Dallas Cowboys vs. Miami Dolphins, Thanksgiving Game: DOs and DON’Ts for Dallas
Thanksgiving is always a special game for the Cowboys, and this year’s version actually figures to be more competitive than many might anticipate. Miami grades out as the 11th-best offense on Pro Football Focus, including No. 6 ranked run blocking team. Despite that, they have a mediocre rush offense (zero expected points added per play and 29th in success rate, according to Advanced NFL Stats), likely due to sub-par running backs.
A lot of Miami’s atrocious numbers came with Chad Henne at the helm, though, and they have seen a spike in productivity since Matt Moore has taken over. Many Dallas fans remember Moore’s days in Big D, and some even think he Cowboys let him get away. He leads a Dolphins team that is far different from the one which began the season.
For the ‘Boys, the most important task tomorrow is not taking Miami too lightly. They aren’t nearly as talented as Dallas, but the Dolphins are probably a better team than the Redskins squad which has given the Cowboys fits twice in 2011. If the Cowboys do not come to play, they may very well lose. Here are a few other keys for Dallas. . .
DO game plan for two players: Brandon Marshall and Cameron Wake.
Marshall is quietly having a really solid season in Miami, on pace for 86 catches. He’s also caught just two touchdowns, though, which is one reason why he isn’t being named as a top flight receiver anymore. His talent is elite, however, and he can be a terror for the Cowboys.
There are a number of ways to limit Marshall tomorrow, including Cover 1, Cover 2, Cover 4, and so on. All of those looks allow a safety to play over top of Marshall if needed. Since he is really the lone offensive threat for the ‘Phins (and Reggie Bush at times), it will be easy for the Cowboys to double him and still blitz.
Wake is the most talented player on the Dolphins, and it isn’t even close. The game’s most underrated pass-rusher has 34 pressures on the year–most of any outside linebacker in the NFL and five more than DeMarcus Ware. His six sacks are not representative of his talents, especially since teams double him all the time. Dallas should do the same.
They can accomplish this by throwing a variety of blockers at Wake, chipping, cracking, and blocking him from various angles to keep him from developing a rhythm. Although Miami has some other solid defenders, stopping Wake should be the No. 1 priority for the offense. Look for a lot of double-tight sets with Martellus Bennett lined up to the left.
DON’T overlook Matt Moore.
This is true of the entire Dolphins team, but especially for Moore. He’s a player that some might take lightly, but one who has played really, really good football lately. In his last three games, Moore has six touchdowns and just one interception, throwing for 8.5 yards per attempt in the process. He doesn’t throw a great deep ball, but his accuracy underneath is enough to test the Dallas’ secondary and linebackers.
DO blitz heavily from the left side of the defense.
Although I think superior teams should limit blitzing to avoid yielding big plays, the Cowboys need to come out with an aggressive mindset tomorrow. It is easier to take Miami lightly when playing Cover 3 all day than when defenders are allowed to be aggressive and apply pressure.
Another reason the Cowboys should blitz a lot tomorrow is to throw off the timing between Moore and Marshall. Marshall is a big-play threat who could put points on the board in a hurry, but that will be made all but impossible if Moore doesn’t have adequate protection. With a safety over top of Marshall and little time to throw, getting the ball deep shouldn’t be an option.
Plus, Moore throws equally well to all areas of the field except deep. He is just 7-for-26 for 236 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions on passes of 20+ yards. That’s good for a passer rating of 38.1. Miami won’t shy away from trying to acquire easy points through long touchdown passes, and the ‘Boys have an opportunity to force some turnovers if they can get Moore to force the ball into traffic in the face of pressure.
When they do blitz, Dallas should bring it from the left side of their defense. Marc Colombo plays right tackle, and Jake Long mans the left side. Pretty simple.
DON’T be too conservative on defense.
Yet another reason to blitz: Moore’s passer rating when pressured is just 52.2, compared to 96.5 when given a clean pocket. Neither number is extremely surprising, as a quarterbacks will naturally have a weaker efficiency rating when throwing with defenders in his face. Still, when combined with Miami’s weak pass protection and their in ability to get the ball downfield, the inherent risk that comes with blitzing is limited. Take care of Brandon Marshall, and you can blitz Moore all day long. Similarly, blitz all day long, and you can perhaps take care of Marshall.
DO continue the success on third down.
Last week, the Cowboys were incredible on third down. They thrived not by running the ball and setting up 3rd and short or medium situations, but by converting crucial 3rd and long plays. This was due to a variety of factors, not the least of which was a small sample size.
Nonetheless, the Cowboys can continue their third down success by continuing to run the ball well and sending less men into routes on third down passes. Jason Garrett has done a nice job of utilizing max protection plays, a trend that is in contrast to his usual style of sending five men into routes.
DO attack through the air.
In terms of expected points, Miami has the eighth-best rush defense, but the eighth-worst pass defense. That gap is likely even larger than it appears since teams have generally had late leads against the ‘Phins, forcing them to run the ball in obvious running situations (and hence limiting efficiency). Running the ball will help set up the pass, but either way, the Cowboys should be able to gash Miami through the air.
DO target Sean Smith. Or Vontae Davis. Or Will Allen.
Smith has been targeted 70 times already in 2011, yielding a catch on 62.9% of passes his way and surrendering over eight yards per attempt. No. 1 cornerback Vontae Davis is considered a rising young player, but he’s given up 18 catches in the six games he’s played this season. That wouldn’t be so bad except he’s also allowing over nine yards per attempt. Will Allen has also been pedestrian. Together, the cornerback trio has combined for just one pick.
DO continue to run outside.
Nose tackle Paul Soliai and inside linebacker Karlos Dansby are stout against the run. Dansby already has 52 tackles this season. The counters and tosses Garrett has been calling more lately should work well again tomorrow. Plus, running right at Wake with powers might be the best way to contain him.