What if I told you that Gavin Escobar was a, if not the, key player in the game-winning drive against the Seattle Seahawks in 2014?
He never touched the ball on that drive. Everyone remembers the amazing Romodini on 3rd and 20. Some will remember that the next three plays were Demarco Murray for 25, 6, and, finally, 15 yards to score. But how many knew that Gavin Escobar was on the field for the entire series?
And I'm willing to bet that no one knew that he drew double coverage on Terrance Williams' astounding catch, or that two of Murray's three runs went right behind his block, or that Escobar helped seal the backside cutoff on Murray's game winning TD.
Let's go to the tape.
Pre-snap, we can see the route Escobar will run.
Here, we see the route pattern. Look at the attention Escobar has in the center of the field from both safeties and a LB in deep zone (three green arrows). Meanwhiile Jason Witten (red arrow) is nearly forgotten as he breaks out and up, and Dez Bryant (blue arrow) running deep to the other sideline only has one man tracking him at the moment.
Dallas LOVES to use Escobar this way. Many are enamored of James Hanna's 40 time, but when Dallas wants to threaten a defense deep, they use Escobar. They even developed a shotgun, five-receiver formation with Witten, Beasley, and Escobar for this specific purpose, and that formation had a lot to do with the big plays Cole Beasley made in December.
After Tony Romo escapes Bruce Irvin, we can see the resulting field. Two players (green circles) remain glued tight to Gavin Escobar. The single high (I didn't get a number, but almost certainly Earl Thomas) has broken off to cover Dez (green arrow) and prevent a deep jump ball. Remember that Terrence Williams was initially breaking inward. With no safeties in the center of the field (due in part to Escobar's deep route) the deep zone CB (black circle) has to drop back and inside while the shallow zone player (probably a LB, red circle) has to come off of Witten to cover underneath Williams, particularly if they saw Romo point to Williams in the center of the field. Williams, Romo, and Witten all three recognize the huge yellow rectangle, centered on the first down marker and empty of defenders. Romo puts the throw there and Williams gets to it first.
I believe Witten simply read what was open and headed to the area, but he didn't have quite enough speed to get to where Romo was putting the football, which implies that Williams was, indeed, the target all along.
But that still left the ball on the Seattle 46. Dallas wasn't even in field goal range yet. Escobar stays in the game and Dallas begins pounding. Here we see Escobar ( blue circle) at the edge of the run while Zack Martin (yellow arrows) will pull and lead with Tyler Clutts (red arrow) through the hole.
Next we see Escobar (blue circle) and Witten sealing the hole to the inside to create the running lane. Note that Zack Martin against a CB (blue arrow) is really unfair. Clutts (red arrow) comes through to block the safety and Murray is off to the races. Please also note Frederick (red circle) sealing off the Mike LB on this play.
In this final picture we can see the hole Escobar (blue arrow) has created. If you watch the play, you'll note that Escobar is thrown aside shortly after this, but his block here is a clear win and certainly sustained successfully.
This next play should look familiar, because Dallas ran the exact same play two times in a row, here. It goes a little differently this time.
Here we can see the play in flow. Seattle's LBs have reacted more quickly this time and are ahead of the game. You can see that Escobar (blue arrow) has to move wide to get his man and the exclamation point shows where Travis Frederick has not secured his reach on the Mike.
Here we can see Frederick (blue circle) take the Mike the other way and Escobar (blue arrow) responds in kind. Unfortunately, Doug Free is injured and loses his block, leaving Jason Witten alone with what appears to be three players. Murray cuts upfield behind Frederick and Escobar for a modest 6 yd gain.
The next play starts with the same formation, but Escobar (blue circle) motions to the other side.
Here we can see the presnap formation, with Escobar (blue arrow) on the left and the CB who followed him over (green arrow) joining the DE and Will.
This one is a straightforward zone run.Ron Leary helps Tyron Smith make his reach block (blue circle) against the DT. Leary will later move on to the second level. Escobar (blue arrow), meanwhile, is left alone sealing the backside DE off.
Escobar (blue arrow) has successfully walled off the backside DE, allowing Smith to handle the DT while Leary (blue circle) moves on to a new opponent. The lane (red lines) develops between Frederick and Smith as, having been beaten to the offensive right twice now, the Seahawks' Mike LB (green arrow) pursues hard to the outside.
Murray cuts hard into the hole while Leary (blue arrow) moves to cut block the oncoming Will LB, leaving Murray only one man (green arrow) to beat. He does so and Dallas takes the lead. Note that if Escobar (blue circle) had lost his block, the DE still has plenty of time to reach the hole, as Murray has to bend a long way back to get there (red arrow).
This is not a random set of plays demonstrating Escobar's impact. These were four consecutive plays performed with the game on the line. Now it is, of course, possible, that Escobar merely had a good day that day. But the fact that he made important contributions, without ever touching the football, on the final four plays of the signature game winning drive for the 2014 team speaks volumes about his ability to carry out his assignments.
It's important to remember that football is a team sport and often times players contribute in ways that we rarely see, much less enumerate. Statistics can be impressive. They are an important measure. But players can contribute much to a game that goes unnoticed and uncounted.
Most Cowboys fans lament the inescapable label that was unfairly placed on Tony Romo early in his career. As we look at players that we don't feel contribute enough, let's try to remember that most players that remain in the league for even a couple of years develop beyond their initial limitations. "The process" requires an open and clear mind in player evaluation, not a view clouded by what the player used to be.