Cowboys Film Session: The Back-Shoulder Fade Is Money

Patrick Smith

The back-shoulder fade is one of the hardest plays to stop in football. Let's take a closer look at how successful the Cowboys were at running this play last week against the Baltimore Ravens.

The Dallas Cowboys managed to put together one of their best offensive performances of the season last week against the Baltimore Ravens. It was such an impressive performance because the Cowboys dominated the Ravens statistically and physically. The outcome of the game didn't go the Cowboys way, but there were a lot of positives to take away from that game.

One of my favorite plays in football is the back-shoulder throw. It's nearly impossible to defend when the receiver gets man coverage and runs a fade route. Going forward this is a play that Jason Garrett needs to dial up more frequently. After seeing it run with success against the Ravens, it wouldn't surprise me to see the Cowboys begin to run this play more often.

3rd and 2 3rd Quarter


The Cowboys operate out of their two-tight end set in the red zone down 24-13. Dez Bryant and Miles Austin both line up on the same side. The Ravens have been beaten up by the running game and decide to bring more help into the box.

Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard are playing closer to the line and it's clear that the Ravens are more concerned with stopping the run.


Prior to the snap, Pollard and Reed both begin to motion towards the line of scrimmage. If they decide to blitz, Romo needs to get the ball out early.


The design of this play was the perfect call to counter what the Ravens are trying to do. Reed never blitzes and immediately knows what is happening, but he is so far away that he is a non-factor in the play. The offensive line does a great job and keeps the pocket clean for Romo.

This isn't an option route, but I wanted to illustrate how difficult it is to play cornerback in the NFL. Cary Williams is left on an island with Dez Bryant. He doesn't know where the play is going, but the wide receiver does. This is why the offense always has the advantage in situations like the one above. The cornerback has a couple of different kinds of routes to consider here.


Bryant runs his route towards the sideline of the end zone. Romo places excellent touch on his pass and leads Bryant back towards the sideline.


Williams is completely out of position to make a play on the football. The back-shoulder fade was run to perfection here. It's a play designed to get your wide receiver one on one with the opposing cornerback. If the quarterback is precise with the throw, it's nearly impossible to stop.

1st & Goal 4th Quarter


The Cowboys are driving down the field and the Ravens have just called a timeout. Jason Garrett may have dropped the ball at the end of the game, but his coaching up until that point in the game was excellent. He brings his offense in to talk over a key play in the game.

Bryant is shaking his head in confidence here. Dez wants the football in a clutch situation, which isn't out of the question since he loves the game and wants to be one of the best. Garrett once again is going with the back-shoulder fade.


The Ravens run man coverage on all of the wide receivers and the Cowboys get exactly what they wanted on this play. Garrett probably noticed that the Ravens were running man coverage throughout the game inside the 20 yard line. With the Ravens running man coverage, it made sense to run the back-shoulder fade again.


Ed Reed is playing closer towards the line of scrimmage and shadows Miles Austin. The Ravens clearly made Austin a priority in this game. Because of their strong emphasis on Austin, this allowed Dez to have a huge game and dominate the Ravens.

As Romo drops back, he looks towards the left side of the field. He is eyeing Bryant the entire time on this play, but his accuracy and placement of the football is outstanding. On all three throws, Romo makes an excellent pass that only Bryant could make a play on.


Watch how Bryant boxes out the cornerback on this play. Cary Williams never had a chance on this play because of the accurate throw by Romo and the execution by Bryant.

Bryant is such a physically gifted wide receiver that he can box out the defender and catch the football. If I were Garrett, I would run this play nearly every single time I was in the red zone.

Two-Point Conversion 4th Quarter


Jason Garrett has a difficult decision to make immediately after the second Dez Bryant touchdown. The Cowboys trail the Ravens by two points and need to convert a two-point conversion.

One suggestion that I have seen brought up in the comment threads after the game (hat tip to Terry) was running a draw or some sort of running play here. I agree running the football would have made sense here because we had a lot of success against the Ravens on the ground.

But I have no problem with running the back-shoulder fade again because this play works when you have all three components working. An accurate quarterback, a physical wide receiver and man to man coverage all work into the back-shoulder fade, and the Cowboys had all of that in their favor.


Romo makes another quick decision and gets the ball out immediately to Bryant. Cornerback Cary Williams draws Bryant in coverage again, but this time he becomes very physical.


The side judge has a clear view of this play, but he doesn't throw the flag and decides to let Bryant and Williams go at it. Williams uses his hands and pushes Bryant in the back, which makes Dez fall to the ground.


From the replay, you can see that Williams has his hands all over Dez. Romo makes another outstanding throw and places the football exactly where it needs to be.


It looks like Dez has secured the catch and two-point conversion. Williams was interfering with him on the play, but I really don't have a problem with pass interference not being called here. Dez needs to make this catch, but he doesn't and it's unfortunate because this was a game that Dez Bryant dominated.

People have been asking for (and calling him out for) Bryant to dominate the entire game, and that is exactly what Bryant did against the Ravens, minus this play of course.


Here is one more view of Williams on the back of Bryant. Is this pass interference or do you just let them play? Please discuss this in the comment section because I am curious to see what everyone has to say about that.


Bryant doesn't make the play, but that doesn't mean that he shouldn't be commended for his efforts in this game. When he reaches the sideline, Jimmy Robinson and Jason Garrett console Dez. It goes a long way mentally and emotionally when the coaching staff shows their support for a player who played a great game but didn't make one play.

It's almost like in basketball when a player goes off and scores 40 points, but he misses the game winning jump shot. Not everything was going to go the Cowboys way, and Bryant didn't lose this game for them.

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