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Chalk Talk: How Can the Run Game Improve?

Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past week, Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy has made the run game his new focus. It is no secret that OSU struggles on the ground; the Cowboys currently rank 109th in the country in yards per carry with 3.7. While the offensive line is not overwhelmingly talented, the offense's (lack of) effectiveness in the run game could be attributed to not only the play selection, but the formations used. In today's Chalk Talk, we will discuss how one slight adjustment could drastically improve the Cowboy run game.

There are many fans out there who criticize the fact that the Cowboys seem to repeat the same plays ad nauseam. We must understand that every team has their base plays and concepts that they run the most. With this in mind, we should not look at how many times they run a particular play, but rather what plays are being run the most and in what formation.

Take a look at the 2011 Cowboys, for example, a team that many consider to feature OSU's best offensive unit to date. Dana Holgorsen installed an offense that emphasized repetition on a handful of plays in an effort to perfect each and every play. The air raid is essentially built off of this philosophy, as many air raid teams run a small cluster of plays over and over again. This applied not only to the passing game, but to the running game as well. While their run game was made up of essentially two plays, the inside and the outside zone, the Cowboys were able to use them to establish a dangerous ground attack.

In their 30-29 comeback victory over the Texas A&M Aggies, the Cowboys ran a certain play 28 times -- about 30 percent of their 93 (I know, right?!) total play amount. What is interesting, though, is that this particular play accounted for almost 30 percent of their 484 total yards.

Trips iz TA&M

The play, a basic inside zone with an attached screen, racked up 144 yards, which calculates to 5.14 yards per play. Notice how the formation spreads out the defense horizontally.

If the defense had six in the box, the Weeden threw to the screen.

TA&M Throw

if the defense covered the receivers, Weeden handed the ball off up the middle.

Run TA&M

Notice that these two plays were used in succession. This brings up another point -- when using concepts like these, the offense is allowed to run the same play with tempo. Because the play has multiple options, the offense can keep moving down the field without having to change plays.

The Cowboys used this both out of a 3x1 and a 2x2 set. In total, they gained 50 yards on the ground and 94 yards by way of the screen. Thanks to this simple screen option, the run game was able to flourish, as the numbers inside the box were favorable every time Weeden decided to hand the ball off.

Now let's take a look at the Cowboys' current base play. While there is still a screen option, it is almost never thrown to. Additionally, the inclusion of the cowboy back in the backfield brings in an extra linebacker, adding more clutter in the box. 

Now, it is to be noted that the cowboy back is here to stay, and we won't be seeing four wide receiver sets quite as often. However, that does not mean that the CBB (our new abbreviation) cannot be flexed as a slot receiver, similar to how Blake Jackson was used in 2012. That would make the play even better, as it not only gives the strong-side linebacker a dilemma for where he should line up, but also gives the potential screen an upgrade in perimeter blocking.

The Cowboys wouldn't need to use a screen either; they could really do whatever they want. We have seen them use a screen-stick combination in the past, as shown below. The play had considerable success when they used it. The beauty of this play is that it has four possible outcomes, as the inside power, bubble, stick and fade route can all be utilized when against favorable coverage.

When the defense covered the receivers, it softened the box. This aided the run game, and the Cowboys opened up a hole on a few occasions.

This talk of schematics is all well and good, but it doesn't matter unless the Cowboys commit. While this was one of their most successful run plays against Kansas State, the Pokes only ran it a handful of times. Why not employ its full potential by making it your new base play? Sure, it won't get big yardage every time, but it puts you in the position to churn out the consistent three, four and five yard plays that any offense lives off of. The day that we see an improved run game is the day that we see them use a good run scheme like this and stick with it.