Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Cowboys' version of spread offense

Source: www.saintsnews.net

The beauty of a Super Bowl title, other than the shiny trophy, parade, adulation, endorsement opportunities, etc., is watching other teams scurry to emulate what you do best.

New Orleans is the NFL's gold standard when it comes to offense. The Saints spread the ball around in a democratic style that few teams can match.

The offense that comes closest belongs to the Cowboys. The same Cowboys who added receiver Dez Bryant and will incorporate the rookie into an offense that ranked No. 2 in the league last season.

Your move, Jason Garrett.

"I think Jason is very fortunate as a coordinator, we're very fortunate as a team, to have the options we have offensively," owner Jerry Jones said.

Bryant. Miles Austin. Roy Williams. Jason Witten. Martellus Bennett. Felix Jones. Marion Barber. Tashard Choice. These are the primary movers and shakers in the Cowboys' scheme.

Quarterback Tony Romo gets these players the ball. Garrett's charge is to determine how each of these weapons is used and how big a role they will play.

That begins to unfold at organized team activities this week at Valley Ranch.

"You're always going to feel like there is more meat on the bone for everybody," Garrett said. "Our tight end catches over 90 balls a year. Miles Austin stepped in and caught over 80 balls for more than 1,300 yards. The runners combined for over 2,000 yards, all of that stuff.

"In each of those cases, you could say, 'Hey, we can get that guy the ball more, that guy can be more productive.' Well, there are only so many plays in a game, there are only so many times the ball can get distributed to different guys. Everyone understands that, and our team has a great sense of unselfishness when it comes to that.

"Certainly, we want to get everyone as involved as possible," Garrett continued. "We want everybody to be as productive as possible, but that's not real life."

Real life is that Austin made the most of his opportunities, so he got 81 receptions while Williams got 38. Real life is Witten runs better routes, so he catches 94 balls while Bennett gets 15. Real life is that Choice is the third wheel in the ground game.

But that was last season. Romo will tell you the Cowboys offense doesn't pick up where it left off. It starts over. Each player has the opportunity to change his role.

But here's the key: Garrett can't make it about any individual. It must be framed in the context of the overall offense.

There is one noticeable difference in how the Saints and Cowboys distributed the ball last season. New Orleans had seven players catch at least 35 passes. Marques Colston led the team with 70.

Only four players caught at least 35 passes for the Cowboys. But the top of the scale was pushed out much further with Witten at 94.

As this offense evolves and incorporates Bryant, as Bennett carves a bigger role, you would anticipate the Cowboys' pattern would compress and look more like the Saints.

But that gets into ratios, and Garrett isn't a fan.

"I just think you've got to be careful saying this is what we want all of the ratios to be," Garrett said. "It's hard to do that before the season starts. A lot of that stuff evolves."

New Orleans was the only team to rank ahead of the Cowboys in total offense. The Saints and Cowboys were the only teams to rank in the top 10 in both rushing and passing.

The Cowboys rushed for 150 or more yards six times last season and threw for at least 300 yards eight times. The Cowboys led the league in plays of 10 or more yards and were second in plays of 20 or more yards with 75. Only Pittsburgh (77) had more.

All this, and the Cowboys ranked No. 14 in scoring. A Saints team that averaged only 4.4 yards a game more than the Cowboys averaged 9.3 points a game more.

The Cowboys were explosive when it came to moving the ball, but not explosive when it came to scoring. That's where Bryant and a more efficient red zone offense can help.

"An area we need to continue to emphasize is finishing those individual plays, turning those plays into touchdowns," Garrett said.

This is one area where the Cowboys want to be more like the Saints. They are already there in terms of balance and scheme.

"Now, can you say beforehand this is what it's all going to look like at the end?" Garrett asked. "I don't know that you can say that.

"But the big picture, the broad-stroke ideas are that we want to have that kind of balance and distribution."