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How Tavon Austin is going to help the Cowboys exploit matchups

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Tavon may be the key to unlocking opposing defenses.

NFL: International Series: New York Giants at Los Angeles Rams Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve spent a lot of time discussing, debating, and really just wondering exactly how the Dallas Cowboys are going to use Tavon Austin this season.

There are a lot of ideas. One of the best came from Dave Helman over at the mothership last week. The consensus, as you’re likely well-aware, is that Austin will be used similarly to how the Cowboys utilized Lance Dunbar and/or Lucky Whitehead.

For a few weeks now I’ve been thinking of a different player that had Tavon’s skill set. I’ve been wondering whether or not the Cowboys could use him somewhat like Percy Harvin.

Over the weekend I went back through the SB Nation archives and dug up a great post by Danny Kelly over at Field Gulls, written shortly after the Seahawks traded for Harvin. Kelly talked about the key to Harvin’s strength within Seattle’s offense would be the ability to manipulate matchups.

The key to maximizing Harvin’s toolset lies in matchups. As Arif mentioned to me on twitter recently - “one thing I forgot to add to Harvin article that I remembered after rewatching the early season games is that you [can] force nickel and dime [defenses] by huddling in an “02” or “01” package [ie, zero running-back personnel sets], motioning Harvin into backfield and running up the gut.”

In layman’s terms - force the defense to adjust to the personnel you have in the huddle. If Seattle runs onto the field with ‘02’ or ‘01’ personnel, that means you’re seeing no backs, which, typically, means you’re planning to pass the football. Defenses have to use deduction very frequently to try and get an edge - much like an MLB batter guessing which pitch he’ll be receiving before the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand.

Danny makes reference to a fanpost written by Arif Hasan that is also a great read, but the point about Seattle capitalizing on nickel and dime defenses is a very good one.

This all may sound obvious, but the point about matchups is critical to winning in the NFL. If Scott Linehan and/or Dak Prescott are able to capitalize on a defense not built to stop the run on a given play, that’s an advantage well worth trying to design.

It’s also been said that Tavon could be what Ryan Switzer was for the Cowboys which, with no credit for this placed on Switzer himself, wasn’t much. Switzer carried the ball four times during his only season in Dallas, and Tavon Austin will likely easily trump that.

What’s interesting to note is that of Switzer’s four carries, three of them came on jet sweeps (Lucky Whitehead purists leap). Switzer carried the ball one time out of the backfield like a true running back. This is how that play began.

As you can see, the Arizona Cardinals rolled out with five defensive backs. Why wouldn’t they? Dallas had four receivers and a tight end ready to party. Dak Prescott ultimately motioned Switzer in and the mismatch was born.

Full disclosure here, Ryan Switzer only gained three yards on this particular handoff. It’s not like this is an offensive revelation that’s going to change the way the NFL exists, but the disposition is a smart one for offensive coordinators to take.

Why did the Cowboys only do this one time in 2017 with Switzer? We’ll never know. What we do know though is that Dallas is intent on using Tavon Austin in 2018 and using his unique set of talents. He’s a utility weapon that can help them immensely.

Whoever the Cowboys envision Tavon Austin being in 2018 ultimately doesn’t matter. How exactly they use him and the results it yields will be the true measurement of this project.