Today’s NFL is changing. We continue to see an influx of more speed and more open-field within an offense. Coaching philosophies are becoming focused primarily on how speed and how an offense can beat a defense in the open-field. Speed is the key to success for an offense.
Sometimes, an offense needs a guy who can be a wild card, but also play a pivotal role in an offense. One guy I look at is Tavon Austin. While he isn’t the No. 1 option, Austin has the ability to score six whenever he touches the football.
The Dallas Cowboys have lacked this component of their offense for the past few years. Dez Bryant is a true No. 1 receiver and a real good one at that, Jason Witten is a chains-mover and one of the most reliable players in football, and Cole Beasley is a guy who can cause matchup-nightmares. However, it’s been a been awhile since the Cowboys have had a player like Lucky Whitehead on their roster.
Despite going undrafted out of FAU and standing at just 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, Whitehead is a guy that can cause a defense fits. He’s lightning-quick and when he gets the football in his hands, he may just be the most dangerous weapon the Cowboys have on their roster. With a guy like Whitehead, the Cowboys can be extremely creative. Let’s take a look at some highlights from Whitehead over the course of the 2015 season.
Week 7 at New York Giants
The Cowboys know that Whitehead is at his best when he has the ball in open space. That said, the Cowboys do an excellent job at scheming up the play to make it seem like they’re rushing the opposite way. Because the Cowboys’ offensive line is so talented, defenses load the box to follow the line, only to get beaten by Whitehead around the outside. Here’s the start of the play:
After Whitehead is given the football, look at the real estate he has to work with on the outside. From my count, there are currently seven members of the New York Giants already beaten in this screenshot alone. This play is what we know of as an “f-rip reverse”. The point of the “f-rip” is to catch the defense off guard and get the ball to your playmaker with speed.
Another way they’ve utilized Whitehead is by making defenses honest. The next play was run about a quarter after Whitehead’s first carry. Because Whitehead burned the defense on the first play, this fake reverse makes the linebackers hesitate. In the meantime, the offensive line is setting up for a screen:
This touchdown play was brought back due to a bogus offensive pass interference call on Devin Street. Nevertheless, because the defense follows out Whitehead’s fake, it leaves a ton of room for Darren McFadden to work with.
The next play is one of my personal favorites from this list. Matt Cassel pitches the football off to McFadden. As McFadden and the offensive line go right, Whitehead comes back around for a pitch-reverse:
This play is extremely deceptive. Because of the over-pursue from the Giants’ defensive end. It allows Cassel to go out and actually block a defensive back. Having athletic linemen like Tyron Smith and La’el Collins is obviously extremely helpful as well, as they have the ability to take out two, if not three men.
Week 9 vs. Philadelphia Eagles
The Cowboys continue to use deception with this play right here. By selling the fake left to McFadden, Whitehead runs behind the offensive line to get out in the flat. Cassel rolls out right and finds Whitehead, whose speed is simply too much for the Philadelphia Eagles’ outside linebacker to stick with him.
Perhaps the best thing about this play is that it’s an easy pass for a guy like Cassel to make. With Tony Romo back, we won’t have to worry about confidence. But Cassel struggled with consistency all season, and a throw like this makes things easier on him.
Week 13 at Washington Redskins
I’d love to see the Cowboys expand their subpackages when utilizing Whitehead. Here’s a play that they used against the Giants. Again, we see the “f-rip” reverse where Cassel turns and immediately gives the football to Whitehead. The Cowboys sell out the sweep left to McFadden and it makes the linebackers hesitate.
The Cowboys ran this play twice in this game and it worked both times. Here they ran it the opposite way behind Smith and Collins. As the Whitehead gets the football, Collins takes on that right defensive end, which frees up Smith to take on the right outside linebacker.
We see the blocks of Collins and Smith in the screenshot below. Also notice how Jason Witten pushes the defensive back outside, giving Whitehead a clear field of vision of the endzone to run through. Cole Beasley also pushes his man to the sideline, which further lengthens that gap between the sideline and the middle of the field.
Week 15 vs. New York Jets
It’s no secret that the New York Jets have an aggressive defense. To counteract that, the Cowboys used the “pitch-reverse” on the first drive to get Whitehead in space. See No. 77 and No. 71, that’s Smith and Collins literally creating a wall for whomever gets in their way.
Again, we see Cassel get downfield and throw a block. The open space spurns Whitehead for a 33-yard gain.
Because of his speed and home-run ability, the Cowboys have added a solid element in both their pass-catching and running game. Whitehead obviously isn’t a guy who will catch 80 passes, but he’s a player that teams need to gameplan for as well as one that an offense can deploy many wrinkles for.
In 2016, I’m excited to see how the Cowboys can continue to get Whitehead involved in their offense. His explosiveness alone tells me the Cowboys should be feeding him the ball at least six times a game. Whitehead is a real intriguing player. The common mantra is to get the ball in the hands of your playmakers. Whitehead has established himself on offense as just that this season.