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Chalk Talk: How Oregon, Auburn, and Green Bay Affected the Cowboy Strategy

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Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

Football has long been a copycat game; as we mentioned last week, if one team does something successfully, another team is bound to create their own version of it. In today's Chalk Talk, we will talk about how the Cowboys' game plan against the UTSA Roadrunners was influenced, either directly or indirectly, by the Oregon Ducks, the Auburn Tigers, and the Green Bay Packers.


Adding some Oregon to the Offense

The Cowboys have shown a particular play a couple of times this season in their no-huddle package, and it might look familiar to anyone who has seen the Oregon offense.

When Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly coached at Oregon, one of their favorite passing plays was a variation on the Y-cross; even with Philadelphia, Kelly still loves to use it in the Eagles' uptempo attack.The Y-cross, a longtime passing staple, was a popular play among iconic air raid coaches like Hal MummeSid Gillman, and LaVell Edwards.

This year, the Cowboys have started to use their own version of the Y-cross. While they've ran this concept multiple times throughout the years, this is the first season where they have used the "Oregon" version.

pa cross

Here, the Cowboys use the Y-cross in a spread set, but they seem to only run this play out of 12 personnel this means that they have one back and two tight ends on the field. They like to go to this play to catch the defense off guard, as they will usually run a play and then quickly line up in this formation for Y-cross.

y cross

Against UTSA, the defense was confused at the formation, as the tight ends were on the outside and the receivers lined up on the inside. The strong-side corner saw bubble and jumped on it, leaving Jeremy Seaton wide open on the sideline. When the Cowboys align in this formation in their no-huddle, expect them to run this play 90% of the time.

The Cowboys' New "Auburn" Power Scheme

After years of using a zone-based run blocking scheme, the Cowboys have introduced a new man-blocking scheme to compliment their base zone runs. First unveiled in the season opener, the Cowboys have put a new focus on the power play. Appropriately named, the power play is where the ball carrier is led by two lead blockers  the fullback and the pulling back-side guard.

power

The Cowboys have used both the power and the power counter blocking schemes. Both of these plays have been used in all levels of spread football, but most notably by the Auburn Tigers. For a great piece on the Auburn power/counter, click here. The power blocking scheme (above) features the fullback blocking the play-side defensive end while the pulling guard blocks the play-side linebacker.

power

OSU has used this look a number of times; in the case above, the back-side defenders over-pursue the play, leaving a nice cutback lane for running back Raymond Taylor.

The Cowboys have also used a power counter blocking scheme, where the guard and the fullback switch assignments.

power counter

Now, the guard kicks out the defensive end and the fullback blocks the play-side linebacker. The Cowboys usually run this play with a motion by the fullback as shown above.

counter power

This play can succeed even when the defensive end tries to squeeze; watch the great block by Paul Lewis (57) lead to a huge hole for running back Chris Carson.

When ran correctly, the power play can add a spark to any team's inside running game. It should be no surprise that the Cowboys have turned to a new running scheme considering how much they have struggled in between the tackles; looking at how they performed against UTSA, it shouldn't be long until they perfect it.

Getting "Psycho"

The Psycho defensive package, also known as the amoeba or radar package, has recently taken football defenses by storm. The creation of the Psycho tactic is credited to Jules Yakapovic, one of the best high school coaches in football history. Green Bay defensive coordinator Dom Capers is one of many current users of the psycho package. He has installed many innovative blitzing strategies with the Packers, most notably his 2-4-5 and 1-5-5 nickel packages.The heart of the "Psycho" philosophy is to have no defensive players in a three point stance; this means that all front seven defenders, even the lineman, are all standing up. This is done to confuse the offensive line, as it is impossible to know who will be blitzing and who will be dropping back in coverage. To add another layer of confusion, the standard Psycho defensive package has all of those defenders in the box move around before the snap.

psycho

The Cowboys have used their own Psycho variation with much success. As opposed to the standard 1-5-5 psycho personnel (one defensive lineman, five linebackers, five in the secondary), the Cowboys use a 3-3-5 personnel (three lineman, three linebackers, five in the secondary). Additionally, OSU will use three defensive ends as opposed to two ends and a nose tackle; this year, their psycho lineman personnel features Jimmy Bean, Emmauel Ogbah, and Trace Clark.

Coverage wise, the defense is fairly flexible, as the package allows for both conservative and aggressive play. Theoretically, the defense could show an all-out blitz but only send three after the quarterback; conversely, the defense could send five or six rushers and drop the rest into coverage.

psycho man

In the case above, OSU sends a cornerback, a linebacker, and two defensive lineman  four in total. The secondary plays cover one man with UTSA's best receiver in double coverage. The defensive alignment confuses the offensive line, leading to cornerback Miketavius Jones running free to the quarterback.

psycho zone

In this case, the defense only sends four like the last example, but this time the rest drop into a zone coverage; Bogenshutz gets pressured immediately, leading to a forced throw and an interception.

This defense is talented, sure, but don't think that schematics don't play a big role in their past successes; credit coordinator Glenn Spencer for not only putting a focus on forcing turnovers, but also backing it up with tactics and strategy.

In conclusion, it is important to note that no one is saying OSU stole these plays from anyone. Rather, the point is that many teams have influenced other team's strategies and philosophies. Remember that the Cowboys have influenced much of the trends in college football today. West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen first unveiled his full house formation here at Oklahoma State. Additionally, OSU was one of the first college teams to use signal cards as a form of communication. Innovation is constantly being driven by not only what teams do conceptually, but how other teams take those concepts and make them their own.

Well, that's today's Chalk Talk  be sure to put your thoughts in the comments below!