Linehan's scheme dovetails with Cowboys'

August, 18, 2014
8/18/14
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IRVING, Texas -- When coach Jason Garrett initially broached the idea of hiring Scott Linehan to call plays for the Dallas Cowboys, Tony Romo needed to do some research.

So he spent a few hours studying Linehan's approach during the five seasons he called plays for the Detroit Lions, after a three-year stint as the St. Louis Rams coach.

Romo liked Linehan’s approach because he saw an opportunity for Linehan to influence and impact the Cowboys offense without overhauling it.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
AP Photo/James D SmithScott Linehan aims to bring more play-action to the Cowboys' passing game. Of his time with Linehan, Tony Romo says, "He sees the game from a different perspective … I think he is a big part of us trying to be successful this year."
That's because Linehan's timing-based passing offense is similar to the scheme Garrett implemented with the Cowboys when he arrived in 2007. It's the same scheme Troy Aikman ran in the glory days of the 1990s.

Linehan didn't need to alter the playbook much, though he has changed some of the language to make it simpler.

More importantly, Romo figured the variety of screens and play-action passes Linehan used, along with his innate ability to consistently get the ball to his best players, would give the Cowboys offense a boost.

Plus, Linehan likes to throw the ball, and we know how much Romo likes that.

Detroit finished among the NFL’s top six in yards gained each of the past three seasons. The Lions ranked among the top six in pass attempts in each of his five seasons.

You can't tell based on what we’ve seen in the first two preseason games.

He's run the ball -- DeMarco Murray had eight carries in 14 plays on Saturday against the Baltimore Ravens -- and he's used it to set up play-action passes.

Linehan's biggest impact will be on screens and play-action passes, which will give the Cowboys offense a new look because they seldom ran either play the past two seasons.

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The Cowboys have thrown a total of just 57 screen passes in the past two seasons. Only three teams attempted fewer, and they averaged just 5.02 yards per attempt for one of the NFL's lowest totals.

Under Linehan, the Lions ranked ninth in the NFL with 111 screens attempted the past two seasons. Their average of 7.05 yards per attempt was tied for fourth in the league.

A perfectly executed 21-yard screen to Murray set up the Cowboys' first touchdown against Baltimore.

"We're working on them a lot, and Scott is calling them," Murray said. "We've had periods where we worked on screens before, but these are more intense. This is part of what he does. He emphasizes them, and he wants us to get it right. Plus, we have linemen who can get out in front of them now."

Teams that are serious about running successful screens usually devote daily practice time to them because of the high degree of synchronized teamwork required.

Linehan called five against Baltimore, including two bubble screens. Romo, Brandon Weeden and Caleb Hanie each threw at least one screen -- an indication Linehan wanted to see how each would execute it.

[+] EnlargeDeMarco Murray
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsDeMarco Murray will be the primary recipient of a revamped screen game under Scott Linehan. Murray says Linehan's screens are "more intense" than those of former Dallas playcallers'.
There's also been an emphasis on play-action passes this season.

Romo does such a nice job carrying out the ball fakes on play-action passes that it's almost impossible for the linebackers not to be fooled and take a couple of steps toward the line of scrimmage.

He had a 109.1 passer rating on play-action passes in 2013 and a 111.2 rating in 2012.

For some reason, whether Garrett or offensive coordinator Bill Callahan was doing the play calling, the Cowboys rarely took advantage of this aspect of Romo's skill set.

Just so you know, Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford threw 141 play-action passes the past season. That's the same amount Romo has amassed in two seasons.

"Scott has been great. He has a mind for football," Romo said. "I think our interaction has been outstanding. He sees the game from a different perspective, and it makes it easy to communicate daily about what we're trying to accomplish. I think he is a big part of us trying to be successful this year."

It’s no secret -- the offense must carry the Cowboys this season. Linehan's philosophical approach makes them more equipped to do that.
Jean-Jacques Taylor joined ESPNDallas.com in August 2011. A native of Dallas, Taylor spent the past 20 years writing for The Dallas Morning News, where he covered high schools sports, the Texas Rangers and spent 11 seasons covering the Dallas Cowboys before becoming a general columnist in 2006.

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