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By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys vs. New York Giants Week 7 Manifesto: 18 DOs and DON’Ts for Dallas

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Jonathan Bales

From last week’s Manifesto:

I’m not one to erroneously label a game as a “must win” unless, mathematically, a team actually must win it to stay alive.

Mathematically, this game is not a “must win” for Dallas.  Emotionally, however, it might be just that.  Can this team truly come back from a 1-4 start to make the playoffs (and not just make the post-season, but win there)?  Of course it’s possible, but realistically, this week’s game in Minnesota is about as close to “must win” as it gets in Week Six.

This week, the Cowboys will have the opportunity to begin to prove me wrong.  While I don’t think the hole they’ve dug themselves is insurmountable, I do think that will be the case if they continue to play as they have thus far.  Can the Cowboys really flip the switch and begin playing disciplined, selfless football?  Monday can’t get here soon enough.

This week’s Manifesto consists of all “DOs” and “DON’Ts” for Dallas.  Hey, there’s a lot that needs to change. . .

DOs and DON’Ts

DO blitz a little more this week–but disguise them PLEASE!

This is more of a wish than anything else.  I know Phillips’ defense isn’t going to change overnight into one that invokes all sorts of pre-snap alignments to confuse the defense as to which defenders might be rushing, but I WISH it could be that.

At the very least, I think the ‘Boys can blitz more often this week.  Terence Newman has been shutting down whoever is on him and Alan Ball can help over top of Jenkins.  The key, as it was last week, will be Orlando Scandrick.  If he can handle Steve Smith in the slot, the Cowboys should be able to play the same sort of Cover 1 defense they played against the Vikings:

DON’T worry about Brandon Jacobs–focus on stopping Ahmad Bradshaw.

I wholeheartedly believe Jacobs is one of the worst running backs in the NFL.  He isn’t quick.  He isn’t shifty.  He’s not even a good short-yardage runner, which is sad for a man his size.  Ask any defender who they’d rather tackle in the open field, Jacobs or Bradshaw, and I’d bet nearly every one would choose Jacobs.  Tackling him might hurt more, but it would certainly be easier to accomplish.

Bradshaw is the sort of player with which the Cowboys have traditionally struggled.  He’s extremely shifty and can do a lot of things out of the backfield.  The Cowboys’ oversized linebackers need to be careful to not let Bradshaw get into the open-field.  If he does, it’s lights out for Dallas.  Here’s one way they might be able to contain the little guy. . .

DO place Gerald Sensabaugh, not a linebacker, on Bradshaw.

Let’s face it: Keith Brooking is now a detriment to the defense when he’s in coverage.  I love his attitude and work ethic, but he has terrible hips and is really poor in space.  He has been coming off of the field more and more in nickel situations, which is a good thing.

On 1st and 2nd down, though, the Cowboys should place Sensabaugh on Bradshaw (whenever possible).  In the Cover 1 example above, it’s quite easy to shift the responsibility of Bradie James (or Brooking) and Sensy.  Plus, I don’t find Kevin Boss to be that much of a threat as a pass-catcher.  In my opinion, James should be able to shut him down.  If Sensabaugh can do the same to Bradshaw, Brooking will only be responsible for a fullback or second tight end.

DON’T keep shooting yourselves in the foot with senseless penalties.

I really don’t mind some penalties–sometimes fouls such as illegal contact and offsides are simply the result of an aggressive style of play.  It is the mental mistakes–illegal formations, illegal substitutions, false starts, and celebration penalties–that are so aggravating.

Yes, the excessive celebration penalty called against Marc Colombo because he fell to the ground was garbage, but last week’s celebration penalty on Sam Hurd was needless.  The rule is dumb, but Hurd is a professional football player.  Professionals need to know the rules.

In all four of the Cowboys’ losses this year, they’ve done something so dumb that it alone basically cost them the game.  Playing intelligently (while still maintaining aggression) should be the team’s number one focus for the rest of the season.

Let’s set a goal of five penalties.  More than that and they’ll have a difficult time winning this football game.

DO implement max protection a few times to take shots downfield.

Last week, the Cowboys threw the ball 10 yards or more downfield just THREE times all game.  They threw an incredible 18 passes behind the line of scrimmage.

