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Cowboys play to watch: Shotgun 3-wide tight end option

| Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012, 10:52 p.m.

Jason Witten isn't the fastest or biggest player, and he isn't going to trick you with his routes.

But it is difficult for the veteran Dallas tight end to be stopped — even if you know what's coming.

“He finds a way to get open,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said.

And the quarterback always seems to have a place to throw when working with No. 82.

Witten has been targeted 122 times — more than any tight end in the league — and has 92 catches for 880 yards and a touchdown. All are more than any tight end in the league, as are his 924 snaps.

In fact, only four wide receivers have more catches than him.

It's not like Witten is fooling anybody, either, especially with the shotgun 3-wide tight end option.

It's a play that gives Witten an option of three routes — an out pattern, an in-cut or a curl — all while in the slot out of the shotgun formation. The route is rarely run more than 10 yards.

Witten has been targeted 88 times within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. While he's caught his share of passes on out-cuts and square-ins, the majority of his receptions have come in the middle of the field. Of his 92 catches, 63 have come between the numbers, with 49 coming within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage.

The shotgun 3 wide tight end option has Dez Bryant lined up as a single receiver to the left with trips to the right in Witten, Miles Austin and Kevin Ogletree. DeMarco Murray is lined up to the left of quarterback Tony Romo in the shotgun.

At the snap, Bryant runs a fly pattern that typically draws coverage from the free safety as well as the cornerback. Ogletree runs the same route on the opposite side of the formation, while Austin runs a deep curl.

Witten will push up the field, and how the safety or linebacker is covering him will determine the route he runs. He can cut in, cut out or turn around on a curl route — all typically within 7 yards of the line of scrimmage.

Romo will read Witten and deliver the ball. With Witten's size and hands, the play is hard to defend.

However, the Steelers have done well to contain tight ends this season. Denver's Jacob Tamme put up the biggest numbers in a Week 1 game when he caught five passes for 43 yards and a touchdown. Other than that, tight ends have not done much against the Steelers.

The Steelers are allowing tight ends four catches for 40 yards per game and have surrendered only two touchdowns to the position all season: Tamme's and a 1-yard catch by Philadelphia's Brent Celek.

Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at mkaboly@tribweb.com.

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