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DOs and DON’Ts for Dallas Cowboys vs. Detroit Lions in Week 4

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Jonathan Bales

This week’s contest against the Detroit Lions is one marked by poor matchups for Dallas.  The Cowboys really don’t have anyone who can stop Calvin Johnson, so they will need to throw a variety of defenders and looks at him to at least limit his production.  The Lions also have a talented young tight end who could give the Cowboys problems over the middle of the field, as well as a shifty running back.  The Lions’ secondary is weak, but the ‘Boys are running low on healthy receivers.  Running up the middle may not be much of an option this week, and Detroit’s linebackers are solid in coverage.

Here are my DOs and DON’Ts for Dallas and what we learned from their game against the Lions last season.  Some of it is the same, and some has changed. . .

DO double-team Calvin Johnson on nearly every play.

This will be easier said than done.  Neither Terence Newman nor Mike Jenkins can cover Johnson alone, so this will have to be a team effort.  You might see a lot of zone blitzes from Dallas on Sunday, as that will be a way to send some pressure without exposing the secondary.  That should allow the Cowboys to keep Gerald Sensabaugh deep over Johnson, with either Newman or Jenkins underneath.  Look for Anthony Spencer in coverage–if that happens, a zone blitz was probably just called.

In passing situations, I would place Newman in the slot whenever Johnson lines up there.  He has experience as a nickel cornerback, and there is no way Alan Ball or any other non-starter can cover Megatron.

DO play a lot of zone coverage and force Detroit to run.

Against teams that have a dominant receiver and a good running game, I like to play a lot of Cover 1.  This allows the defense to put eight men in the box, effectively double-team the top wide receiver, and force an offense to throw the ball to their second and third options.  This week, however, you might see far more Cover 2 than you normally do from Dallas.  This will put a safety much closer to Calvin Johnson (Cover 1 simply means the free safety has no responsibility).  Plus, I think Dallas should try to force the Lions to run the ball on them.

DON’T run up the middle.

Rookie Nick Fairley doesn’t look like he’ll be ready to go, but Ndamukong Suh is healthy.  He is far and away the most terrifying player for Dallas, and one they will need to double-team often.  Phil Costa and Bill Nagy are going to have a tough time.

DO test the Lions’ secondary with a lot of three-wide receiver sets.

In last year’s game in Detroit, the Cowboys lined up with three or more receivers just 14 times all game.  A lot of that had to do with Jon Kitna starting at quarterback, but the Lions’ cornerbacks need to be tested.  Even with Miles Austin out and Dez Bryant questionable, Dallas will still be wise to get nickel and dime cornerbacks Alphonso Smith and Brandon McDonald on the field.

DO run a lot of Gun 3 Wide Pro.

When Jason Witten is lined up in a traditional tight end spot, he almost always heads out into a route in passing plays.  In “Gun 3 Wide Pro,” however, Witten almost always stays in to block.  This formation will allow the Cowboys to have two safety valves against Suh’s pass rush, which is just as dominant as his run defense.  The necessity of Witten in pass protection is another reason the Cowboys might need to lean on their inexperienced receivers more this week.  Gun 3 Wide Pro will force the Lions to put nickel personnel on the field, but also gives them ample pass protection ability.

DO also throw out of double-tight sets, and use playaction passes from those looks.

Throwing from run-oriented personnel packages and formations is optimal because the defense will usually have its base defense on the field (and thus be less capable of defending the pass).  Thus, even if the Cowboys aren’t in three-receiver sets, they should still air out the football, particularly on first down.  Playaction passes out of run-heavy looks are particularly efficient.  Last season, Dallas tested Detroit on eight playaction passes, five of which were thrown 10+ yards down the field.

DON’T expect a ton of blitzes from Detroit.

Last season, the Lions blitzed Dallas just 12 times all game.  Perhaps the presence of Romo will change their strategy, but I think they will want to sit back and try to force Dallas to become a run-first team.  Romo needs to be most watchful of disguised blitzes, as the Lions showed only three of their 12 blitzes in 2010.  When defenses show blitz and retreat or line up in a conventional look and then send pressure, Romo is a far less effective quarterback.

DO run a lot of left-handed formations.

Who would have thought that the Cowboys would need to provide aid to Doug Free over Tyron Smith by Week 4 of this season?  That is exactly what needs to happen, though, as Free has been pretty poor this season, and certainly worse than Smith.  Whether he is injured or not we don’t know.  Either way, look for the Cowboys to run a lot of “left-handed” formations with a tight end right next to Free.  In double-tight sets, look for that tight end to be Martellus Bennett.

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Week 3 Game Pick Results

Last week, I went 12-4 on straight up picks, 10-5-1 against the spread, 11-5 on totals, and 8-4 on best bets.  That brings my season totals to 34-14 on straight up picks, 24-21-3 against the spread, 25-22-1 on totals, and 13-12-1 on best bets.