The Cowboys’ offensive line hasn’t been awful in pass protection this year except against the Titans.  Romo makes it look better than it is, but there’s certainly been enough time for the ‘Boys to take some shots down the field.

This week, the Cowboys’ pass protection duties don’t get any easier.  They’ll have to deal with Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Chris Canty all night long.  If three-receiver sets aren’t working, Dallas needs to implement one or two-man routes to create big plays.  Either way, the ball has to get down the field.

DON’T screw up on kick coverage.

There’s a chance the Cowboys could have two more wins if their kickoff coverage was even average.  The coverage units seemed much improved last year when their faults were simply covered up by David Buehler’s big leg.  Buehler’s power has diminished in 2010 and the coverage units are once again costing the Cowboys football games.

Special teams are more about maintaining responsibility and hustling than talent.  The fact that Dallas’ coverage units have struggled is related to the abundance of penalties: both are due to a lack of discipline.

DO stop the run early so the Giants can’t utilize the playaction pass.

The Giants find success against Dallas when they’re playaction game gets going.  Eli Manning no longer has the luxury of having Plaxico Burress to catch his mistakes, but Nicks, Manningham, and Smith are a formidable trio.  Nicks and Manningham in particular have big-play potential that is often the result of running efficiency–when the Giants are moving the ball on the ground, their playaction passing game can be lethal.

The best way to stop the Giants’ playaction success is to limit their running game early.  If the Giants have no confidence that a play-fake will draw in the defense, they won’t run them.

DON’T blitz up the middle.

The Giants are incredibly strong up the middle with Shaun O’Hara at center and Chris Snee and Rich Seubert at guard.  Brooking and even James will be no match for them.  Plus, the Cowboys just haven’t found much success this season when rushing their inside linebackers.

Instead, the Cowboys should make sure DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer are rarely in coverage and even send Sensabaugh after Eli Manning.  If they do choose to play a lot of Cover 1 and put Sensy on Bradshaw, it will be easier for Sensabaugh to blitz (particularly if Bradshaw stays in to pass protect).

DO call some designed rollouts OR throw some back-shoulder fades.

The abundance of screens and other short passes this year is evidence that Jason Garrett doesn’t have full confidence in the pass protection-ability of this offensive line.  There are other ways to get the ball downfield without relying so heavily on pass protection, though.

One is getting Romo on the move on designed rollouts, of which the Cowboys have run three all season.  Another are back-shoulder fades which Romo and the receivers practiced diligently in preseason practices and games.  The fades haven’t made their way into the regular season, but perhaps they should.  The Cowboys don’t need a ton of time to throw a back-shoulder fade (or quick fade, or stop route, or whatever you’d like to call it).  Roy Williams’ skill set–tremendous body control and hands– is built perfectly for the route.

DO run right at Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul, especially with counters and draws.

Both Umenyiora and Pierre-Paul have a pass-first mentality.  They fly upfield in search of sacks before fulfilling their gap responsibilities.  I think Dallas can take advantage of that by not only running right at them, but doing it with with counters and draws.  Felix Jones averaged 10.0 yards-per-carry on 22 counters last year.

This year, the Cowboys aren’t running many counters.  They ran only one last week despite totaling 66 yards on five counters in the prior game.

Dallas has also limited their draws this season after running over eight per game in 2009.  The fact that they are limiting them is a good thing, but they should run more this week against a Giants defense that will disregard gap responsibility in search of sacks.  Third down draws will be particularly efficient because both Umenyiora and Pierre-Paul will be in the game.  Look for the Cowboys to run the ball multiple times on 3rd and 2 to 6.

DON’T be afraid to use the short passing game as an extension of the running game this week.

Screen passes in particular could be of use to the Cowboys this week for the same reason draws might work (the eagerness of the Giants’ defensive line to get to the passer).  The Cowboys aren’t a very good screen team, but I think a few traditional screen passes will work this week.

And no, the play below (which the Cowboys ran eight times last week) is not a screen. . .

DON’T keep running the same plays from the same formations.

Last year it was “Double Tight Strong.” When in that formation, the ‘Boys ran a strong side dive on 71.6 percent of all plays.  This year, Garrett has done a much better job of mixing up his play-calling from particular formations.

