clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Mike McCarthy ends Cowboys season lining up Ezekiel Elliott at center

That was certainly a choice the Cowboys made while needing 70+ yards to tie the game.

Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott runs past San Francisco 49ers linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair during the fourth quarter of a NFC divisional round game at Levi’s Stadium. Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

So football alignment rules are weird, but here’s the gist: You’ve got to have seven players on the line of scrimmage when the ball is snapped, and five guys with a number between 50-79 on the field to start every play. Those five are “ineligible,” which means they can’t catch a forward pass, but they can run the ball or carry it after someone else on the team catches a pass. They just can’t be the original receiver.

So we kind of see what Mike McCarthy was going for with five seconds remaining in the Dallas Cowboys-San Francisco 49ers NFC Divisional Playoff game on Sunday evening. But that doesn’t mean it was a good idea!

If you’re familiar with the Emory & Henry formation Steve Spurrier made famous, it appears to be a version of that where the linemen are split out wide to confuse the defense and give multiple options. But this is certainly one way to end your season!

It looks like they were looking for a hook-and-ladder (and no it’s not hook-and-lateral, thanks Varsity Blues) for Zeke, but Niners defensive lineman Jimmie Ward was having none of this nonsense. Our best guess is someone catches a ball underneath, laterals to Elliott, and then one of the best RB’s in the NFL follows a mass-humanity parade behind as many teammates as he can trail blocking for him downfield.

But once San Francisco sees this formation, they call timeout to assess how to defend it. And it appears they wisely chose “blow up Zeke Elliott ASAP, then kill the man with the ball.”

Someone will have to ask McCarthy what exactly he was going for here. And there are no good options to get more than 70 yards in one play when the defense only has to keep that exact thing from happening.

But it makes for one heckuva of a capper on the Cowboys 2022 season, and yet another playoff failure for America’s Team.

The Philadelphia Eagles open as 2.5-point favorites over the 49ers in the NFC Championship game at DraftKings Sportsbook.