|Kevin Ogletree went off on Wednesday, and there's reason to believe he could keep succeeding. (Getty Images)|
On Wednesday night, the Cowboys stunned the Giants in the 2012 NFL opener, handily winning the first game of the year, 24-17. The most stunning thing about the game, though, was the emergence of Kevin Ogletree as the Cowboys third wide receiver. Ogletree, owned in just 2 percent of CBSSports.com fantasy leagues, blew up for eight catches (he was targeted 11 times), 114 yards and two touchdowns.
Will he repeat this performance later this year? Not likely. Only 56 times since 2008 has a receiver caught eight passes for 100 yards and two touchdowns in a game and only six times has it happened twice in a single season.
But having gone back and looked at what the Cowboys did to use Ogletree, I'm pretty sure he can continue to be productive. A couple of caveats: Ogletree needed the other talent on the field to get him single coverage he could beat. And Tony Romo played a ridiculously good game; none of this is meant to detract from that. If Romo can't escape the Giants pressure, most of these catches don't happen.
And the Cowboys used the same offensive play to great success over and over, if you want to call that a caveat. They lined up Jason Witten on the same side as Ogletree and let the tight end serve as a decoy, which was particularly effective with coverage almost always shifted over to Miles Austin and Dez Bryant.
Anyway, let's look at the catches (plus an interception and one incompletion).
3rd and 4, DAL 40, 5:01 1st Q
Lined up on the right side with Jason Witten just split out, Ogletree ran a simple slant against coverage tilted the other way.
|Ogletree ran a quick slant from the right side for a first down. (NFL.com)|
3rd and 10, NYG 46, 3:13 1st Q
Another third down, another simple route for Ogletree, plus similar routes for the other receivers, another wide-open slant and another first down.
|Imagine that, another slant. (NFL.com)|
There's a lot in common here. One, the route. Two, the receiver running the route. Three, the defense is far more concerned about stopping Austin and Bryant. And four, Witten runs a route in the same direction, but with a tighter angle away, drawing defenders from Ogletree's free space.
3rd and 8, DAL 40, 10:46 2nd Q
Ah, yes, Romo's ugly pick. Not to feed the narrative, but this was a bad one. Michael Boley dropped straight back, Romo locked onto Ogletree.
|Boley was sitting in the worst possible spot for Romo's throw. (NFL.com)|
The result: Romo made a terrible throw into triple coverage and Boley easily picked the ball off. It's worth noting that Boley might have scored were it not for Tyron Smith's illegal tackle near the goal line. The Giants were held to a field goal, which was huge.
3rd and 15, DAL 27, 6:06 2nd Q
Basic comeback route here, aided by Miles Austin drawing a double team, but it's a route we should remember.
|The comeback was a nice mix-up. (NFL.com)|
Ogletree was short of the first down, so the Cowboys punted. The next time he was targeted, he ran another slant, this time on second and short, which Romo missed on.
1st and 10, NYG 15, 1:15 2nd Q
But the Cowboys quarterback went right back to the well: after hitting Dez Bryant for a 38-yard bomb, Romo again let Witten play the roll of decoy and hit Ogletree for five yards.
|Another easy few yards. (NFL.com)|
2nd and 5, NYG 10, 1:07 2nd Q
The very next play is why I love Ogletree to put up decent numbers the rest of the season. He probably wasn't Romo's primary target on this play, as the Cowboys likely were thinking either Bryant or Witten would be open in opposite corners of the end zone.
|Bryant and Witten were supposed to be open. (NFL.com)|
Not only did the Giants do a great job of covering every route (though Austin and Murray just sat down a few feet ahead of where they lined up) on this play, but they got immediate pressure on Romo, forcing him to roll out. Ogletree recognized what was happening and shifted into playground mode, freelancing along with Romo, splitting two defenders and getting wide open in the end zone.
|Ogletree freelancing. (NFL.com)|
Romo lobbed the ball to Ogletree and the Cowboys scored a touchdown that would give them a 7-3 lead going into the half.
2nd and 10, NYG 40, 10:32 3rd Q
Remember that comeback route I said to remember? Sure looks like it was a setup after this play: Bryant and Miles went deep on the left side, Witten stayed in to block, Ogletree ran a stop-and-go route, Giants cornerback Corey Webster was looking for the comeback, bit like crazy and a flushed Romo stepped up and hit Ogletree for an easy 40-yard touchdown.
|The Giants shifted coverage to key on Dez and Austin, understandably. (NFL.com)|
It shouldn't be surprising that the Giants shifted coverage here: would you rather have your secondary keying in on Miles/Dez or worrying about helping Webster (their top corner by far) with Ogletree? Exactly. Ogletree ran a great route, Romo evaded pressure, rolled out right and they scored easily. This won't be the last time pressure is shifted away from Ogletree to a side loaded with two more talented wideouts.
3rd and 15, NYG 15, 0:53 3rd Q
Here's an incompletion that nearly became Ogletree's third touchdown of the game.
|Ogletree was targeted once again in the end zone. (NFL.com)|
Ogletree found himself in single coverage in the end zone (again), with Romo under pressure (again), rolling out to the right (again) and only Romo misthrowing and Michael Coe making a nice defensive play prevented the TD.
The next of Ogletree's "catches" actually was called back for holding by Doug Free, but it looked familiar. Ogletree ran a comeback route, Miles Austin went up the seam from the slot, Romo rolled right while under pressure and when the three defenders went to Austin (who was in the end zone), Romo hit Ogletree. The next play was the sick touchdown to Austin.
2nd and 10, DAL 18, 12:00 4th Q
Stop me if this playcall is looking familiar, but, yeah, a slant:
Ogletree caught the pass for 14 yards, and all of these receptions prompted Tom Coughlin to remark that his defense had never seen a slant before.
Ogletree would just catch one more pass, but it was a pretty important one.
3rd and 10, DAL 26, 2:11 4th Q
Dallas needed a first down to let Romo take a knee, and after a holding call on Witten, they simply couldn't run it again (well, they could, but then they'd give Eli the ball with two minutes to go and we all know how that works out). So they went back to what worked for them all game, a slant to Ogletree.
Witten helped clear out defenders, Ogletree got inside position, Romo made a great (albeit easy) throw and a few kneel-downs later, the game was over.
So here are the basic takeaways from all of that.
1) Rip the Cowboys for using the same play over and over, but the reality is that the Giants were getting quick pressure on Romo and they needed the ball out of his hands quickly much of the night to avoid nightmares.
2) Is the coverage on Ogletree really going to change as long as Austin, Dez and Witten are healthy? I doubt it. There's nothing the Cowboys would love more than defenses shifting to stop Ogletree and leaving the other more dangerous targets open.
3) For whatever reason, Ogletree is on the same page as Romo in terms of improvising plays and that puts him squarely in "Laurent 2.0" territory. Romo likes to turn into a playground-style quarterback quite frequently and if Ogletree knows what he's thinking and how to get where he needs to be, that will be a big boon for both the wideout and his team.
4) Statistically speaking, he only needs to average 50 yards a game and pull in 0.6 touchdowns a game over the rest of the year to equal Laurent's 2011 stats. It's not that inconceivable
Not nearly as inconceivable as writing 1,500 words on Kevin Ogletree anyway, but the dude earned it.
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