Winning with Tight Ends: Part One

With Dallas having committed to 12 personnel as their base offense, this series will seek to go beyond the norm and explore fun, creative plays rarely executed by multiple tight ends.

My inspiration for this comes from the classic line from Spinal Tap about the benefits of an amp that goes up to 11. Only in this instance, perhaps 12 or 13 is a more relevant number.

What we are seeking to "turn up" in this instance is confusion and mismatches on the part of the defense. As I am sure the reader is aware, the beauty of 12 or 13 personnel is forcing the defense into preparing for the run and then killing them with the pass. Or just killing them with the run anyway, because you can. That part remains to be seen in Dallas, to say the least.

But this series will assume that Callahan works some magic in camp and is able to at least run effectively, if not with dominance, out of these personnel groupings. Having achieved that level of competence, the fun can truly begin.

Here is my first offering of a play that could be devastating to an opposing defense:

Tripple Tight End Fake Bubble Screen

Since I haven’t figured out how to imbed a graphic yet, I will simply describe the action.

  • Dallas comes out in a three tight end set with Murray, Bryant, Rosario, Hanna and Witten.
  • They begin to set up with three tight ends-- all on the right side, but prior to getting set, two of them sprint to the left side. This isn't technically "motion" because they were not set prior to changing sides.
  • Once set, Romo motions the remaining tight end on the right over to the left, such that all three TE's are now opposite from where they started and are aligned into a trips left, bunch formation that has a strong bubble screen look to it.

So lets pause and consider what the defense is going through at this moment. Their mindset had to change from stopping the run, most likely a run to their left, to scrambling into a pass coverage set on their right and desperately trying to figure who is covering who. What adds to the confusion are two things: 1) the personnel on the field aren’t ideally suited to pass coverage and 2) bunch formations can be confusing to corners and safeties, but to a mix of linebackers and safeties, all of whom were mentally focused on run-stuffing a second a go, there is a real possibility for blown coverages. With three tight ends on the field, the defense may only have one corner, who is covering Dez on the opposite side, thus the mix of linebackers and safeties attempting to cover the TE's.

The icing on the cake, is that it becomes a fake bubble screen.

  • Hanna, starts the little bubble move and then sprints away from his defender on an inside slant.
  • Romo leads him just as he is pulling away from his guy and it’s off to the races.
  • In the event Hanna doesn’t pull away, there are the other two tight ends as options down the field. And of course, there is also Dez.

Why Do This?

First off, this play develops very quickly, which is a bonus, given what we can expect from pass blocking this year.

Second, starting out in a run formation and motioning into a pass formation is far more challenging to the defense than the opposite. Linebackers would rather run down hill and pursue a back than take their chances covering athletic tight ends. Making that switch at the last moment creates an "oh crap" (cleaned up version) mentality for the 'backers. This is a bad way to start a defensive play. That and the fact they are scrambling to get into position is a great pre-snap situation for Dallas.

Third, have you ever, in your life, seen three tight ends in a bunch formation? I’m guessing not. Almost no one else in the NFL has three pass-catching tight ends worthy of trying this. Linebackers are easy enough to pick on in coverage, but you make them deal with a confusing formation and dangerous, tall, fast targets and things get interesting.

Naturally, there are variations on this play. You can go ahead and run the bubble screen with Witten and Rosario blocking and Hanna receiving. You can do that, but with Bryant as the receiver and Hanna flanked on the other side. You can have the formation start off strongside left and motion the tight ends to the right, but into more of a typical spread look. And of course, you can do all of this as a distraction and throw it to the opposite side instead or pitch it to Murray, depending upon how the defense is reacting.

If Dallas is going to solve it’s red zone woes, the multiple tight end packages can certainly help out, provided some creative effort is made to truly overload opposing defenses.

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