Cowboys vs. Bears Week 2 Game Plan: How Dallas Can Beat Chicago
You guys know the backbone of DC Times is film study and stat analysis. Consequently, I will be posting these weekly “Game Plan” segments which will include tidbits about how I believe the Cowboys can use the same film study and stat analysis which drives this site to win football games.
These will come later in the week after I’ve published the “Game Day Manifesto”–a combination of “What to Watch” and “DOs and DON’Ts” for the Cowboys. Although still film-driven and stat heavy, I will try to refrain from too much game-planning in the Manifesto to prevent unnecessary overlap. You can read this week’s Cowboys/Bears Manifesto here.
Let’s get to the game. . .
1. Line up in double-tight end sets to pass
There’s a reason I’m listing this objective two weeks in a row–it’s important! Last week I wrote:
In obvious passing downs, though, it might actually be a good idea to go to a more run-oriented formation–double tights. The reason is that backup tight end Martellus Bennett will be able to help block Brian Orakpo. No matter what you think about Bennett, he’s a tremendous blocker.
Why not use Jason Witten in pass protection? Well, I’ve showed in the past that the 22.9 percent rate at which Witten stayed in to block on pass plays last season was already too much. Dallas is a better team with him in a route (excluding perhaps 3rd and very long).
Plus, stats show the Cowboys should pass out of double-tight formations more in general. Actually, the formation from which they had the most passing success last year was ‘Ace.’
Substitute Julius Peppers for Brian Orakpo, and the same holds true for Dallas (even more so). It will be crucial that they do not allow Peppers to take over the game, and the combination of Doug Free/Bennett or Marc Colombo/Bennett will be the Cowboys’ best shot at containing Peppers.
2. Run outside (powers, counters) from spread formations
The goal is to neutralize Peppers by running right at him. He’s going to rush upfield no matter the down and distance, so why not run right to the vacated area? Powers and counters will work well, but tosses won’t. Think about it. . .27 or 28 toss would send the running back right into Peppers’ path.
There’s also another reason (or two) to not run inside often: defensive tackle Tommie Harris and linebacker Brian Urlacher. They’re kind of good, I guess.
3. Don’t blitz often, but disguise ’em when you bring ’em
Cutler is a strong-armed quarterback with serious talent, but he makes some of the worst decisions of any signal-caller in the NFL. I think that will still be true even if the Cowboys don’t blitz him.
They key, as always, will be getting pressure with four or five rushers. The Cowboys blitzed their inside linebackers too often last week and it left them susceptible to the big play. Well, Cutler’s game is actually similar to Donovan McNabb’s. Cutler has a stronger arm and is probably a better pure dropback quarterback, but he can also use his legs to make things happen. He’s extremely athletic, meaning the Cowboys better not send a blitz and miss him.
The best way to do that (other than putting pressure on Cutler with as few rushers as possible) is to disguise blitzes. The Redskins did a tremendous job of not allowing Tony Romo to make pre-snap determinations about which defenders were rushing, and you saw how well it worked for them. The ‘Boys would be wise to copy that approach more often. You know the Bears are going to do it.
4. Cover tight end Greg Olsen primarily with a linebacker (when not in nickel)
When in their base defense, the Cowboys should put a linebacker (either Bradie James or Keith Brooking) on Olsen. It may be a slight mismatch, but let’s not forget that Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz has never been fond of utilizing the tight end.
Plus, leaving James or Brooking on Olsen is better than the alternative–one of them on Matt Forte. Forte went off for 151 yards receiving last week and figures to be a big-time part of the Bears’ passing attack. The Cowboys need to do everything possible to limit his production, and placing safety Gerald Sensabaugh on him is superior to an inside linebacker.
There’s a solid chance the Cowboys will be able to effectively halt the Bears’ rushing efficiency. If that’s the case, they may want to think about playing a lot of nickel, even during early downs. If they can still stop the run even with the smaller personnel, it would allow for better matchups on Olsen and Forte.
5. Get a press on Johnny Knox and Devin Hester at all times
This will be crucial for Terence Newman, Mike Jenkins, and Orlando Scandrick, whether they are in man-to-man or Cover 2. Either way, the ‘Boys want to limit the potential for big plays from Chicago, and the best way to do that is to shut down their big play threats. Knox and Hester have game-breaking speed-don’t let them use it.
6. After acquiring a manageable lead, run 3 Wide Right Liz 26 Power
In my final film observations from the Cowboys-Redskins game, I noticed the Cowboys ran this particular play on more than one occasion. The Cowboys lined up in a “3 Wide Strong” look with Jason Witten and Martellus Bennett split out wide on the right side. They motioned Bennett into a traditional tight end position to form the typical “Strong” formation, then running a strong-side power play.
It was one of the few “predictable plays” Garrett called on Sunday night, and I actually think he should do it again this Sunday. . .if Dallas can get a decent lead, that is. That way, the play will continue to be put on film for future opponents. When the time is right, the ‘Boys can come back to a playaction pass from the same formation and motion, hopefully for a big play.