Dallas Cowboys vs. Washington Redskins, Week 11: DOs and DON’Ts for Dallas
The Cowboys squeaked by Washington in Week 3, and they really had no business winning that game (at least in terms of the offensive performance). This week, they should continue to do what has worked against the Redskins in the past: focus on containing Brian Orakpo and Santana Moss. Here are my DOs and DON’Ts. . .
- DO chip Brian Orakpo with a tight end or running back.
Orakpo is Washington’s best defensive player (actually, their best player overall), so Dallas needs to monitor him at all times.
If there’s one thing the Cowboys miss about Marion Barber, it’s his pass protection. I’d like to see a lot of double-tight formations when DeMarco Murray is on the field so Martellus Bennett–one of the team’s best blockers–can help out on Orakpo.
- DO use unique alignments, motions, and shifts to make blocking Orakpo easier.
Utilizing double-tight sets is advantageous for Dallas because it doesn’t allow the Redskins to make a strength call–that is, they can’t set their defense based on the Cowboys’ alignment. If that’s the case, Orakpo will probably line up on the right side of the defense (the quarterback’s blind side) where most weak side linebackers are most comfortable. Thus, Dallas can run double-tight sets (such as “Ace”) with Bennett on the left side of the formation so he’s already in position. If Orakpo chooses to line up on the left side of the defense in “neutral” offensive formations, the ‘Boys can simply switch Bennett’s alignment.
If all of that doesn’t work, the Cowboys can utilize motions and shifts to put themselves in optimal situations. For example, suppose the offense comes out in “Double Tight Right Ace” (below).
In that case, Orakpo will line up over Doug Free on the right side of the Redskins’ defense. A simple motion of Bennett to that side, however, would put the Cowboys in a perfect situation to block Orakpo. The ‘Skins wouldn’t switch their strength call, and Dallas would have their best-blocking lineman and tight end on Washington’s top rusher.
Actually, the Cowboys might then want to take some shots down the field in that particular situation. They’d be in “Ace” formation (below).
This formation was Dallas’ second-most productive passing alignment in all of 2009. The team ran only 29 plays out of “Ace” in 2009, and 24 were passes (82.8 percent). They averaged 11.46 yards-per-attempt on passes from the formation, but even more impressively, they threw the ball downfield. 12 of the 24 passes went for 10+ yards, while five went for 20 or more.
- DO run right at linebacker London Fletcher.
Fletcher is a great player and under-appreciated, but he’s too small to take on the Cowboys’ interior linemen. Washington’s 3-4 defense isn’t helping him, as he now has just one lineman to cover him up instead of two. You can see the results in Fletcher’s numbers, as he’s on pace for the fewest tackles since 2001.
- DO run more draws from spread formations.
One of the ways to run up the middle without pronouncing run via the formation is calling draws from spread formations. In 2009, the Cowboys ran too many draws (this despite being “good” at executing them. . .that is, Jason Garrett simply dialed them up too often). That season, they called 121 draws, averaging 4.51 yards-per-carry. In my post on the Cowboys’ 2010 draws, I noted they increased that average to 4.73 yards-per-rush despite being far less effective overall on the ground (they ran 77 total draws, which was probably a primary factor in the increased efficiency).
It is also worth noting the Cowboys gained 5.09 yards-per-carry on draws from spread formations, compared to only 3.56 from tight formations. That gap (shown below) was even greater in 2009 (note that the 2010 numbers in that chart are through just five weeks). When the defense is prepared to defend a pass, whether it is due to personnel or the formation, they are less effective against the run. Thus, when an offense comes out in passing personnel, lines up in a pass-oriented formation, initially shows pass following the snap, then hands the ball off. . .it works.
Part of the reason spread draws can be effective is that they are sometimes run on third down. Many of you know I love third down runs because they are superior to passes on 3rd and 1 to 3rd and 5 and, shockingly, just as successful as passes on 3rd and 6 to 3rd and 10. These are not the results of a small sample size contained just to Dallas, but rather representative of league-wide statistics from years of data. Garrett seemed to take this information into account in 2010, increasing the number of draws the offense ran on third down from 10.7% in 2009 to 18.2% last year.
