Photo credit: Rueters
This weekend, the Dallas Cowboys invade Lambeau Field to take on the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Divisional Playoff Round.
They bring with them one of the best running backs in the game, DeMarco Murray, who rushed for 1845 yards this season, and one of the most feared running games in the NFL. The Cowboys were the second best rushing team in the league, averaging over 147 yards per game.
We should expect the Cowboys to stay true their offensive identity this weekend, especially as the weather turns cold and it may be more difficult to pass the ball.
For this film session, I break down the major running plays we can expect to see this Sunday from the Cowboys.
While watching film, I was highly impressed with their entire run unit. Their line does an excellent job creating holes and Murray has excellent vision. Altogether, the Cowboys have one of the most diverse run games I’ve seen because they utilize several concepts.
Their absolute number one running play is the outside zone. Their next most important running play is the Power O, which is man running scheme. They also utilize a good mix of secondary running plays that keep the defense guessing.
Let’s take a look at their primary and secondary running concepts.
Primary Run: Outside Zone
This is their bread and butter. The outside zone calls for the entire offensive line to slant in the same direction with the idea of creating multiple cutback lanes for the running back. The lineman block specific gaps rather than specific defenders. When the quarterback hands the ball off the running back, he aims for the outside hip of the play side tackle. As the play develops, he may have the option to cutback inside if a lane opens or continue to the outside hip of the tackle.
In the play below, Murray (29) aims for the outside hip of the left tackle (77). There was no clear inside cutback lane, so he continued to run outside for a sizable gain.
Primary Run: Power O
This concept is an old school power running play. It’s man blocking, and it calls for the backside guard to pull play side, along with a fullback (or H-back) to kick out defenders at the point of attack. Man blocking calls for the linemen to block specific defenders and not specific gaps.
In the play below, the back side guard (70) and H-back (82) pull around the formation to seal the edge and kick out defenders who filled the gaps. Murray (29) does cut it back inside the blocks of 70 and 82, which highlights his excellent vision and decision-making ability.
Secondary Run: One Back Power
This concept is typically run from substitution packages and the shotgun formation against six-man fronts. The idea is to spread the defense out horizontally, but still use a man power blocking scheme. The back side guard or tackle pulls around the formation to trap block the defender at the point of attack.
In the play below, the Cowboys’ best offensive lineman, left tackle Tyron Smith (77), uses his athleticism to lead Murray (29) into the hole.
Secondary Run: Inside Zone
After an offense successfully establishes the outside zone, defenses begin to anticipate the play and will aggressively flow outside. The inside zone is designed to counter that and discourage the defense from pursuing the edges.
The inside zone also has the entire offensive line slant in one direction to provide multiple cutback lanes for the running back. The slanting isn’t as aggressive as the outside zone and the running back aims for the inside hip the guard, not the outside hip of the tackle.
In the play below, Murray aims for the left guard’s hip en route to a touchdown.
Secondary Run: Dive
The Cowboys run a fair amount of the most simple running play ever conceived: the dive. In the dive play, the offensive line blocks each defender man-to-man and the running back runs through the hole between the center and guard. There’s no lead blockers, slanting, power, or misdirection. It’s man on man, and may the best man win.
Credit: NFL Game Rewind
Secondary Run: Split Zone
The split zone is a variation of the outside zone. Everything is basically the same, except the tight end or H-back cuts across the back side of the entire formation to seal the back edge as the offensive linemen block down.
In the play below, the offensive line slants to the left and the H-back (84) cuts back across the formation to the right.
Secondary Run: Stretch G
The Cowboys use another variation of the zone run scheme called Stretch G. This play has the offensive line sliding in one direction, but this time the play side guard pulls around the tackle to meet the first defender in the gap. The play is designed to run outside, just like the outside zone, but the pulling guard kicks out unsuspecting defenders pursuing aggressively in anticipation of the outside zone.
In the play below, the play side guard (70) pulls around the right tackle (78) and leads Murray (29) into the hole.
Secondary Run: Lead Open
The Cowboys also use one of the most basic power run schemes that is a staple at all levels of football: the lead open. The offensive line blocks man-to-man with their defenders and the fullback leads the running back through the hole, kicking out the first defender in the gap.
In the play below, the fullback (44) leads Murray (29) through the hole.
These were the eight running plays that I saw when scouting the Cowboys while they were playing the San Francisco 49ers and the Arizona Cardinals. They probably use other runs as well throughout the season, but these are the most likely runs we’ll see them use against the Packers. I hate making comparisons, but I felt the 49ers and Cardinals have the most similar defense as the Packers because they are all base 3-4 and like single-high and odd-high coverage shells.
The Cowboys have a very diverse run game, and it’s very polished, efficient, and effective. The Packers defense has their work cut out for themselves this Sunday to keep the Cowboys in check.
In case you’re wondering what the Cowboys’ pass game is, it’s Air-Coryell. They like to attack inside the numbers. I nominate someone else to break that down further.
I believe the GIFs embedded above to be fair use under the premise of being short clips of the original broadcast that are transformative for news reporting, commentary, critique, illustration, and teaching purposes.——————