former head coach Bill Parcells' needling of Witten when he first got here in 2003, both are much more than just "receiving tight ends"? Or are the Cowboys going to send three to four guys out into the passing lanes, because certainly both tight ends can run like power forwards?
Don't be thinking Mike Ditka here.
Meaning the Cowboys can create sort of a defensive twilight, you know kind of that time of day when it's too early for lights to do much but late enough to cloud your vision. Stuck in between.
"Twelve personnel makes it difficult to make (defensive) calls," says Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, realizing and probably relishing there is more than one way to skin a cat. "A lot of time when you have three receivers and a tight end you can get a dime, nickel package and try to do different things to offset (because) it's more of a pass type formation.
"But when you have two tight ends, you can run the ball as much as you can with having a fullback in the game. So you have to be conscious of your play calling defensively, you can't just send them anywhere. That benefits the offense a little bit if you can have a package like that. You can do a lot of stuff out of it."
And when you talk to The Brothers Garrett, Jason and tight ends coach John, they get all excited about the endless possibilities and matchup problems 12 personnel can cause, especially when you have two tight ends with the capability of Witten and Bennett.
So we role play. You are the defensive coordinator and the Cowboys come with Witten and Bennett, and say either Barber or Felix Jones, makes no difference there to me. Now then, the defense must respect the run against two tights. Fine, but what if the Cowboys send both Witten and Bennett out in the pass pattern? How you covering them? With linebackers? You mean you have two linebackers who can each run with these cats? Probably not.
Or say you bring down one of your safeties to cover at least one of these guys? Fine, but what if the two tights are nothing but decoys and the Cowboys throw a little flare pass to the running back. Whose got that guy? Good luck with the other safety coming up in time to catch Felix. And if you do all that, then you are single covering both wide receivers. What if one of those guys is Miles Austin?
Beginning to understand here?
Or, what if you've become tired of these two tight ends burning you down field, along with the running back eating away with those underneath passes? So next time you say we're not fooling around with these guys any more, and you put in your nickel back, figuring you need more speed to cover at least one of the tight ends or deal with the running back, too. Now you have this speedy munchkin in the game on the line of scrimmage for pass coverage purposes instead of a linebacker and the Cowboys say, oh yeah, well coming right atcha, and here is the 265-pound Bennett locking up on your 190-pound corner and Barber comes rambling through the slot with a head of steam.
Starting to get the picture?
"So in a perfect world you take what they give you," Romo simplified but correctly identified the offensive alternatives.
Defense plays it straight, throw the ball. Defense brings in sub-package, run the ball, of course as long as you have favorable down and distance.
And if you think back, remember the Cowboys of old created this same two-tight effect with Daryl Johnston at fullback since for five consecutive years (1992-96) he caught at least 30 passes in a season, and in 1993 a career-high 50. And get this, from 1992-95, Johnston and tight end Jay Novacek combined for at least 90 receptions in each of those four years, and a high of 100 in 1992.
Could it have been Norv Turner figured out way how back then to create a quarterback friendly offense while he simultaneously was feeding the Pro Football Hall of Fame career of Michael Irvin and laying the groundwork for Emmitt Smith to become the NFL's all-time leading rusher?
Not bad, eh?
Last year the Cowboys got 111 catches out of their tight ends (Witten 81, Bennett 20, Tony Curtis 8) and fullbacks