With great fanfare, The Cowboys have indicated that 12 Personnel will be a huge component, if not the base grouping, of the 2013 Cowboy Offense. However, this might be misguided. I think that 11 personnel should be the Cowboys' base in 2013. For the purpose of this exercise, let's assume that the Cowboys will always have 2 WRs (Austin and Bryant), One TE (Witten), and One RB on the field. My argument is that the final skill position player should be a WR, rather than a TE.
The Cowboys' Best Pass Catchers are WRs
For the one final skill position slot, we have 5 Candidates- Dwayne Harris, Cole Beasley, Terrence Williams, Gavin Escobar, and James Hanna. Of them, the best Receiving Targets are clearly the WRs. Harris is the best burner of the group, a crisp route runner who is both quick and fast, not to mention a great after the catch play-maker. Williams is best deep threat of the group, a prototypical NFL Outside WR (Fast, Tall, Great Vertical Leap), who was among the most dominant College WRs of the past 2 years. Beasley is the classic quicker than fast slot receiver, who runs very good timing routes, and can consistently create separation against LBs and Nickel DBs. Additionally, both Williams and Harris can play the outside WR spot, which allows Austin to man the slot, a position he dominated from in 2012. But the TEs? Both are one trick ponies, with limited skill sets. Escobar may have fine hands, but he lacks great in-line speed and may struggle to create separation, especially as a rookie. Hanna is the total opposite, as he has great in-line speed, but not much else in his toolkit.
There will not be a large drop-off in blocking quality
12 Personnel is often praised because of the versatility it allows in terms of run blocking. However, this is contingent upon having two quality run blocking TEs. Unfortunately, ever since the release of Martellus Bennett, the Cowboys have not had a second TE who is both a quality blocker and receiver. Escobar and Hanna have both had troubles with run blocking in their careers. Escobar was not a great blocker in college, something that even forced him to spend extended time on the sidelines throughout his collegiate career. Hanna has had similar issues, but did show some progress this season. Overall, both need technique help and strength work to make themselves reliable run blockers, and while this is realistic, it might not happen in 2013. On the other hand, the Cowboys have carefully crafted a roster of skilled blocking WRs. Dwayne Harris was a great downfield blocker in 2012, often stone-walling second level defenders. Take a look at Dez Bryants' 85 Yard Thanksgiving TD if you don't believe me. Terrence Williams was a great blocker at Baylor, using his strength to hold of DBs on outside runs. Moreover, both Miles Austin and Dez Bryant have demonstrated their ability to hold second level blocks throughout their career. The only WR who is a question mark as a blocker is Beasley, who is likely only on the field in passing situations. Additionally, the presence of an additional WR will draw a defender out of the box, which can lessen the number of defenders to block on running plays. Hence, the blocking quality drop off may not be so great.
The WRs have proven NFL reliability
As the season progressed, it was evident that Romo had developed chemistry and timing with Dwayne Harris and Cole Beasley. Romo clearly trusted Harris down the stretch, leading to a stretch of 17 catches in 7 games, which is pretty impressive for an offense's 5th Target. The same can be said about Beasley, who even had a 6 catch game in week 12. As for Hanna, while Romo did find him 8 times in the final 4 games, his production was boosted by multiple "garbage time" catches (catching passes after the game was decided, or in lackluster drives right before the half). As for the Rookies, we can only speculate about their potential NFL reliability. However, it is worth noting that Terrence Williams dominated as a feature WR in a major conference, notching over 1800 Yards, while Escobar did not exactly own the Mountain West, only putting up around 550 Yards.
The Strength of the Cowboys is Passing
In the Tony Romo, the Cowboys have a QB who has the arm strength to make every NFL throw, and the football intelligence to make every single read. Despite the occasional mistake, Romo has been a spectacular pocket passer for the past couple of years, always using his arm to make up for an often lackluster and inconsistent run game. Additionally, Jason Garrett is a passing game mind, who is at his best developing passing concepts. The Cowboys should play to their strengths as a football team, and give Romo the passing formations he needs to succeed.
Well, What do you think? Should the Cowboys feature more 12 or 11 Personnel? Share your opinion inthe comments below? Thanks!