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Dos And Don’ts | The DC Times - Part 2

The DC Times

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

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How Cowboys Can (Try To) Stop RGIII

At NBC, I took a look at how the Cowboys might game plan to defend Robert Griffin III.

Mix up looks.

126.3. That’s RGIII’s passer rating when blitzed this year. At 9.82 YPA, Griffin is absolutely gashing defenses when they send more than four rushers. If Ryan plans to bring the heat on Griffin play after play, the rookie will eventually beat the blitz.

However, it isn’t like the Cowboys can simply rush three defenders—something they did more often than they blitzed last week. RGIII isn’t Brandon Weeden, and he’ll pick the Cowboys apart if they’re too conservative. If the ‘Boys want to play with two-high safeties, it’s going to be awfully difficult to stop Griffin and the Redskins’ rushing attack. It’s hard to imagine, but the quarterback who is ranked in the top six in completion percentage, passer rating, and net YPA is also ranked in the top 20 in rushing yards among all players.

Read it all at NBC.

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Cowboys vs Redskins: Offensive Game Plan for Dallas

I just published an offensive game plan for the Cowboys in their Week 12 Thanksgiving matchup with the Redskins.

Challenge the cornerbacks.

Cornerbacks DeAngelo Hall, Josh Wilson, and Cedric Griffin have all played poorly in 2012. Hall has allowed the lowest YPA of the three, but he’s still been average at 8.91 YPA. Opposing coordinators aren’t afraid of Hall anymore, targeting him more often than all but five cornerbacks in the league. Meanwhile, Wilson has given up 10.32 YPA and Griffin—the nickel cornerback—has yielded 11.29 YPA. In comparison, Morris Claiborne, Brandon Carr, and Orlando Scandrick sit at 8.76 YPA, 8.57 YPA, and 5.45 YPA, respectively—all superior to Washington’s top cornerback.

As usual, it will come down to how much time the offensive line can provide Tony Romo. Look for Witten to stay in to block more than the five snaps he did last week in an effort to attack a cornerback trio that has allowed a collective passer rating of 98.9 to opposing quarterbacks.

Pound it up the middle.

Yesterday, I published a breakdown of the Cowboys’ running game that suggested they should rush the ball outside of the tackles more often. On Thursday, though, the Cowboys could actually have some success right up the middle. Redskins nose tackle Barry Cofield is a heck of a pass-rusher, but he doesn’t hold up well against the run. His 2.2 percent tackle rate doesn’t compare to that of Jay Ratliff (5.2 percent) or even Josh Brent (4.3 percent).

Check out the entire game plan at Dallas Morning News.

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Cowboys vs Browns: Defensive Game Plan for Dallas

At NBC, I took a look at how Rob Ryan might want to attack Brandon Weeden and the Browns on Sunday.

Play a low-variance defensive strategy.

Ryan has an interesting decision on his hands this week. On one hand, he’ll be facing a rookie quarterback who has struggled mightily against the blitz, recording only 5.4 YPA and a 56.4 passer rating when facing a rush of at least five defenders. On the other hand, the Cowboys are the clear favorites in this game, and favorites generally benefit from “playing it safe.” How many times do you hear “If Team X can just get a big turnover or quick score, they’ll have a shot?” Well the Cowboys aren’t that team; they want to limit the potential for “easy” Cleveland scores, and blitzing tends to be a high-variance strategy, i.e. high risk and high reward.

Read the entire analysis.

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Cowboys vs Ravens: Game Plan for Dallas

At NBC, I posted a mini-game plan for the Cowboys in Week 6. Here’s a preview. . .

DON’T run the ball inside.

Outside of the fact that all three Cowboys interior linemen have had trouble opening holes for running back DeMarco Murray, the Ravens’ top defender—Haloti Ngata—also lurks inside. Ngata plays all along the defensive front, and he’s the biggest threat to the Cowboys’ offense on Sunday.

One way to potentially negate Ngata in the running game is to call counters away from him. Over the past three seasons, Dallas has averaged 7.2 YPC on over 100 counters. That’s an insane number, so naturally Jason Garrett has dialed up just one counter all season.

Read the entire game plan.

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5 DOs and DON’Ts for Cowboys vs Bucs

At NBC, I took a look at five ways the Cowboys can score against the Bucs:

DO come out throwing.

