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A New Way to Look at the Cowboys, NFL, and Fantasy Football

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys vs. Packers Game Day Manifesto: DOs and DON’Ts for Dallas

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Jonathan Bales

DON’T blitz Aaron Rodgers too often, but send exotic blitz looks when you do bring extra pressure.

Rodgers is one of the top quarterbacks in the league against the blitz.  His mobility is what makes him so dangerous–it’s such a difficult task to bring him down one-on-one, and if you bring extra defenders and miss, Rodgers will kill you with his arm.  I watched four of the Packers games so far this week, and Rodgers has made some of the best throws I’ve seen in my life.

Of course, Dallas can’t simply sit back in zone coverage on every single play.  If Rodgers always knows what is coming, he’ll pick the ‘Boys apart.  Instead, I think Dallas should fake a lot of blitzes and bring some pressure when they don’t show it pre-snap.  They’ve been incredibly obvious in their blitzes this season and confusing Rodgers will be imperative this week.

DO play a lot of Cover 2.

I think the Cowboys’ base defense this week should be Cover 2.  Cover 2 is safe, but it still allows for the cornerbacks to make plays by squatting on certain routes.  It will also limit the responsibilities of both Alan Ball and Gerald Sensabaugh.  Instead of letting Ball roam free in Cover 1 (in which he’s made very few plays), he’ll only have half of the field to worry about in Cover 2.

Another reason Cover 2 will work against the Packers is due to Donald Driver’s absence.  He frequently works the middle of the field–the major weakness of Cover 2 (particularly when you have inside linebackers like Keith Brooking in coverage).  Add that to Jermichael Finley’s injury, and you might expect the Packers to try to test the edges of the Cowboys’ defense a bit more to accommodate their own strengths.

A final reason to play Cover 2 is the Packers’ lack of a running game.  The Cowboys haven’t been able to stop anyone on the ground this season, but Green Bay’s passing attack is far more potent than their ground game.  I have doubts that the Packers can stick with the run all game, even if it is working.  Plus, at a certain point, the guys on defense just need to step up.

DO give Tashard Choice at least 20 snaps.

Choice finally got some playing time last week, but it was still just nine snaps.  Detractors point out that Choice isn’t great at anything.  But he is really good at a lot of things and can provide a nice change-of-pace from Felix Jones.  If Jones is going to continue to receive the bulk of the reps, they need to come from Marion Barber’s total, not Choice’s.

And let’s not forget Barber may not even be in Dallas next season.  Barring a trade, Choice will.  See if he is ready for a larger role in 2011.  And if you want me to save you the suspense. . .he is.

DO place Mike Jenkins on Greg Jennings for much of the game.

I originally contemplated doing just the opposite: Terence Newman (like it or not) has been the Cowboys’ best defensive back all season, so he should cover Green Bay’s top receiver, right?

Well, Driver is going to be out with an injury.  That means James Jones is going to start, and I actually don’t see a tremendous difference in talent between Jennings and Jones.

The primary reason the Cowboys might want Newman on Jones is smoke screens.  The Packers love to throw wide receiver screens, and there’s no way in the world the Cowboys can expect Jenkins to tackle the 6’1”, 218 pound Jones.  Jenkins would probably whiff on Martin Gramatica in the open-field, and Jones is 20 pounds heavier than Jennings.  Plus, at some point, Dallas must expect Jenkins to rebound from his poor start to the season.

DO throw the ball in the red zone, and stop running draws there.

You can see the Cowboys have found a lot more success through the air in the red zone than on the ground.  Of their five passes inside the five-yard line, four have gone for touchdowns.  They’re also averaging nearly six-yards-per-pass and have scored three touchdowns when passing between the opponent’s 10 and 20-yard line.  Those numbers aren’t extraordinary, but remember the upside of all plays is severely limited in the red zone.

Meanwhile, Dallas is averaging just over two yards-per-carry on red zone runs.  They’ve punched it into the end zone just twice on runs, both from the one-yard line.

Some of the Cowboys’ struggles in red zone running may be coming from the fact that they continue to run draws, even inside the five-yard line.  Part of the reason you run draws is to get the linebackers to drop into their coverage responsibilities.  But down by the goal line, everything is squashed together.  The linebackers are basically already in their drops.  Where are they really going to go?  Running draws in the red zone, particularly inside the five-yard line, forces the linemen to hold their blocks longer and makes it more difficult for the running back to gain momentum.

DO run a ton of double-tight sets to help the offensive tackles block Clay Matthews.

Martellus Bennett was frustrated with his lack of playing time last week.  According to my numbers, the Cowboys used two tight ends (or more) on just 19 plays against Jacksonville.

This week, they are going to need as many people as possible blocking Matthews.  He’s an absolute beast and a tremendous challenge for Bennett.  Bennett won’t have huge numbers this game, but this is the matchup during which he’ll earn more reps in the future.

DON’T try to throw too often out of obvious passing formations.

This is a good rule in general, but the Cowboys will have big-time problems providing protection with 3+ wide receivers on the field.  Clay Matthews singled up + Jon Kitna at quarterback= Trouble for Dallas.

Instead, I think the ‘Boys should pass from a bunch from double-tight formations and use three-receiver sets primarily for plays like screens, draws, and so on.

DO run more screens than normal.