- DON’T respect the Redskins’ running game–just focus on No. 89.
This goes hand-in-hand with the previous “DON’T.” The Cowboys are the better team. Favorites shouldn’t take a lot of chances. The only way Washington can win this game, in my opinion, is to do it like they did in Week One of 2010–secure quick, fluky scores.
The Redskins’ biggest opportunity for quick scores on offense is Santana Moss. If Dallas limits him, it will be difficult for Washington to score enough points to win the game, barring another disastrous pre-halftime play.
Here is more from a previous Game Plan on how the ‘Boys can limit Moss:
This task will become much easier if the Cowboys can get a decent pass rush with just four defenders. Then, Dallas should be able to sit back in Cover 2, which would allow Alan Ball to have less area to cover.In Cover 2, both safeties have what is known as “deep half,” meaning they simply can’t let anyone beat them deep on their side of the field.If Dallas can’t get to McNabb with just four rushers, they will need to blitz, meaning a safety (likely Sensabaugh) would have to come up to either play a zone closer to the line of scrimmage or cover a player man-to-man. Sensabaugh isn’t exactly Ed Reed in coverage, so the Cowboys don’t want him matched up with a player like Chris Cooley or Devin Thomas too often.As Sensabaugh’s responsibility changes, so does Ball’s. The Cowboys like to play Cover 1 (also known as “man-free”) when they blitz, which puts Ball in a centerfield-type position. He is free to roam, but his pre-snap alignment (usually near the center of the field) makes it very hard to cover sideline-to-sideline (as opposed to Cover 2, where Ball only needs to cover from the middle of the field to one sideline).If the Cowboys do end up blitzing and playing Cover 1, Ball should shade the side of Santana Moss very heavily. Moss is the one player on Washington who can beat Dallas deep (sorry, Devin Thomas) and, as I explained earlier, the ‘Boys cannot give up quick, easy scores on Sunday night. Ball needs to make sure he is in position to stop Moss, regardless of the coverage. . .even if it means leaving the opposing cornerback on an island. I’ll take my chances with either Terence Newman or Mike Jenkins on the ‘Skins No. 2 receiver.
- DO target Josh Wilson.
This one is pretty simple, as cornerback Josh Wilson is a rare weakness on a Washington defense that is very underrated. Even if the Redskins place DeAngelo Hall on Dez Bryant, there will still be ways to get Bryant matched up on Wilson. The Cowboys can run bunch formations, for example, that may force the Redskins to make “Banjo” calls. A “Banjo” call (Washington probably has a different name for it) is when a defense audibles out of man coverage due to receivers being lined up close together, as the defenders would likely get picked if they stayed in their man-to-man assignments.
If Washington calls Cover 1 (man coverage with a free safety deep) and Dallas lines up in “Trips Left,” for example, the ‘Skins might audible to Cover 3. In that scenario, Bryant would draw someone other than Hall if he runs any sort of crossing route. Look for Dallas to line up in ‘Trips’ with Bryant lined up outside, then run him underneath the other receivers on slants, digs, and other crossing routes.
- DO run double moves on DeAngelo Hall.
Whether Bryant plays or not, the Cowboys can still attack Hall. He is a playmaker, but also one of the most overrated cornerbacks in the league. He gives up as many big plays as he makes because he jumps routes more than anyone not named Asante Samuel. Look for Dallas to run slants in the first half, allowing Hall to become impatient before they attack him with a “sluggo” (slant-and-go) in the second half.
- DO run a lot more screens.
In last season’s opener, the Redskins blitzed or showed blitz on a ridiculous 60.9% of snaps, confusing the Cowboys offense quite a bit. You can bet that will happen again, and the screen game could be Dallas’ best friend this week. DeMarco needs more touches in the passing game anyway. By the way, you can expect plenty of screens to follow playaction looks, as always.