After April’s draft, I wrote a post in which I speculated that, with the acquisition of DeMarco Murray and three offensive linemen who were good “foot athletes,” that we’d be seeing an offense more attuned to the system Jason Garrett sees in his mind’s eye when he envisions the Cowboys with the ball. Envisioning what I thought Garrett might be seeing, I said that we should expect a wide-open offense that puts tremendous pressure on defenses–especially on the perimeter, where nimble o-linemen pull or easily get downfield on screens to Murray and to Felix Jones, both of whom are dangerous “in space.”
As training camp opened, this seemed a correct assumption; recall that the Cowboys spent a lot of time working on screen passes as soon as camp opened. As the team worked its way through the preseason and the first month of the 2011 campaign, however, we have seen only a few of these “space plays.” What, exactly qualifies as a “space play?” I’m glad you asked. The good folks over at Grantland recently published a piece on the various ways New Orleans creates opportunities for waterbug Darren Sproles to get the ball in space. Its a good read; they break space plays down onto three categories: screen passes, draws and sweeps, and as an underneath receiver.
This last category is an important one. Most space players, according to the Grantland piece, are running backs: Sproles, former Saint Reggie Bush, Matt Forte, LeSean McCoy, Jahvid Best, Ray Rice. But perhaps the most feared space player in the league is a wide receiver, Wes Welker, who makes a living exploiting mismatches against linebackers and safeties, and finding gaping holes in underneath zones. Since releasing Patrick Crayton, the Cowboys could consider Jones their only real space player. That’s why Murray, and sixth-round wideout Dwayne Harris, were such important picks in the draft; both have the potential to do damage in space.
Need more space? You’ll get it after the jump…