D spends a lot of time on the field. Ryan uses a robust line/LB rotation though, and our D is used to not being able to get off the field anyway…

The league has become more pass friendly, but teams are more efficient than ever at running the ball. The top five leading rushers have averaged 1464 yards over the last four seasons. Remember in the nineties we would have three players vying for 2,000 yard seasons every year? The top five rushing teams have averaged 2403 yards over the last four seasons. Keep in mind those are the top teams. For instance, last year’s last place Cardinals accumulated a paltry 1389 yards on the ground.

Both sacks and turnovers are becoming harder to come by. This article, written in ’07 after Colts/Bears SB is almost scary prophetic. In it, Bucky Brooks talks about teams moving away from the Tampa 2, toward the 3-4, away from shutdown corners and toward safety play.

Money quote from Maxwell’sDemon: "The defenses of the NFL either need to begin to set the pace of how quarterbacks are going to play, or they will keep getting rolled over." We are afforded this opportunity to become proactive due to the nature of the offense we will practice against every week.

Planning A Siege, Armed Struggle:

Master Sun: "Therefore the superior militarist strikes while schemes are being laid. The next best is to attack alliances. The next best is to attack the army. Lowest is to attack a city. Siege of a city is only done as a last resort.

Wei Liaozi: "Practicing Martial Arts assess your opponents; cause them to lose spirit and direction so that even if the opposing army is intact it is useless—this is winning by the Tao. If you destroy the opposing army and kill the generals, mount the ramparts shooting, gather a mob and usurp the land, this is winning by force."

Li Quan: "This means that killing is not the important thing."

Fundamentally, this is another example of how Master Sun valued preparation. A great strategist who knows his players can destroy an opponent’s morale before they have a chance to evolve a reactive game plan. An average strategist learns their opponent during battle, and a bad strategist does not learn their opponent and has to spend time and resources locking down a city in hostile territory.

Value is placed on intelligence and crippling, demoralizing maneuvers more than brute force. Much is made of the amount of resources consumed while moving resources to your distant army. This is very relevant when considering that we are going to have a fast-strike offense and our D is going to be on the field.

Of course, our defense is going to be put in positions where it is necessary to pummel opponents into submission, and that is exactly what the 46 was designed to do. The disruptive force of our DL and LBs is going to be accentuated beyond anything we saw last year. Rob knows how to instill a state of chaos, you bet your sweet bippy.


Master Sun: "For the impact of armed forces to be like stones thrown on eggs is a matter of emptiness and fullness. (…) Therefore those who are skilled in the unorthodox are infinite as Heaven and Earth, inexhaustible as the great rivers. (…) There are only two kinds of charge in battle, the unorthodox surprise attack and the orthodox direct attack, but variations of the unorthodox and orthodox are endless. (They) give rise to each other like a beginningless circle; who could exhaust them? (…) Courage and cowardice are a matter of momentum, strength and weakness a matter of formation. (…) Therefore good warriors seek effectiveness in battle through the force of momentum, not individual people. (…) Getting people to fight by letting the force of momentum work is like rolling logs and rocks… Therefore, when people are skillfully led into battle, the momentum is like that of round rocks rolling down a high mountain. This is force."

Li Quan: "When you have the force of momentum in battle, even the timid can be courageous. So it is possible to choose them for their capabilities and give them appropriate responsibilities…No one is useless."

On offense, I did not notice a lack of heart, except for BIGG, but he plays injured constantly so I hesitate to say that. What I have definitely noticed is our inability to sustain momentum. This is a product of coaching. Whether a lack of headiness instilled in our players, or bad play calls, there is a very tangible dynamic at work. Our team does not handle success well.

Where this is mainly going to come into play is on defense. We now have a leader who players want to play for. He plays the orthodox and unorthodox off one another very well. He will use formations to make us strong, and instill pride so we have solidarity and can build invincibility as a team.

Overall, we will excel at attacking emptiness with fullness on both sides of the ball. Especially on offense, there is no one who has the talent to stop us if we attack them correctly. Master Sun’s take illustrates why I believe we are very likely to see the beginning of the next evolution in the game come from our team. The variations of orthodox and unorthodox across the league have been endless, cycles come and go. I am not sure what the next step will be, but I feel very confident we will witness the development of field-led squads firsthand.

The Nine Grounds:

There is a lot of quotable material on the different types of ground. The gist of this is that you need to occupy high ground and advantageous intersections, the deeper into an opponent’s territory you move the more focused your troops become because retreat is a more perilous prospect, and when placed on ground where your troops face certain death, they will fight to their last breath. What I look for is the leadership from coaches and players to focus us as though we were on dying ground no matter the situation.

Fire Attacks:

Master Sun: "The use of fire must have a basis, and requires certain tools… Generally, in fire attacks, it is imperative to follow up on the crisis caused by the fires. (…) Set it when the time is right, (…) Armies must know there are adaptations of the… fire attack, and adhere to them scientifically. (…) A government should not mobilize an army out of anger, military leaders should not provoke war out of wrath. Act when it is beneficial, desist if it is not. Anger can revert to joy, wrath can revert to delight, but a nation destroyed cannot be returned to existence, and the dead cannot be restored to life. Therefore an enlightened government is careful about this; a good military leader is alert to this. This is a way to secure a nation and keep the armed forces whole."

Basically, fire attacks are irreprehensible maneuvers that destroy the trust of the people you are trying to defeat and win over. They are dirty sneak plays.

I see us abusing the "only one forward pass" and "any part of player’s body behind the line of scrimmage constitutes a legal forward pass" rules. What I mean by that is we may see a lot of screens-to-flea flickers. What we do is wait until one S starts cheating up to stop running game, not necessarily until he is in the box, but just where over the top is open for our WR. At the snap, our RB will flare to the flat on the side of the sagging S, and receive what technically is a backward pass. From an ILB and S position, it is very hard to see whether the QB’s pass was a forward pass. Most assume if it was an overhand pass, it was a forward pass, and they will attack the LOS. Once the help cheats up, our WR is guaranteed a 1-on-1. If the RB can get the ball in the general vicinity, I like our chances. Didn’t Choice play a little QB in college?

On the defensive side, I see every other play being a shiesty, underhanded attack on our opponent’s morale. Rob is going to bring the heat from every different angle, disguised in every form. Get ‘em, boys! Aaaaah, good old fashioned deception.

The last paragraph is not very relevant to this discussion, but it is some of the best writing and thinking in history, as opposed to (AhhhhHEM!) Harry Potter.

The Use Of Spies:

Master Sun speaks much on the use of spies and espionage, but we aren’t the Patriots. Watching Coach’s mannerisms in his interview after Romo’s wedding, when asked about topics discussed with his players, it struck me as though there were probably some rules broken. I can say that I hope not, as it circles back to trustworthiness fundamental to effective leadership.

If used in-house, this technique has the potential to drive the evolution of our squads’ respective games as much as anything. A little cheating among brothers never hurt anyone; okay so it has, but if we are scheming to thwart dishonesty proactively, we are less likely to be caught off guard, and it drives new trains of thought on formations and assignments. Yes, we become the monkeys fueling the arms race, but if it stays in house it is no problem.

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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