As numerous pundits, including yours truly, have commented, one of several keys to DeMarco Murray's stunning day on Sunday was the work of Cowboys fullback Tony Fiammetta, the "little flame." In his Monday press conference, when asked about Fiammetta, Dallas head coach Jason Garrett admitted that the team has been looking for a "pure fullback" for the last couple of years, and added that Fiammetta certainly has that skillset. Indeed, the fullback position is a key one in Garrett's offense; he should not only be a hammerhead as lead blocker, but also be strong in pass protection, and pose some sort of threat in the passing game.
While Fiammetta was in on several passing plays on Sunday, he didn't register a catch, and only went into a pattern twice, by my count. So, we'll have to table an evaluation of his receiving skills for later in the season. However, he was in on enough running plays--31 of the team's 34 runs--to gave us a sizable sample of his work in the running game. After tracking him play by play, I can say that its no coincidence that the games he has been in the lineup have been those in which the Cowboys boast their best running numbers of the season.
On Sunday. Dallas had 11 total drives, 5 in the first half and six in the second (the last of which served to run out the clock). Let's check out how, and what, Fiammetta did on each of these. A bit of formational clarification. So that you can get a sense of the formations Garrett used, and how they changed as the game went along, I've decided to note whether Dallas was in a "21" or a "22" set (both have two backs; the first has one tight end, the second, two) I won't mention where Fiammetta lined up when he was in the traditional "I" formation; I will indicate when he was offset, however, and whether that was a "queen" (i.e., offset to the strong side) or jack (weakside) formations. Lastly, for brevity's sake, I'll refer to him as "24."
Play-by-play after the jump...
First drive (5 plays; 98 yards):
Play 1: 22 set, heavy right (both TEs right). 24 hits Rams LB Chris Chamberlain (#57) in the hole, eliminating him. Tashard Choice runs behind him for a nice gain.
Play 4: 21 set, strong right. 24 leads to the left, overrunning middle LB James Laurenitis (55) and, realizing this, hooks him, drawing a holding penalty. This sets Dallas up in a first and 19.
Play 5: 21 set, with Jason Witten (82) flexed right in a pass look. Its a lead draw, and 24 crushes 55, springing DeMarco Murray (29) for his 91-yarder. Laurenitis is one of the few legit players on the Rams defense and, other than the previous play, 24 dominated him all game long.
Second drive (3 plays, 8 yards):
Fiammetta didn't play on this drive, a 3-and-out.
Third drive (7 plays, 62 yards):
Play 5: 21 set, strong right. Romo throws a fade to Bryant in the end zone; 24 takes on the Rams' best defender, DE Chris Long, and holds up well against him.
Play 6: 22 set, heavy left. 24 stands up 57 in the hole, crushing him.
Play 7: 23 set, heavy right. 24 leads 29 on a playfake, and then goes out into the left flat, drawing coverage away from Witten, who was lined up on the "weak" side. 82 is wide open for a TD. 14-0 Cowboys.
Fourth drive (5 plays, 16 yards):
Play 1: 22 set, balanced I formation. On the same lead draw that netted Murray's long touchdown (albeit from a run look), 24 stands up 55 in the hole, allowing 29 to cut in behind him for a 4 yard gain.
Play 3: 21 set, strong left. 24 picks up a blitzing LB (57?) and stones him, but three yards behind the line of scrimmage. Murray hits the pile-up and rolls off of it for a 4 yard loss.
Fifth drive (8 plays, 18 yards):
Play 1: 21 set, jack right. 24 gets position/ leverage on SLB Bryan Kehl (50), turning him in and allowing Murray to scoot for 6.
Play 2: 22 set, balanced I. Again, Garrett calls the lead draw from this formation. This time, 24 stands up 50; 29 runs behind him for four yards and a first down.
Play 3: 21 set, jack right. Pass play. 24 chips Long on his way out to the flat. Play goes in the other direction; Romo hits Austin on a curl for a gain of nine.
Sixth drive (3 plays, 26 yards):
Play 1: 22 set, balanced I. On a pitch right, 24 runs through the hole, eventually hitting a safety; he has little to no impact on the play. Murray for six behind great blocking by the o-line.
Play 2: 22 set, heavy jack right. This was a great concept. The Cowboys motion 82 left, to create a balanced line, then fake heavy action to the right, with left guard Montrae Holland (64) pulling to the strong side, and 24 looking as if he's trying to seal the edge. Romo pitches left to Murray, who steps right and then goes left, cutting off of Witten's block for a gain of 19. Dallas ran this later in the game on the play in which 29 eclipsed Emmitt Smith's single-game rushing yardage total.
Play 3: 22 set, heavy left. 24 engages 50, but Choice fumbles his way into the doghouse. End of drive.
Seventh drive (13 plays, 55 yards):
Play 2: 22 set, heavy jack right. Pass play. 24 goes out on a route, but nothing develops, as its a quick pass to Austin on the sideline. Incomplete.
Play 4: 22 set, heavy left. 24 hits 57 in the hole, standing him up. Murray takes the ball left, away from the fullback for one of the few times in the game. Gain of three.
Play 7: 22 set, heavy left. Witten motions right to balance the line, and 24 leads off left guard. Uncharacteristically, he overruns the hole and never makes contact--the likeliest player being 50. Murray no gain.
Play 8: 21 set, jack right. Bubble screen to Dez Bryant. 24 picks up a blitzing LB (50). Bang bang play, gain of 13.