Week 4 Game Picks

@Dallas 23 (-2.5) Detroit 20 (UNDER 46)

New Orleans 24 @Jacksonville 20 (+7) (UNDER 45)

@Philadelphia 28 San Fran 20 (+9.5) (OVER 44)

Washington 24 @St. Louis 23 (+3) (OVER 44)

Tennessee 17 (-0.5) @Cleveland 16*** (UNDER 39)

Buffalo 20 @Cincinnati 17 (+3.5) (UNDER 43.5)

Minnesota 17 @Kansas City 16 (+3.5) (UNDER 40)

@Chicago 27 (-6) Carolina 17*** (OVER 43)

@Houston 27 (-3)  Pittsburgh 20 (OVER 45)

Atlanta 23 @Seattle 20 (+4.5) (OVER 38)

New York Giants 28 (-1) @Arizona 17 (OVER 44)

@San Diego 31 (-7) Miami 17 (OVER 44.5)

@Green Bay 31 (-12) Denver 17 (OVER 46)

New England 27 (-5) @Oakland 20 (UNDER 55)***

@Baltimore 23 (-3) New York Jets 17 (UNDER 43.5)***

@Tampa 24 Indianapolis 14 (+10.5) (UNDER 41)

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3 Responses to DOs and DON’Ts for Dallas Cowboys vs. Detroit Lions in Week 4

  1. Vince_Grey says:

    ‘Boys lose 34-30. Plenty of blame to go around, but I put the majority of this on Garrett. Why JG, why would you not run the damn ball in the 2nd half with such a big lead? You’ve got an injured QB, a young O-line, inexperienced receivers… why? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Romo is a good QB. A VERY good QB, but he is NOT an elite QB. There are damn few QB’s who can consistently win with no running game. Aikman sure couldn’t, and even Roger (AKA Captain America) had TD, Duane Thomas, and Calvin Hill most of his career.

    I think I like Garrett the head coach more than I like Garrett the O-coordinator. Call up Norv Turner Jason. LEARN TO RUN THE DAMN BALL!

    Tony, when you have a big lead, even if JG is calling pass after pass, check out of these passes to runs son. Trust me, life will be much better in the long run. Pun intended.

    I think the new stadium might be TOO NICE. Opposing teams sure seem very comfortable there, don’t they?

    Two weeks off to listen to the talking heads rip Romo again as a choker and a loser. Just special.

    Let’s get healthy, learn from these mistakes, find running game, and hey, maybe give the Lions a little credit as well. They ARE 4-0 after all.

  2. Greg says:

    That last pick 6 has two major problems: 1st: Romo has used that play and that choice to throw into coverage on short yardage situations or goal-line for years. I could see that one coming from my living room. If Romo has a tendency then the entire league has known it for years because unless a definitive trick or novel play is called, Romo will revert back to old repetitive maladaptive impulses. Which leads to the 2nd problem: Garrett needs to take control and have situational roll-outs and novel motion for short-yardage or desperate situations (which should be every drive). Leaving those situation to Romo’s judgment is too much to him to manage.

    Yes the running game needs a great deal of work. The whole “run from a passing look” is beginning to be a very high level of stupid. Watching the Cardinals, Raiders, Niners, Redskins, Jets, and Bears have a less predictable offense than Super Genius Jason Garrett, is a universal injustice.

  3. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    Everything VG wrote…except for giving the Lions credit. The Lions are 4-0 but they were being completely demolished. They made adjustments but their success wasn’t dependent upon themselves more than it was the Cowboys’ failure. If I’m a NASCAR driver and I am well ahead of everyone else but I blow my engine and end up losing, I don’t necessarily give credit to all the other drivers as much as I discredit my own driving and lack of consideration for my car. Dallas blew its engine, the brakes failed, one of the tires ruptured and the transmission slipped in this game.

    But, my thoughts go further as far as this game goes because something really disturbs me beyond the Romo poor exectuion and defense lack of stopping Megatron. If WE the fans are able to notice the definitive lack of running attempts (FJ had 16 carries compared to 40+ passing attempts by Romo), then why isn’t it apparent to the coaches? Third and 2 w/ 6 minutes remaining and the lead and you pass? I realize just about every play has a run/pass option and Romo makes the decision but he also has a speaker in his helmet where he can here JG talk to him. My thought’s at that point would have been, “Hey, Tony, let’s make sure we don’t turn this one over here. Let’s keep in on the ground and tell the O line we really need them to surge. Empahsize we need a good push. Tell TC that we need really these 2 yards. Now, if we don’t get it, no wories. We’ll give it to our pro bowl punter to put it deep and go from there. Now go get ’em.”

    This isn’t the 1st time there’s been a question about the lack of Cowboy rushing attempts – it was the same discussion last year. I know that the front office and coaches shouldn’t coach according to fan desire(and I’m sure probably don’t even see what the fans are complaining about completely) but if the average fan can see a deficiency, for the life of me I can’t understand why they can’t see the same thing.

    Amazing.

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