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

By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys vs. Philadelphia Eagles, Week 8: DOs and DON’Ts for Dallas

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Jonathan Bales

Each week, I consider a team’s strengths prior to creating my “DOs and DON’Ts.”  For the most part, they are intended to stop what the opposition does best.  Against the Patriots, it was limit Wes Welker.  The Cowboys’ pre-game plan versus Detroit was to control Calvin Johnson.  But who do you focus on this week?  Jeremy Maclin is the Eagles’ top receiver thus far, but does he deserve more attention than DeSean Jackson?  Do you sit back in an effort to stop big plays and risk LeSean McCoy going wild underneath?  And Philly’s quarterback isn’t too bad either.

Dallas will score their points this week, but the result of the game will be determined by Rob Ryan and this defense’s ability to thwart the Eagles’ offense.  It should be evident early who they try to contain, but this week more than ever, the defense needs to play solid, unified, fundamental football.

DON’T blitz too often, unless necessary.

Despite this “DON’T” being a reoccurring theme of mine this season, I’m not against blitzing.  I think it is vital to get pressure on the quarterback and the ability of Rob Ryan to do that successfully has been the primary reason we’ve seen a turnaround from the Cowboys’ defense (in addition to superb tackling).  Blitzing Michael Vick is a risky proposition, however, because he can use his legs to buy time.  If he evades the initial surge, it’s quite easy to find an open receiver when only five or so defenders are in coverage.

That isn’t to say the Cowboys should sit back in Cover 2 and Cover 3 all day long.  There are times when blitzing is appropriate, but I really think Dallas can benefit from playing cautiously aggressive and mixing up looks.  Follow a five-man blitz with a three-man rush.  Stack the line of scrimmage and back out post-snap.  Show Cover 2 and bring a safety late.   Game situations will dictate the total amount of pressure that must be applied, but I would not come out blitzing incessantly and risk getting down early.

The blitz will still be a useful tool in Dallas’ arsenal, but only when used at the right times.  While passer rating can be a poor tool to assess a quarterback’s performance, there is still something to be said for the disparity in Vick’s rating when he throws in the face of pressure.  When given a clean pocket, Vick’s rating is 104.2.  When pressured, it drops to 49.3. While we would expect the passer rating of any signal-caller to drop when he has defenders in his face, the significance of that disparity is reinforced by Vick’s passer rating when not blitzed (97.1) versus when extra defenders are sent after him (69.6).

So why not blitz all of the time?  Because eventually, he is going to beat you for a big play.  The Cowboys need to come out in a manner that is both cautious and aggressive, playing hard-nosed football and attempting to get pressure without sending more than five defenders.  If that doesn’t work, you can think about turning up the dial.

DO be careful with “Psycho.”

Rob Ryan’s “Psycho” look is tremendously effective.  Employing one (or sometimes zero) down lineman (shown below) and utilizing pre-snap chaos in the box, the look creates confusion among the offensive linemen and quarterback regarding who might be rushing.

Smart Football has a great post on the ways by which a team can beat “Psycho,” and two of them suit the Eagles’ offense quite well:

- Sprint out or quick bootleg from gun. Isolate run/pass defenders and attack them in the flats, on the corner, and so on. Get outside of the garbage inside. The quarterback must know he can’t dilly dally, however. It must be first pass choice, second pass choice, run or throw it away.

  • - Screen them. Fast screens in particular, but also tunnel screens, runningback screens, and so on. Try to use their aggressiveness against them. Get to the perimeter and away from the junk and get the ball to playmakers in space.

  • Philadelphia has been the best screen team in the NFL for perhaps a decade, so the ‘Boys need to be really careful about how they attack the Eagles.  Send too much pressure, particularly from “Psycho,” and LeSean McCoy or DeSean Jackson could be off to the races.  Further, if “Psycho” really creates a vulnerability in a defense which can be exploited via bootlegs, Dallas could find trouble.

    When Ryan does decide to blitz, especially from “Psycho,” he should use primarily zone looks behind it.  Zone blitzing has two primary advantages for Dallas, as it allows for safe coverages behind looks which can generate pressure, and it limits Vick’s ability to run wild.  If you blitz from the traditional man coverage and Vick escapes, he has nothing but defenders with their backs to him and lots of green in his sights.  In a zone blitz, the linebackers and linemen who are in coverage will have their eyes on Vick and, even if they can’t bring him down in the open field, they can slow him up until help arrives.

    DON’T go out of your way to force Vick to his right.

    There was a time when forcing Vick right was a surefire way to halt his game.  Teams would overload the right side of their defense and do everything possible to get Vick to scramble away from the side of his throwing arm.  Vick has improved dramatically with his ability to throw from the pocket and on the run, however.  This season, his passer rating is not substantially better when throwing to any single portion of the field.

