Hulk SMASH!: Cowboys’ new 7-OL package shows big creativity, offers jumbo versatility

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There were times during the 2020 season when Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott had no idea who was going to be on the injury-riddled offensive line blocking for him. But for a handful of plays in Sunday night’s game at Minnesota, it seemed like they were all out there at the same time.

Already fielding an offense with backup quarterback Cooper Rush under center, coordinator Kellen Moore and the Cowboys unveiled a brand-new personnel package early in the Week 8 contest, using a total of seven offensive linemen: five in their usual spots up front, and two more in the backfield with Elliott in an inverted wishbone, or diamond, formation.

The result: 2,187 pounds of run-blocking in front of Elliott or pass-blocking in front of Rush.

“A lot of beef on the field,” guard Zack Martin commented after the Cowboys’ 20-16 win before revealing the grouping’s instant-hit code name. “‘Hulk package’ is what we call it. It’s great to get those big guys on the field, and we had some good plays out of it tonight.”

Dallas used the Hulk package just four times Sunday night, and while the team ultimately went with more of a pass-heavy attack against the Vikings, the look will certainly give opposing defenses a new wrinkle to prepare for in the weeks to come.

The Cowboys had already employed versatile backup lineman Connor McGovern, 308 pounds, as a backfield blocker for Elliott in a few situations this season. With La’el Collins, 320 pounds, returning to active duty but not starting, the Dallas coaching staff came up with the Hulk package as a way to add both big men and their combined 628 pounds to the “best five” already playing up front.

“We have a ton of talent on the offensive line,” Moore told reporters on Monday. “Like all the other positions, you’re trying to find opportunities to get guys involved in the game plan. L.C. was coming back: obviously, he hadn’t been a part of it for a number of weeks. So we felt like if he wasn’t going to be the right tackle, that’s a guy you still want on the field. So it kind of turned into a brainstorm opportunity there. Mac’s been doing a phenomenal job in the backfield- McGovern, that is; why not throw another guy back there?”

It’s a credit to the confidence the staff had in Rush that, instead of spending the bye week having to rewrite an offensive game plan for his first NFL start, the coaches had the luxury of sitting around inventing all-new formations to put on the field.

“I think we were just brainstorming,” Moore explained. “Jeff [Blasko, assistant offensive line coach], Joe [Philbin, offensive line coach], Mike [McCarthy, head coach], the whole offensive staff, just going through the process of how can we put our guys in, maybe, a different position, something that they haven’t seen coming off the bye week. Certainly, Mike ran that formation a number of times back in the Green Bay days with their fullbacks. Something that all those guys obviously had a lot of comfort level with, so we wanted to go down that road. And there’s more things coming off of it.”

Imagine the possibilities as the Cowboys continue to experiment with over an actual ton of in-the-box blocking. Plowing a road for Elliott or Tony Pollard. Giving Prescott enough time to take a nap in the pocket. Forcing one-on-one mismatches in coverage for any of the team’s outside receivers. Maybe even, if everything goes perfectly, the most fun play in football: the offensive-lineman touchdown.

“Always looking for different ways to get guys involved,” Moore said, “and we’ll continue to do that.”

Moore said that, besides adding a new tool to the offense’s arsenal- a tool that can certainly be tweaked and developed even further- the Hulk package also helped Collins get re-acclimated to the flow of the game after five weeks away.

“Certainly,” Moore confirmed. “The more guys you get involved in packages and roles and different things, that helps the individual but also helps the entire offense, just being able to play a number of guys in that game. Receivers are a part of packages, tight ends, running backs. I think we’ve got a lot of guys that we can utilize, and we want to try to use as many of them as we can.”

It was perhaps poetic justice that the new personnel grouping that featured offensive linemen disguised as backfield blockers, the package named after a comic-book superhero, made its debut on Halloween night, right about the time there were countless other Hulks running door-to-door in neighborhoods across America.

But who in Dallas came up with the name?

“I don’t know,” Moore laughed. “I don’t even know who named it.”

Whatever it’s called, expect to see it again. Because head coach Mike McCarthy- no small guy himself- copped to being a big fan of the Hulk.

“Utilizing your personnel,” the coach explained Monday. “I loved it. It’s the biggest inverted bone formation I’ve ever seen in my life. We’re trying to break records around here.”

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