It’s odd to say that Tony Pollard was the most hyped-up draft pick from the Cowboys’ crop of rookie talent this offseason, considering the running back was the 128th overall selection, but that’s the case. Drawing comparisons to Alvin Kamara, Pollard put on a show in the preseason.
Through the first two games, Pollard averaged 23 yards per game in limited opportunities, but he broke out in a big way against the Dolphins, racking up 103 yards on 13 carries. He crossed the 100-yard mark on his final carry of the game, which coincidentally went 16 yards for his first career touchdown. The play was well designed and perfectly executed, as can be seen below:
At this point in the game, the Cowboys were up 24-6 on Miami with just under four minutes to go, and they were firmly in clock-chewing mode. Taking out Ezekiel Elliott, who already crossed 125 yards on the day, Pollard got the heavy workload. It’s hard to execute run plays effectively when the defense knows the run is coming (see: Scott Linehan), but this play works for several reasons.
First off, note the personnel alignment. Amari Cooper and Devin Smith are lined up wide right, while Dalton Schultz is effectively lined up as a sixth offensive lineman on Tyron Smith’s left side. Fullback Jamize Olawale is also out there in a Weak I formation, with Pollard about eight yards behind the line of scrimmage.
It’s pretty obvious that this is going to be a run play, considering that every other play on this drive has been a run and there’s no reason to not run it here. Still, the Dolphins are unable to stop it despite loading eight men into the box. A large part is due to the excellent blocking. At the point of the snap, the offensive line immediately slants left. Right tackle La’el Collins pulls across the line of scrimmage and cuts up the middle to pick up the defensive tackle who was coming through as a result of Zack Martin sliding left. This effective pull - Collins immediately neutralizes the defender - cancels out any opportunity for the defensive line to make a play in the backfield.
The rest of the line makes their slide and occupies their blocks with good strength and intensity. Martin and Travis Frederick essentially double-team Davon Godchaux, who had been giving both of them fits individually earlier in the game. As the most productive member of the Miami defensive line, Godchaux gets all the focus here to make sure he doesn’t blow up the play, and he doesn’t.
The other defensive lineman for Miami here, Taco Charlton, does beat the initial block and burst through the line of scrimmage. However, credit has to be given to Connor Williams for not giving up and twisting around to continue blocking Charlton even after the penetration. You can see Charlton get some penetration quickly but Williams delivers a good, clean strike on Charlton’s side that causes him to stumble, taking away his shot at making a tackle for loss.
The most notable part of this blocking strategy, though, is the silent cooperation between Tyron Smith and Olawale. Off the snap, Smith rises up and chips the linebacker in his way before bursting into the second level to be the lead blocker. While the chip from Smith is enough to stun the linebacker, it’s not enough to completely take him out of the play. Enter Olawale, who flows right to him at the snap, squares him up, and neutralizes him by the time Pollard runs right past him.
The final piece of this blocking strategy is Schultz, who takes on the edge defender and looks like an offensive tackle in doing so. Coming out of a four-point stance, Schultz immediately engages the defender with his arms, getting some good punch before using his footwork to wiggle the defender out of the way. Then, after Pollard runs by and the defender disengages from the block, Schultz finishes things off by giving the defender a light shove that knocks him to the ground, taking away the possibility of a chase-down tackle.
All of this so far, between how the blocking assignments are drawn up and how flawlessly they’re executed, creates a hole for Pollard to burst through. Now, it’s all up to the rookie to take advantage, which he does. As he takes the snap, Pollard adjusts his path a bit to avoid Charlton, who’s already being driven off-course by Williams. Then, Pollard takes a moment to wait and set his feet as the hole opens up. Between the blocks from Schultz and Olawale (with an assist by Smith), Pollard gets his penetration at the line of scrimmage. The work of Frederick, Martin, and Collins ensures no defenders can crash the play from the opposite side, either.
Pollard’s exceptional speed helps him burst through the hole, and the linebacker that Olawale is blocking gets a hand on the running back but it’s nowhere near enough to slow him down. With Smith now in the second level holding up Jerome Baker, Miami’s top run-stopper, Pollard only has defensive backs Walt Aikens and Steven Parker to beat. Aikens takes a bad angle and gets tripped up Smith’s block on Baker, while Parker is coming from the far side of the field after lining up as the single high safety over top of Cooper and Smith. By the time Parker gets to that side of the field, Pollard’s speed has already carried him across the goal line.
And that’s how you draw up an effective run against a defense that know’s it’s coming.