    Actually, Vick’s passer rating when throwing left (about 70) is lower than when he throws right (over 100). On top of that, the majority of the success Vick has had while throwing left has come on screens and other throws behind the line of scrimmage, where he is 9-for-11 for 107 yards and two scores.  Beware of the screen to the left, but other than that, there is no need to apply pressure from primarily one side of the field.

    DON’T spy Vick.

    To me, spying Vick is wasting a defender.  If that’s the only method you employ to corral him, you’re going to get burnt.  A single defender isn’t going to be able to tackle Vick in the open-field.  The Cowboys need to work as a unit to stop him, and that means mixing up blitz looks with safe coverages and tackling him when he does get into the open field.

    DO double-team Trent Cole.

    Last year, the Cowboys used a “new” formation against the Colts to limit the effectiveness of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, and that formation cropped up again versus Trent Cole and Philadelphia.  It was Gun 5 Wide Tight (below).

    In my view, Cole is far and away the Eagles’ top defensive player.  He creates havoc in the opposition’s backfield whether defending the run or the pass.  He’s consistently one of the most underrated players in the NFL.  If the Cowboys leave either tackle (particularly Doug Free) on an island against Cole, he will likely get beat.

    To negate Cole’s impact, the Cowboys can chip him with Jason Witten from “Gun 5 Wide Tight.” This obviously isn’t an all-encompassing plan to stop the defensive end, but it will help keep Romo upright on passing downs.  With the Eagles’ ends lining up very wide in their untraditional “nine-technique” position, Witten and/or Martellus Bennett can practically be lined up in the slot and still get a body in front of Cole.

    DO bring out the screen game, particularly with DeMarco Murray.

    Murray was unreal last week against the Rams, and he’ll be a huge factor in Sunday night’s game in Philly.  He had 71 receptions last year in college, and Jason Garrett needs to get him more involved in the passing game.  The Eagles have blitzed far less than usual this season, but I think you’re going to see them play more aggressively this week.  If they do send a lot of pressure, Garrett should have Murray and the screen game ready to combat that strategy.

    You can expect a lot of pressure on 3rd down, particularly in medium-to-long yardage situations.  Almost paradoxically, I think the Cowboys can succeed by throwing the ball deep on 1st down or 2nd and short, but throwing short (with screens) on 3rd and medium to long.

    DON’T play Keith Brooking or Bradie James much.

    Instead, the Cowboys should use a nickel defense as their base.  The Eagles are the No. 1 rushing team in the NFL, but that’s because of the way in which they run their offense.  Vick contributes greatly to that total, and McCoy is one of the most underrated backs in the league, but they are not a great inside running team.  They thrive off of draws and other unconventional runs that work due to their spread offense, effective passing game, and so on.  In essence, their running game is so efficient because their passing game is the same, and if you contain the latter, the former is unlikely to beat you.

    Thus, I would have Orlando Scandrick on the field at all times, forcing the Eagles to run the football.  If the Cowboys can limit Vick & Co. through the air, it will be a lot easier to stop McCoy on the ground.

    DO place Terence Newman on DeSean Jackson.

    From last year’s Cowboys-Eagles Week 14 Manifesto:

    Newman has traditionally played well against Jackson and other small receivers like him.  (In 2010), he caught only seven passes for 79 yards in the three games he played against the Cowboys.

    I think the Cowboys should play a lot of Cover 2 early in the game as well.  That will put the cornerbacks in a great position to get their hands on Philly’s receivers and disrupt their routes. That’s a must when receivers are attempting to get 20+ yards downfield.

    With the two safeties deep, Cover 2 is also a safe enough coverage to limit the Eagles’ big plays early.  Plus, with up to nine defenders underneath, it’s about as good of a coverage as exists for halting Vick on the ground.

    DO attack Asante Samuel.

    Samuel is a playmaker. . .both for his own team and the opposition.  His interceptions are negated by all of the big plays he gives up, and the Cowboys can surely attack him with double-moves.  Those slants and outs early in the game, even if not completely effective, can give way to sluggos and out-and-ups late.

    The key, as always, will be proper protection, so perhaps the Cowboys should implement max protection from a double-tight set when they plan to attack deep.  That look will be most successful if used on 1st down or 2nd and short, as the Eagles will be anticipating a run.

    DON’T shy away from Nnamdi Asomugha.

    There was a time that throwing at Asomugha, or even looking at him, wasn’t in your best interest.  Now that he is forced to play more zone coverage in Philly, he’s been far less effective.  Already targeted 17 times, Asomugha has yielded 10 completions and 10.0 yards-per-attempt.  He’s also racked up three penalties. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Samuel should be the main targets, but there’s no reason to ignore Miles Austin or Dez Bryant if Asomugha is lined up on them.