Play 9: 21 set, jack right. Pass play--same as on drive 5, play 3. Again, 24 chips Long and goes into the flat. Again, pass to Austin for a gain of eight.
Play 10: 22 set, heavy left. The Cowboys ran this a couple of times on Sunday: Witten and Phillips block down, Kosier (63) pulls left and 24 takes the OLB (50); Murray follows 24 and 63 for a nice gain (9 yards)
Play 12: 21 set, in a pass look, with 82 offset right. This is the exact same play and formation that generated Murray's long run. This time, the interior gets clogged, with 24 in the middle of it. Murray bounces it out right, for a gain of 4.
Eighth drive (6 plays, 34 yards):
Play 1: 22 set, heavy right, with Witten motioning left to create a balanced line. A toss left; 24 leads the way and gets a nice block on 55, sealing the edge for Murray. Gain of 19.
Play 2: 22 set, balanced I. Romo audibles into a play that they would run two more times later in the game. 82 steps back, lining up behind Free. At the snap, 82, 64 and 24 all pull right; 29 follows them, cutting off their blocks. 24 locks up Rams corner Josh Gordy (38), who he would victimize again, later. Gain of five.
Play 3: 22 set, heavy right. Off tackle run right, with 64 pulling. 24 engages and stands up 50; 29 runs behind for six yards and a first down.
Play 4: 22 set, balanced I. Cowboys run a "heavy draw," with 82 and 24 leading 29 through the hole. 24 stands up 55, making a nice block; 29 cuts behind the block for a gain of 4.
Ninth drive (6 plays, 78 yards):
Play 1: 22 set, heavy right. Same play as drive seven, play 10, but to the other side. 24 gets clean block on 50. 29 gains five.
Play 2: 21 set, strong right. 24 leads off left tackle; 29 cuts it back over RT for a gain of 43. One of the few times 29 didn't follow 24's lead. I couldn't tell whether or not 24 was a decoy by luck or by design. Either way, the entire Rams defense went to its right, with the flow of the play, and it opened up the field for Murray's weakside cut.
Play 3: 22 set, balanced I. Sweep right; 24 gets a great block on 55. Tanner (34) scoots behind it for a couple.
Play 4: 21 set, jack right. 24 stays in pass pro and helps Tyron Smith (77) chip the defensive end. Pass complete to Bryant for 12. 24 clearly doesn't mind mixing it up with bigger guys.
Play 5: 21 set, strong right. On a lead draw, 24 stands up 55 and drives him away from the hole; 34 follows behind him for a terrific gain of 18.
Play 6: 22 set, balanced I. Carbon copy of drive eight, play two, down to the Romo audible. 24 again smacks the poor corner (38), who doesn't have a chance. Tanner follows behind his convoy for a TD.
Tenth drive (5 plays, 34 yards):
Play 1: A carbon copy of drive seven, play 12. From a 22 set, queen right, 24 and 64 pull right. Murray takes on step in that direction, then goes left, taking a pitch for nine, setting the single game record.
Play 2: Garrett goes back to the play that earned a touchdown on the previous drive. Again, 24 locks up on the Rams 38, and obliterates him, helping Murray take the play wide right for a gain of 6.
Play 3: 22 set, heavy right. Run over right guard; 24 pops the OLB, 50, as Murray gains four.
Play 4: 22 set, balanced I. 24 On a straight ahead run off right guard, 24 makes an excellent block on 55, but two o-linemen allow penetration and the play is blown up. Tanner loses four.
Play 5: 21 set, in a pass look with Witten flexed left. Before the snap, Romo motions to the backs to look out for blitzing linebackers coming from the left of the formation. Indeed, they do come, but both 24 and 34 commit a cardinal sin, taking the outside guy, allowing the inside guy a free run. Thankfully, Romo gets the pass off quickly, with the result a touchdown to 88.
Eleventh drive (3 plays, 12 yards):
Play 1: 22 set, heavy left. On a fold play, 24 engages with and drives back 50, with 34 cutting behind him for a nice gain.
Play 2: Same formation, same play, similar result. 24 destroys 50, and Tanner gets the clock-ending first down.
In looking at Fiammetta's afternoon, a couple of things become readily apparent. The first is that his workload increased exponentially as the game wore on. On the Cowboys' first half drives, as they usually do, they lined up in a variety of formations, with out much success--although they led 17-7, they struggled to find an offensive identity and rhythm. After intermission, they turned increasing to heavy sets (notice how many one-receiver sets Garrett deployed; I don't think Laurent Robinson saw the field after the second quarter) and passed only sparingly from them. It was clear that they wanted to keep running, even though the Rams knew they would be running--and Fiammetta was a key part of that.
Overall, Fiammetta's game wasn't perfect: he had a penalty and a couple of plays where he failed to make contact, and a potentially injurious screw up in pass protection. But when he DID make contact, he repeatedly won leverage battles, demonstrating the ability to get under his opponent's pads and drive him up and back. Because of this, he repeatedly met his man in the hole and drove him out of it. This might be more an indictment of the Rams linebackers than evidence of Fiammetta's excellence, but I never saw any of them toss him aside and make a play.
As I said above, it remains to be seen whether or not number 24 can become a factor in the passing game. I don't expect him to lead the team in receptions; rather, he must become enough of a threat that opposing defensive coordinators don't automatically assume the Cowboys are going to run when he's on the field. If he can do that, he'll help make the Cowboys offense both more productive and less predictable. And that would suit me just fine.