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Chalk Talk: What the Cowboys Did to Find Success Deep



Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph threw for over 300 yards and three touchdowns in the Cowboys’ 59-24 victory over Tulsa, but the Pokes’ deep-ball success came not only from superior talent but also intelligent game planning and play design. In today’s Chalk Talk, we’ll look at how OSU intelligently used route concepts to create deep opportunities for its receivers.

The first touchdown came off a streak by Tyron Johnson on a third down. The Cowboys ran slot cross and the Golden Hurricane countered with a cover 4 shell, meaning that the defense’s deep responsibility was divided into quarters. In cover four, the inside two defenders — which are almost always the safeties — have seam responsibility. If a receiver crosses their path or shows a vertical release in the slot, those two safeties are responsible for defending them. Here’s why the Cowboys found success against this coverage over and over again: In quarters coverage, the outside corner’s coverage operates as man-to-man on any vertical route, and because the inside safety has his own responsibility, there’s often no defensive help. This creates a true one-on-one situation on any outside vertical route.

Because the playside safety was backpedaling, he was in no position to assist on Johnson’s route. Rudolph saw and identified the coverage, and Johnson made the play over the cornerback for the Cowboys’ first touchdown of the year.

The second touchdown came against a similar coverage. The Cowboys ran shallow cross, which they’ve been running for a number of years now, but they ran it slightly differently than they usually do. Even though the concept is meant to attack the middle of the field, the play featured a secondary concept that gives the offense an opportunity for a deep shot.

When a post route by an outside receiver is combined with a dig route by an inside receiver, it’s called a “mills” concept. The mills concept is meant to counter quarters coverage and create a one-on-one opportunity for the receiver on the post. This is because the inside quarter defender (the safety) will frequently bite on the dig route because that falls under his coverage responsibility. This leaves open space behind him, isolating the receiver and his defender with no safety help.


The safety actually slips after McCleskey makes his cut, and Washington beats the corner to the inside for an easy score. If you look at the full clip, you can see that the defense is actually in cover 6, meaning that one deep defender covers one half of the field and two defenders cover a quarter on the other side. But since the mills concept was on the quarters side, it didn’t matter that the coverage was slightly different.

The third and final touchdown, believe it or not, came against quarters coverage once again. The Cowboys ran slot cross, which was the same play they ran on the first touchdown, but they ran it off play action and tagged a skinny post on the single-receiver side.

Just like before, the safety on James Washington’s side bit on a route in front of him, this time a crossing route, and Washington beat his corner to the inside for a touchdown.

Just one game through the season, the Cowboys have figured out how to successfully use the deep ball, even against defenses who are expecting it. Expect the deep passing game to be a recurring theme once again for the Pokes; it will be their biggest strength in their next two non-conference games.

What was your favorite part of the offense against Tulsa? Leave your opinions below in the comments!


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