The Two Moose: Cowboys’ Kellen Moore used two players to scheme the fun back into the F-back vs Eagles

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The Dallas Cowboys lost receiver Michael Gallup early in the season opener due to a calf injury. Gallup’s absence raised fears the Cowboys attack, assumed by many to rely on its “big 3” receiving trio of Amari Cooper, Gallup and CeeDee Lamb, would see diminished explosiveness.

As I have shown in previous pieces on the what worked against the Buccaneers and Chargers game plans, offensive coordinator Kellen Moore has had no issues working with a balanced formation. Moore has rarely used three-receiver sets in this young season, relying heavily on one back, two tight end sets and on a two-back, one tight end change up.

Monday night against the Eagles, Moore went positively old school, turning the F-back, that complementary second tight end into a major weapon. In fact, Dallas’ passing game revolved around Dalton Schultz, who lined up at times as a true tight end, but who created big plays as the F-back, the role Daryl Johnston made his own in the go-go ’90s.

The college game does not produce do-it-all F-backs like Johnston anymore, but Moore created a Moose starter kit against Philly, using a backup guard and a shifty blocking tight end. A look at Dallas’ first two scoring drives shows how Dr. Frankenkellen stitched together a Moose monster.

F Is for Fat Back

Dallas’ offense opened the game, in fact it opened the half, using the same formation template Moore had used so successfully in Weeks 1 and 2. Dallas used two tight ends, Dalton Schultz and Blake Jarwin, in tandem with the receivers Lamb and Cooper.

The Cowboys opened their attack with a quick eight-yard completion to Schultz between two linebackers, then subbed in the sumo back.

Out went Jarwin, and in came third guard Connor McGovern. On 2nd-and-2, Dallas lined up in Queen right, perhaps the standard formation for the ’90s Triplets offenses.

It’s a two back, off-set I that puts the tight end on one side of the formation and the F-back offset on the opposite side. It gives balance to the formation and allows the running back to attack either side.

The call is a simple handoff to Elliott up the middle. The center Tyler Biadasz will execute a double-team block with RG Zach Martin on the nose tackle. On the back side, the F-back McGovern will attack the weakside linebacker, who starts the play directly over the left guard.

Elliott’s initial feint to his right draws that linebacker hard into the hole, giving McGovern a neat angle to seal the LB inside. He does and Elliott has a big cut back lane. He rolled for 10 yards on the play:

Two plays later, McGovern is back in the game, as a long Dak Prescott completion to Lamb (from the 12 formation) puts the Cowboys in first and goal.

Again, McGovern gets to play Baby Moose. Here, he’s lined up as the F-back in an I formation. Again, his job is to find the Eagles linebacker on the left side of Dallas’ formation and plow him into the end zone:

Elliott and McGovern attack the Cowboys left side almost in tandem, with Elliott initially being stood up just short of the goal line. While he regains his balance, McGovern, who has kept his pads low, keeps churning his feet, gains leverage and drives his linebacker a couple of yards backwards.

Elliott slides to his left, and follows his fullback into the end zone.

Somewhere, you know Daryl Johnston was smiling.

F Is for Flash Back

Three series later, Dallas is starting a drive from mid-field. Moore again puts his 12-personnel package on the field and tries something he’s done with his bigger offensive weapons – playing a hot hand.

In previous games we’ve seen Moore call Tony Pollard’s number on several consecutive plays. Against the Chargers, he did the same with Lamb. He’s also done this with Elliott and Cooper. On this particular drive Moore is going to start with his running back, then ride the F-back all the way to a second touchdown.

From the 50, Moore puts both of his tight ends on the left side of the offensive line and runs Tony Pollard behind them for six yards. On the next down he puts Schultz and Jarwin on the right side of the line and runs Pollard in their direction, getting the needed four yards and a first down.

On the following play, he uses flank, a formation that puts both TEs on one side of the field, the right in this case, and both WRs opposite. It’s been one of Moore’s favorite looks this year. Here, however, the F-back Schultz drops two yards off the line, and is a wing outside of Jarwin.

The call is F-counter for Pollard. Four of the five offensive linemen will block to their right. On the backside of the formation, right guard Zach Martin and Schultz will pull right to left, leading Pollard to the left edge of the scrum.

Martin will engage the defensive end (96) and turn him inside.

Schultz will then float outside of Martin and take on a charging safety. Pollard has a neat lane to the outside and rips off an eight-yard gain.

Moore stays with this personnel combination on the following down, but puts both TEs opposite each other, giving a balanced look after three consecutive unbalanced lines. Pollard takes a fake into the line and draws a charging front seven, desperate after yielding 20 yards to him on three straight runs.

This time, Prescott keeps the ball and rolls right and finds Schultz, running parallel to his quarterback, open in the right flat. He gathers Prescott’s toss for a 12 yard gain.

Four plays have put the Cowboys inside the Eagles 20. A penalty moves them back five yards, but Moore again beats it throwing to Schultz.

Two plays later the Cowboys put two TE-WR sets wide on each side of the field. Lamb outflanks Jarwin on the left. Schultz starts wide of Cooper on the right, then motions into the F-back position wide and behind the right tackle.

Cooper is going to run a post, keeping the safety on that half of the field in the center of the field. Schultz runs a delay route straight upfield, waits for Cooper to circle inside, then heads for the right corner of the end zone.

He’s quickly behind the Eagles linebackers, who are playing zone and calmly takes Prescott’s lob for the first of his two touchdowns.

For one night, Moore had revived the Ernie Zampese-style Cowboys F-back. He needed two very different players, and two very different body types to accomplish this, but the end product was similar.

Dallas can combine bullyball with flash. What’s more, the OC’s ability to call a streak of plays for any one of his five targets, even his “lowest priority” F-back, means the opposition will continue to have to guess at the Cowboys’ intentions.

And Gallup should be back soon!

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