and defenses think, said to himself, Jason, you get him in places where the defense can't simply jam him on the line of scrimmage and leave a safety over the top just in case.
So we have seen Owens line up wide, then motion inside, sometimes inside the other wide receiver to that side or sometimes even inside the tight end flanked into the slot. That normally gets him away from the defense's top corner and forces teams into zoning him.
Sometimes Garrett, especially on third down, will line him up in the backfield as if a running back next to Romo, then motion him out into his pattern. Don't you know that widens out the eyes of linebackers and nickel backs. They got no idea where he might break, and with a running start at that.
Just a lot of stuff.
"After watching (tape) from last year, we knew we had to do that," Sherman said of moving Owens around. "You leave him in one spot all the time and they can take him out. So we move him around into different spots, same with (Randy) Moss. We realize if we played him in one spot, they could take him out. So the next year we realized we had to move him around."
Take the Green Bay game. The Cowboys are first-and-10 at their own 24, lining up in a three-receiver set. Third receiver Sam Hurd went in motion to the left, leaving Owens in the slot, just outside Witten. At the snap, the nickel safety Frank Williams passed off Owens and went to his right with Witten. Hurd occupied Al Harris, who would have been on Owens had he remained outside. Then safety Atari Bigby, lined up behind Williams, didn't react in time to Owens running vertically, cutting inside him. Result: 48-yard completion.
Then there was that four-touchdown-catch Washington game. Three came against zone coverage. Each time he burned the safety, first for a 31-yard touchdown on third-and-19, then for a 46-yard touchdown on second-and-13 and lastly for a 48-yard touchdown on second-and-3. That 46-yarder, Owens motioned into the slot, causing the Redskins to ask linebacker London Fletcher to run underneath him until Pierson Prioleau could pick him up deep.
Big problem. Prioleau reacted so late, Owens blew right by him, too. Touchdown.
Same sort of thing happened against the Giants the second time in a two-tight end set. Owens, in the slot, was bumped by a linebacker, who then passed him off to a safety. But when Gibril Wilson got caught looking outside at Witten, and the Giants' other safety became distracted to his side of the field, the middle opened wide for Owens' 50-yard touchdown grab.
"He can run a variety of routes, which allows him to get open," says Sherman, pointing out the safety is in space and isn't sure which way Owens is breaking.
Romo said it was the Miami game when he realized, watching Owens run up the middle of the field, that he needed to "hang onto him a little bit longer." He means, just because it appears Owens is covered at the start of the route, don't give up on him getting open a couple of seconds later because of his ability to break down the coverage.
Romo also has noticed another thing: Safeties are watching for him to set his feet when they are in deep coverage. That's their clue the ball is coming out and time to break on the route. So Romo is making a conscious effort to keep his feet moving or reset, acting as if he's about to throw then allowing Owens to make another move.
There is another factor in Owens' big year Aikman has noticed. Romo, thanks to his protection and his ability to buy time in the pocket, doesn't automatically let coverage rule Owens out of a play. "He'll come back to him," said Aikman, even if his proper read first takes him to the other side of the field.
Aikman credits Romo for that, admitting with a laugh that in this timing-based offense derived from the Zampese-Turner system he ran, he would have been too nervous to hang onto the ball as long as Romo does at times.
So as you can see, there is no one reason why the Cowboys consistently have been able to get the ball in Owens' hands over the first 12 games, and if not, then been able to take advantage of those reasons why.
A huge key to 11-1.