Cowboys vs. Arizona Cardinals Week 16 Manifesto: DOs and DON’Ts for Dallas
I decided to post this week’s game preview today because 1) the game is on Saturday and 2) I will be traveling for the holidays. I’m not sure how much content I will be able to post later in the week, but I will definitely take a look at an accuracy comparison between Tony Romo and Jon Kitna, as promised.
On to the DOs and DON’Ts for Dallas. . .
DO focus on stopping Larry Fitzgerald.
This is quite obvious. While Beanie Wells, Tim Hightower, and Steve Breaston are all solid players, none of them will take over a game like Fitzgerald. He does everything for Arizona: he goes over the middle, he catches deep passes, he blocks, and so on. There’s no doubt that Paul Pasqualoni’s No. 1 priority on every play should be putting the defense in the proper position to adequately defend Fitzgerald.
I actually think the Cowboys are up for the task. Although the secondary has struggled, the defense has done a fair job taking away an offense’s top option, i.e. Andre Johnson, Randy Moss, and (usually) DeSean Jackson. It will be interesting to see if Pasqualoni plays a lot more safe zone coverages, such as Cover 2, to make sure the cornerbacks always have help over the top. I don’t think Cover 2 is necessary if the Cowboys simply shade Alan Ball over top of Fitzgerald, although you could argue that Breaston is enough of a threat to warrant safety help on the other side of the field as well.
DON’T blitz often, but do fake it.
John Skelton is the Cardinals’ starting quarterback. John Skelton. In my opinion, the only way the Cardinals can win this game is to obtain a few “easy” scores–plays such as return touchdowns, pick-sixes, and bombs to Fitzgerald. Although blitzing Skelton could create problems for the rookie quarterback, I find it highly unlikely he’ll be able to sit back and consistently beat the Dallas defense underneath. It’s much easier to limit quick scores if you don’t blitz.
I still want to see more creativity out of the Cowboys’ defense, however. Just because you aren’t blitzing doesn’t mean you have to show the defense what coverage you’re in. I’d love to see Pasqualoni give defenders more freedom to roam around pre-snap, giving the quarterback less of an idea of who is rushing and who is dropping back.
DO blitz defensive backs when you do bring pressure.
You can’t play the same coverage all game, of course, so there will be times when a blitz is needed. Have you noticed how much more successful the Cowboys have been this season when rushing defensive backs (particularly Orlando Scandrick) instead of their inside linebackers? Bradie James and Keith Brooking just aren’t made for blitzing, and the 3-4 scheme doesn’t help them much.
Offenses have trouble accounting for blitzing defensive backs. If the running back misses his assignment, the defender usually has a clear shot at the quarterback. Plus, even though a player such as Scandrick isn’t going to deliver a knockout shot, I like his chances of chasing down a quarterback better than that of, say, Brooking.
DO continue to throw the ball downfield.
Last week, the Cowboys finally threw the ball downfield. 14 of Kitna’s passes traveled 10+ yards in the air. That’s 37.8 percent of the passes he attempted–less than one-quarter of Kitna’s passes entering that game traveled that distance.
That strategy clearly paid off for Dallas, as the Cowboys gained 148 total yards on those plays and Kitna acquired a 118.8 passer rating. There will be opportunities for big plays in this game, and Dallas needs to take advantage of them.
DO run to the outside, particularly to the weak side, with powers and counters.
Cardinals nose tackle Darnell Dockett is one of the most underrated players in the league. He reminds me so much of Jay Ratliff in that he uses his speed and athleticism to make plays against both the run and pass.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals have a weak link (against the run) outside in Joey Porter. Porter is a pass rush specialist who will fly upfield in search of his next sack before adequately playing the run. The Cowboys can take advantage of this by running right at him with powers and counters. Tosses may not work as well since they would lead the running back right into Porter’s path.
DO utilize motion to alter the defense’s strength call and secure optimal match-ups.
The Cowboys did just this last week to neutralize Brian Orakpo. This week, they can do something similar against Arizona. They’ll have to be careful because the Cardinals “other” outside linebacker (and the better one) Calais Campbell is pretty good. The offense will definitely want to run a lot to the weak side of the Cardinals defense to stay away from Campbell.
Of course, the “weak side” can quickly turn into the “strong side” with unique motions. If the Cowboys line up with two tight ends on one side, Campbell will follow, leaving Joey Porter on the weak side. A simple tight end motion would put the Cowboys in a balanced formation, forcing Porter to fight off the block of either Jason Witten or Martellus Bennett. I like those odds for Dallas.
DO take advantage of the aggressiveness of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
DRC is a highly athletic player who can change the course of a game in a heartbeat. Kitna will need to make sure he isn’t late on routes such as hitches, comebacks, and so on, or else it could be six-quick for Arizona.
DRC’s strength, however, can quickly become a weakness if the Cowboys properly exploit it. I thought the Cowboys could have won the Eagles game if they had taken some shots downfield, particularly on double-moves. This week, Garrett will be able to redeem himself by using Rodgers-Cromartie’s aggressiveness against him.
DON’T start Marion Barber if he’s healthy.
Barber may or may not play this week, but I’ve seen enough of him this season to know he isn’t going to be back in 2011. Let Felix Jones and Tashard Choice continue to give the team the best chance to win.
DO run a couple more Wildcat plays.
Did you know the Cowboys have run only three Wildcat plays all season? Two of them were runs for four yards, and the other was last week’s trick pass play that went for 32. That was the first Wildcat pass in Dallas Cowboys history.
Garrett has shown a willingness to become predictable in short-yardage situations by continually calling strong side dives from the same “Double Tight Strong” formation. Last week, it nearly cost the Cowboys the game. If he’s going to be so predictable, why not at least run the ball from Wildcat? With the ball-carrier taking the snap, the offense can have one extra blocker.
DO allow Victor Butler to play on all obvious passing downs.
Pasqualoni has done a nice job of getting Butler extra reps, even with DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer already on the field. Butler has proven that he deserves more playing time, so I’d love to see him on the field for all third downs–even if it means Spencer is off of it (which doesn’t necessarily have to be the case).