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Chalk Talk: What's Wrong with this Offense Pt. 2 - Passing Game

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An analysis on why the offense struggled in the passing game and what they could (hypothetically) do to fix it.

Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys just can't seem to catch a break.

Oklahoma State lost their third game in a row Saturday, but you can't say that the chances weren't there. Their first drive was masterful, building the offense off of Tyreek Hill. They used hill on the outside, in un-congested areas, even on a nifty seam pass for a 40 yard gain. But unfortunately for us fans, this was too good to be true. Their first successful drive turned out to be their last, and for some reason, the Cowboys turned away from what worked. From then on, OSU tried their hand at the deep passing game, with minimal success. every time they seemed to be getting something going, they tried a deep pass play and got sidetracked. More times than not, those attempts ended up in a negative play, either by sack or by penalty. Those setbacks became the downfall for the Pokes, and those setbacks became too insurmountable for a mediocre offense to overcome.

Let's be honest here. This offensive line is awful. It's no one's fault really, because this was not the intended starting five going into the season. But because of injuries to Branden Garrett and Devin Davis, and because of lineman Travis Cross and Jake Jenkins leaving the team, it left the Cowboys with a depleted and inexperienced offensive line.

There are ways to minimize the effects of a poor line in the passing game, but the Cowboys didn't really help their case much. They still don't have an established quick passing game, and while they got some quick completions in their packaged run game, they still didn't have a set of plays to get a simple completion.

I have noticed that when there's a blitz, Garman likes to hold onto that ball like it's glued to his glove. If you haven't noticed already, opposing defenses will have a blitz-heavy gameplan against the Cowboys. Knowing this, why would they continue to keep trying these deep passing plays if they know the quarterback won't have time to get a pass off. The Cowboys do not help him by adding a checkdown or a quick passing game, nor do they add any other plays to counteract the blitz. Almost every pass play, Garman was looking 15 yards downfield. As it was mentioned earlier, these plays usually ended up in either a sack or a holding penalty. I've said this before and I'll say it again - if you can't block 5 step drops, do not run plays WITH 5 STEP DROPS. I could understand if they were in a pass only situation, because there have been many situations in the past couple of weeks when they're forced to third and long, but the Cowboys were trying 5 step passing plays on early downs. If you're going to run deep pass plays, at least add a hot throw in the route combination. Maybe have Tyreek drag across the field on a shallow cross, so if the defense is caught in Cover 0, you can dump it off to him. While I semi-admire the coaching staff trying something different, this is not who they are as a team.

While OSU's quarterback is average and their receivers have no consistency, their most costly position in the passing game has been the offensive line. As a coach, it's your job to use concepts to reduce your deficiencies, not to amplify them. While the Pokes probably won't add anything new this far into the season, let's talk about some concepts that could help, just for giggles.

Cut Block

The only times that the Cowboys did use a quick passing game, lo and behold, it worked. They combined a cut blocking scheme with quick routes, allowing Garman to complete quick passes to his receivers. We have spoken about this cut or crab blocking scheme before, but under a different context. A cut blocking scheme is where all of the lineman dive to the ground, delaying the defense's path to the quarterback. By using this pass protection, it disallows the defense from getting to the quarterback, giving him a handful of time to complete a quick pass.

Take a look at the cut block in action:

cut

By using the cut block, it no longer becomes about who's stronger. If the lineman use the block correctly, it becomes almost impossible for the defensive line to sack the quarterback off of a quick pass.

Bootleg

boot

By using bootlegs, it not only gets the quarterback out of the pocket, but pairs well with a team that runs the ball as much as the Cowboys. Oklahoma State has used the bootleg occasionally, but like many of their concepts, you'll see it one week and won't see it the next. The bootleg forces the defense to stay honest when you pair it with your basic outside zone. It's also an easy read for the quarterback, usually consisting of a flat or release concept and one or two crossing routes toward the roll-side.

He can either throw to that release underneath:

boot

Or if that's covered, look to his next progression coming across:

boot2

When ran correctly, the bootleg can be a very effective, low-risk play that keeps the quarterback out of harm's way.

Offensive Splits

We've talked about this before, and the Pokes probably won't change their splits this year (since wider splits are usually used by air raid teams), but it's some interesting food for thought.

splits

Wide splits help nullify a talented pass rush. When you widen the splits, you force the defensive front to widen. This puts the defensive ends farther away from the quarterback, meaning that it would take them a longer amount of time to get a sack from an outside rush. It also forces the linebackers to spread out, opening up pass lanes for the quarterback. Not only can splits help in pass protection, but it can also contribute to a successful run game. Wide splits give defensive lineman a dilemma - if they pinch to the inside, it leaves them vulnerable to an outside run game, and if they spread out, it opens up space on the inside. If you want to see this wide philosophy in action, be sure to watch a team like Washington State or TCU.

Sprint-Out Passing

The rolling blocking scheme varies from school to school, but many teams utilize a sprint-out passing game. By shifting the pocket over, it makes it harder for the defense to get pressure on the quarterback. Also, the sprint-out is always paired with a simple pass progression, making it easy on the passer. While many teams do use rollouts without a mobile passer, it is most effective when the quarterback can be a run threat. Being that it's a true run-pass option, the sprint-out has been one of the oldest concepts of football.

sprint

Screens

Slow screens used to be an integral part of this offense a few years ago, but as of late, they have all but disappeared. It's unfortunate, because are a great way to take advantage of an aggressive pass rush.

Whether it be a tunnel screen:

tunnel

A slip screen:

slip

A shovel screen:

shovel

Or a throwback screen:

tb screen

All plays that OSU has run before, concepts like this take advantage of an aggressive pass rush while simultaneously getting your skill players in space.

At the end of the day, whatever the coaches are calling, the players have to execute. While this K-State loss is also on the coaches, the players earned a good part of the blame as well. You can't expect to win games when you drop balls, run poor routes, make bad decisions, receive penalties, give up sacks - the list goes on and on. Let's hope that this team can use the bye week to not only add something new offensively, but improve in fundamentals. As unusual as it sounds for a program like this, unless they learn how to score, the Cowboys will not be going bowling this season.

What play do you want to see the Cowboys run? Put your answer in the comments below.