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    6 Responses to Dallas Cowboys vs. Philadelphia Eagles, Week 8: DOs and DON’Ts for Dallas

    1. john coleman says:

      While I agree with virtually all of the points, I think it is really much simpler.
      1. DO NOT GET BURNT DEEP-As JB said cover 2 should help. With Rob’s looks, I feel Vick will have trouble making long drives. If he does have success, he will have to run A LOT.
      2. RUN THE BALL! The Eagles are very weak up the middle and terrible against the run. Effective running will slow the passrush/blitz and force more man coverage as the DB’s will have to be in the box. When that happens the pass game will be more effective. NNamdi can’t cover everybody and Samuel is highly susceptible to double moves. Again JB is spot on in that regard.

      If we can go in and hand it to them Philly is primed for an implosion.

    2. willis says:

      really looking foreward to seeing bruce carter play this week!

    3. john coleman says:

      Well we didn’t get burnt deep. However they did run a lot. I can’t remember seeing the boys so helpless on D.

      For TJ- I saw a rant from you on BTB( I believe), do you still think we need to NOT DRAFT another LB? I understand your pain, but it is obvious that James and Brooking are done. Both are liabilities, even as backups. So even with Lee and Carter(If he is a winner), we have no bench. NO BENCH.

      We simply had no answer for their speed in Vick and McCoy. They really exposed our ILB’s. Celek loooked all world thanks to James and Brooking. I do wonder why we didn’t go with McCray and/or Church at ILB to cover. I also think they would have been no worse against the run. Lee was having a rough night, but when he went out it was over.

      Offensively- I said-RUN THE BALL! At 7-0 or even 14-0 we still could have and should have ran the ball. We were gashing them same as they were us. Murray was 8 carries for 74 yards, 9.3 per carry. If we had continued to shove it down their throats the rush would have been abated. Garrett’s play calling was simply terrible and IMO he panicked. Coming right back with unnecessary passes following successful runs. What’s wrong with 7-7 or 14-7? Running would have also given the D more time to adjust.

      Hats off to RR for manning up and admitting he had a lousy game plan. Hats off to the Eagles and coach Reid for using their bye well. For 2 weeks they have been scheming and doing it well. Missed tackles added to the misery. I still don’t know why we didn’t go with McCray/Church, especially on Celek.

      I do feel that Philly pulled out all the stops and on a week to week prep schedule, it won’t be the same. They have now shown the league all they have. Vick is always going to get his yards running, but McCoy will be schemed from here on out. Teams with faster ILB’s will be able to slow him.

      Bring on Orie Lemon and Bruce Carter, the other two MUST GO!

    4. Tyrone Jenkins says:

      JC,

      Yeah, that was me. I will admit that we do need another ILB, I just don’t think we need a 1st round pick LB. We won’t know about Carter until the season after this one as it took Lee that long to be what he is today. If Carter pans out, then what is the need at LB – a backup? Draft a backup LB in the 1st 3 rounds that will be backing up LBs that have 10 more years left in their career? Backups are backups for a reason – they fill in for a game or two while the starters are out. We DO have backups (Lemon and Greenhouse are on the PS). If they don’t satisfy the reqt as a backup, then draft one – but in the 5th round. Dallas can afford to have SOLID to better players at every position and as backups to every position.

      If Carter doesn’t pan out, then yes, you look at LB. But that will be w/ the 2014 draft, not the 2012 draft.

      What’s more important right now (keeping in mind Carter is still untested) – finding a better version of Holland/Nagy or better version of James/Brooking? Backup G and T has more value in the 2nd round than backup ILB.

    5. Tyrone Jenkins says:

      That’s Dallas CAN’T afford to have SOLID…

    6. john coleman says:

      Aaaah. The return of TJ. I will agree that if Carter shows something between now and the end of the year, we shouldn’t go LB in rd 1. I also feel we have prospects like Butler who can play some inside. I also think Spencer could move inside occasionally. He is a strong, run player anyway and plays some in coverage now. Then there’s Albright who could also be molded a bit. So these guys and Lemon could possibly provide some depth.

      I also agree with the interior oline needing a stud. Dline, safety and CB could stand a player as well. As of this moment, Oline and ILB are the biggest needs. The oline has a player or two that I have hopes for. I think Arkin has a shot. He has the mean streak and needs an offseason with coach Wo. Also Kowalski, who has good size, and filled in admirably, when pressed into duty has upside. IMO he needs Wo time as well. Then there is Parnell, who I thought looked to be improving inthe preseason. He is still learning to be a football player. I could be wrong, but I think all of these guys can improve and stick around.
      Dline also has Lissemore, Brent, and Geathers who can improve. A true NT would be my wish there.
      CB needs to seriously be looking for a longterm player to replace Newman.
      Safety is still in need of longterm answers. I like Elam’s play, but he only has a year or two left, and Sensy just can’t get over the hump.

      BTW, I would like to get some longer players at ILB(Urlacherish), CB, and FS. I’m talking 6-4/6-5 ILB with wingspan and DB’s in the 6-2/6-3 range with 4.45 or better speed.

      Our team is very dependent on staying healthy.

      Let me give a shout out for Laurent Robinson, who has been an above average find in his 2nd stint.

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