Last week, however, Dallas ran the same play eight times from a formation called “Twins Right Strong Left”:

This is what I wrote about the play after the game:

Jones was the target on four of the eight passes, but he wasn’t actually the primary read on this play.  I believe the Cowboys saw something on film that made them want to clear out the two receivers on the “Twins” side to hit Jason Witten across the middle.  Witten was actually the intended target on three of the eight plays (and the final one was a scramble).  If that wasn’t open, Romo would dump it down to Jones.

The play was working early.  Two of Witten’s long receptions–one for 30 yards and another for 17–came on this play.  Like I said in my pre-game Manifesto, the Vikings’ linebackers couldn’t hang with Witten or Martellus Bennett.

So how did the Cowboys run this play one time too many?  Well, remember Romo’s second crippling interception that was picked off by E.J. Henderson?  It came on the eighth and final time the Cowboys ran the play.

It appeared as though Henderson was faking a blitz and at the last moment backed into coverage, confusing Romo.  Well, I actually think Henderson was truly blitzing on the play.  When he didn’t get a great jump and subsequently realized what play was coming, he dropped back and made the pick.

Don’t make the same mistake twice.  You can bet the Giants know this play could be coming when they see the formation.  Either don’t line up in “Twins Right Strong Left” at all, or run a different play from it.

DON’T worry about offensive balance–simply stick with what is working.

I personally think the Cowboys can pound the rock early this week, while also mixing in some screens.  They should be able to run the ball effectively to the edges of the Giants’ defense.  That can then set up the playaction pass later in the game.  The Cowboys’ game plan on offense is pretty much the same as what they are trying to halt on defense.  Which team will execute better?

DON’T be afraid to run the ball more often out of “passing personnel.”

It is a good rule of thumb in any football game to pass when the defense expects run, and vice versa.  If the Giants sense pass, they’ll be head-hunting for Romo.  This week is a particularly good one to run out of three-receiver sets (which the ‘Boys haven’t been doing of late) and pass out of double-tight, run-oriented formations.

DO give Tashard Choice some work.

One snap in the last two weeks isn’t going to cut it.  I do think Jones’ increased snaps are a good thing and should continue, but Choice needs to be on the field from time to time.  Barber did an excellent job in short-yardage work last week, but I’m not sure why he’s stolen all of Choice’s reps on third down.

DON’T motion so often unless you are trying to exploit a mismatch.

Motions need to have a significant purpose.  It seems the only purpose motions have in the Cowboys’ offense is to either shift the strong side of the formation or determine if the defense is in man coverage.  We can argue all day about whether those two results are worth the trouble of motions, but what we can’t argue about is the fact that Dallas has traditionally found more success when they don’t motion.

I don’t think the ‘Boys should scrap motions.  Rather, I believe they need to use them more uniquely–much like the Saints.  New Orleans implements shifts and quick motions to gain favorable matchups.  It seems as though Garrett is content in saying “here is what we are going to do, now stop it.”  Instead, he needs to maximize the probability of success by implementing a more significant purpose for each pre-snap movement.

DO target Dez Bryant at least five times.

Bryant was targeted twice last week and not once in the first 51 plays.  With the other playmakers on offense, Bryant sees a lot of single coverage, so take advantage of it.

DO play incredibly aggressively.

What is there to lose?  Blitz often, throw it deep, go for it on fourth down, and just have some fun.

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7 Responses to Dallas Cowboys vs. New York Giants Week 7 Manifesto: 18 DOs and DON’Ts for Dallas

  1. starred4life says:

    I hope Garrett is reading this.

  2. I’m pretty sure he does since I send stuff to him quite often haha

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  4. omar says:

    Thank you for a terrific article.
    Several observations about the Cowboys offense were difficult to believe. Same play 8 times out of the same formation?
    Was that the ONLY play they ran out of “Twins Right Strong Left, or simply eight times that was the play from that formation?
    18 passes behind the line of scrimmage? I don’t doubt your account of what happened, it’s just hard to believe at the NFL level a team doesn’t utilize more of the field. Sounds like it was easy work defending the Cowboys last week.

  5. Hey Omar..it was the same play all eight times from one formation. They hadn’t used the formation all year until then.

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