The Packers employ a lot of innovative blitz packages, including their “Psycho” look which implements just one down-linemen and a bunch of linebackers flying around pre-snap.  The Cowboys already struggle with stunts, so this package could create a lot of problems for them.  The Packers normally utilize it on 3rd down, so expect that to be the time you see a lot of Cowboys screens.

DON’T run to the weak side as often.

I normally support a lot of weak side runs.  Early in the season, Jason Garrett was listening, dialing them up at nearly twice the rate as in 2009.  That number has since decreased quite a bit, but it’s still higher than last season.

This week, however, the Cowboys would be running right into the heart of the Packers’ defense if they went weak side.  Matthews is just as solid against the run as the pass, and 340-pound mammoth defensive end Ryan Pickett also provides a challenge for the Cowboys’ offensive line.  If you want to run weak side, get the defenders out of position with counters.

DO attempt a double-move on Charles Woodson.

Woodson is such an incredible playmaker, but he does gamble a lot.  He’ll jump routes to make plays, meaning the Cowboys can certainly beat him deep on a double-move.  The problem will be providing adequate protection.  Perhaps a single-man route from a run-oriented formation would allow the ‘Boys to protect Jon Kitna long enough for one of the receivers to take advantage of Woodson’s aggressiveness.

DO put Dez Bryant on the field more often–ahead of Roy Williams.

Williams started off hot this year and certainly appears to have regained his confidence, but Bryant is the future for the Cowboys.  He needs to start soon, but at the very least, he must get on the field in some base personnel looks.  Right now, he’s nothing more than the No. 3.  His talent is so glaringly obvious that any failure to get him on the field is completely unjustified.

DON’T keep letting the same players make the same mistakes.

Marc Colombo gets beat by Clay Matthews for a sack.  Alan Ball misses a tackle in the secondary.  Brandon Jackson beats Keith Brooking in the open-field and runs for a touchdown.  Marion Barber tackled for a loss.

These sort of mistake cannot continue, at least not from the same old faces.  Give the inexperienced players a chance to show the future is bright in Big D.  Yes, that might mean hurting some feelings, Wade.

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4 Responses to Cowboys vs. Packers Game Day Manifesto: DOs and DON’Ts for Dallas

  1. bW says:

    Your first point is the one I’m most worried about. At this point, I don’t expect Wade to change up his obvious blitzes.
    Gerrard (freaking Gerrard of all QB’s!) had a field day against us.

    At this point I expect Rodgers to walk up to the line…see the blitz…laugh out loud….call a quick audible…hike the ball….and throw an easy catch or TD.

    I’m praying for miracles….that somehow our D can get its act together.

  2. JJ says:

    Jonathan,

    I commend you for going through the analysis. I suppose the hardest part of being a fan when your team is clearly done for the season and summoning the desire to find value in the game. I suppose I fall into the category of many fans who now view the remainder of the season as an analysis of not only players but our dearest GM since they now have a very huge jump on 2011 (if there is a season). Could you even imagine the rust on Romo is the 2011 season was delayed or lost for any reason?

    Anyway, I digress. The crime in all of this is if some of the starters like Jenkins, Ware, Spencer and Ratliff who have seem “ghost like” suddenly started playing well. Do you chalk that up to Wade’s fundamentals (i.e. In season-training camp) or is it team playing loose because they just were not mentally prepared or tough enough to do it when it mattered the most? I still believe that Jerry is making a mistake keeping Wade at the helm. It’s what it is and, hopefully, I’ll be proven wrong. My hope is that something good comes out this lost season. Maybe Church will improve as an option at S. Maybe Young can be the Free of last year. Maybe Choice will show us loosing Barber is not a really a loss. Maybe Lee, Dez, Bennett, Lissmore, Costa, McCann, etc. will grow and become players.

    We shall see.

  3. OmarJ says:

    Clay Matthews singled up + Jon Kitna at quarterback= Trouble for Dallas.
    I have to disagree with this, well not thath much, it is right but actually i really liked kitna against the jaguars, he moved better than any of us would have thought, he even run on some plays and he showed nice pocket prescence i think, he avoided pressure with one step moves and he waited until last moment to make his throws, he was not afraid to take the hit, well you’re right on your statement but i wanted to say this, i think he deserves some credit

  4. bW–I think you’re right. . .the Cowboys’ only hope is to get a few takeaways, i.e. they’ll need some luck.

    JJ–Yeah, doing the analysis for these sort of games is difficult. It isn’t that I don’t love breaking down games, it’s just tough to say that factor “X” matters a whole lot when the team is 1-6.

    As far as the starters playing better–I would chalk it up to regression toward the mean. If you think about it, almost anything Wade or anyone did would get those players to play better simply because they are great players. When comparing a sample of games (Sample A) to another which is constituted by poor play (Sample B), the Sample A is almost always going to appear better than B just because of statistics. It just so happens that this Sample A is temporally-adjacent to Sample B, so we look for causes when I don’t really think there are any. Hope that makes sense.

    OmarJ–Point taken…and I’ll agree Kitna was more mobile than I expected. He did run for two 1st downs if I’m not mistaken. Still, I think we’d both agree Romo is still more mobile in the pocket (even if he doesn’t take off downfield as often), and if Matthews would be a problem for Dallas with Romo in the game (which I think is true), it’s the same for Kitna.

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