The Dallas Cowboys young offensive line is playing as one of the best units in the league. But the team is reaping the benefits of determined and willing blocking from their "skill position" players as well. Scott Linehan, Bill Callahan, Frank Pollack, Mike Pope, Derek Dooley...everyone and anyone that is motivating and coaching all the Cowboys offensive weapons to block so well, so consistently, deserve our appreciation and acknowledgement. Jason Garrett has his players working hard and blocking with intent. Even the play designs show how much trust this coaching staff has in their tight ends and wide receivers blocking at the point of attack. When the Cowboys run to the outside, you will often find a blocking triangle leading the way.
With zone-blocking concepts, run designs usually lead to a decision-point for the running back. It's why patient runners are so important for the system and why cutback lanes often provide big gains. In this instance, Jason Witten has stonewalled the defensive end, sealing the edge, while James Hanna has stuck one linebacker in his tracks and Terrance Williams has come in motion to block at the head of the triangle. Not many teams would trust their tight end to block a defensive lineman, but Witten has been doing it frequently, and doing it well. Usually, the Cowboys receivers and tight ends are blocking linebackers and giving the Cowboys running game a huge advantage.
Some serious recognition has been earned by James Hanna. The reason Gavin Escobar has not been seeing as many snaps as so many fans hoped is because James Hanna has suddenly become a phenomenal blocking tight end. Gavin Escobar has also shown much improvement, but I understand why coaches would be utilizing Hanna so often. Meanwhile, his athleticism and speed can make him a dangerous receiving weapon once defenses begin to think of him as primarily a blocker. In another example of the perimeter blocking triangle...
Once again, Witten completely stonewalls a defensive-end, Hanna does a solid job keeping the outside linebacker out of the play, and this time Dwayne Harris heads the triangle blocking a linebacker. Once again, the Cowboys runner gets around the corner and can decide which direction to go into the second level due to the strong blocking efforts by the skill position players. And for the record, this isn't the only scheme that calls for Witten to battle linemen at the point of attack. Sometimes, he does a phenomenal job despite the back overrunning his decision point and running into Witten.
As you'll see in these next pics, Jason Witten has again stood up a defensive lineman at the point of attack on this off-tackle run. However, Ron Leary does not manage to stop the linebacker from getting ahead of him and DeMarco Murray uses Witten's block to help him get back to the cut-back lane after his impatience. Despite getting hit in the back, Witten maintains his block the entire play. And notice the anchor (with a beard) in the middle making sure the cutback lane stays open?
I could go on for a while about Witten, but again, he isn't the only one. On this next off-tackle run, Free seals the edge as Gavin Escobar holds a solid block against one linebacker as Witten heads the triangle blocking another. Once again, the perimeter triangle hard at work helping the Cowboys running game dominate off the edge as well, not only between the tackles.
One thing that you will notice in all these pictures, the Cowboys do a great job in positioning themselves while blocking. Everyone, from linemen to receivers, fights to use their bodies and positioning to help maintain their blocks. This can make the difference between a four-yard run and a big gain. These second level blocks are making the Dallas ground game very dangerous. Just check out Dez Bryant. As determined to block as he is to make spectacular catches, you will see in games that he doesn't just try to block downfield, he sustains blocks by sealing defenders away from the ball carrier.
And you can clearly see the positioning on this touchdown run, where both Witten and Dez use their bodies to seal out the defenders.
In case you haven't noticed, Jason Witten may be breaking receiving records, but he is an integral part of the Cowboys blocking schemes. And he isn't the only one. Hanna and Escobar are both showing vast improvements in their blocking ability, and all the Cowboys receivers are getting involved. This is truly a team effort, an offense that is physical across the board in their efforts to create running lanes. The Cowboys are using wide receivers to take out linebackers, tight ends to take on defensive linemen, and they are winning their matchups.
One receiver that is getting a lot of snaps due to his ability to block is Dwayne Harris. He uses his special teams physicality and experience to routinely block linebackers and free up linemen to pull and lead block for Cowboys runners. There is no better example than this next run versus the Rams. Harris does a phenomenal job with his crack block, sealing the edge and allowing both Ron Leary and Tyron Smith to pull on this outside run.
The Cowboys will eventually have to make a decision on a contract with Demarco Murray. He is a very strong runner, a very capable back in the NFL. I am a fan of the current NFL leading rusher with a boxer's face and mentality. But Dallas has made blocking a team effort and everyone has bought in and is giving it everything they've got while using smart technique. The Cowboys offensive line is growing into one of the best in the NFL, but the receivers and tight ends in Dallas are adding extra yards and a physical tone to this offense. It would not be surprising to see any talented runner lead the league in yards with this kind of team effort paving the way. And as you watch Murray run against that tough Seattle defense, make sure to raise a glass and cheer everyone working hard to create those lanes. And one last thought (and praise): You know your offense will have success running the ball when these are the "small" running lanes provided to him against stacked defenses...even when a tight end is blocking a lineman.
Ok, one last, last thought. These kind of efforts are not only helping the Cowboys rushing attack. Just last Sunday, the Cowboys passing game converted a vital third down, though it was again Murray and Witten doing the work. This shows the great awareness of Witten, who after running his route begins blocking the moment Murray secures the catch...and holds that block long enough for the Cowboys to gain a first down. This kind of consistent effort by all the Cowboys offensive skill players is a driving force in the success of the Cowboys offense, helping the team rack up countless of extra yards on any given run and reception.