Look, I know I talk a lot about the value of passing over running, but this week the Cowboys really need to air it out. The Bucs have given up over 400 passing yards per game in the first two weeks of the season; that’s more than every team in the NFL, including the two that have already played three games.

The key, as always, will be giving Tony Romo plenty of time to throw. The Cowboys might be best served keeping tight end Jason Witten in to help block. Last week, Witten went out into a route on 88.6 percent of the pass snaps he played. Historically, Witten has been a receiver on only around three-fourths of pass plays, and believe it or not, the ‘Boys have put up superior numbers when Witten isn’t in a route.

By utilizing two-tight end formations and max protection, the ‘Boys can provide Romo with ample protection to attack the struggling Bucs secondary.

So, I think the offense should pass the ball a lot. Shocker. Read the other four DOs and DON’Ts at NBC.

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How Cowboys Can Beat Giants’ Coverage

Last year, the Giants played the same coverage on 57.1 percent of snaps against the Cowboys in the team’s first game. They’re going to do it again tonight. At NBC, I discussed how the Cowboys can beat “Cover 2 Man-Under.”

Run the ball efficiently.

I’m not a huge proponent of running the ball in abundance, even to start games. The notion that teams “wear down” defenses with the run is silly. In reality, teams win games by finding success through the air, then milking the clock with the run once they already own a lead. Actually, the Cowboys winning percentage when they run the ball on greater than 57 percent of plays through the first three quarters is .636, compared to .419 when they don’t throw it so often.

In tonight’s contest, however, I think getting DeMarco Murray started early is a good way to 1) give the offensive line confidence, and 2) change the Giants’ defensive mindset. If the ‘Boys can continually gash New York for six, seven, and eight-yard gains on the ground, they’ll force the Giants out of Cover 2 Man-Under, opening things up downfield.

Read the other ways here.

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Ultimate Cowboys vs. Giants Preview: DOs and DON’Ts, What to Watch for Dallas

Wow, I can’t believe it’s already here. Tomorrow night’s Cowboys-Giants matchup is about as pivotal as a Week 1 game can get, and it will admittedly be a difficult one for Dallas to win. I’ve published a bunch of content on the game. At DallasCowboys.com, I took a look at how important it is to win the first game of the season:

Teams that make their way into the season’s final game obviously play well late in the year, but they generally start hot, too. Since 1990, the 22 Super Bowl champions have compiled a .773 winning percentage in the first game of the season – higher than the .745 mark they posted in the rest of their regular season games.

While teams that play deep into January generally found success in September, squads that won their season opener have typically performed better than those that lost it. Since 2007, winners in the NFL’s first week have gone on to claim victory in 56.8 percent of their remaining games. With a sample size of 1,200 games, that’s a pretty significant result.

You can read that whole post here.

At NBC, I just published four things to watch in the passing game.

How will Morris Claiborne stack up against Hakeem Nicks?

Claiborne looked great in the preseason, but he wasn’t really tested too often. The Giants’ duo of Hakeem Nicks and VictorCruz will be one of the most formidable wide receiver pairs Claiborne will face all season.

The majority of the time, Claiborne will likely be matched up on Nicks or Rueben Randle because Cruz frequently lines up inthe slot. Actually, 46.8 percent of Cruz’s 2011 snaps came in the slot. That’s good news for the Cowboys, because I think that ifClaiborne struggles in 2012, it will be primarily versus small, quick receivers on whom he can’t get his hands.

Check it out at NBC.

Finally, I just posted five DOs and DON’Ts for Dallas at Dallas Morning News.

DO place DeMarcus Ware on the left side of the defense.

Like Pierre-Paul for the Giants, Ware generally lines up on the right side of the defense; he lined up on the left side only 22.8 percent of the time in 2011. This week, I think the Cowboys should change that around. One reason is that Ware has actually been more efficient rushing from the left side of the defense, generating pressure on 13.4 percent of his pass-rushing snaps as compared to 9.5 percent on the right side over the past three seasons.

Placing Ware on the left side of the defense means Anthony Spencer would generally be on the right side. Believe it or not, Spencer is one of the NFL’s premiere run defenders. He has ranked first, second, and second among all 3-4 outside linebackers over the past three years, racking up more tackles than anyone else over that span.

Plus, unlike a lot of teams, the Giants are more effective running to the left side than the right. Last season, they averaged 4.27 yards-per-carry when running behind their left tackle, compared to just 3.66 yards-per-attempt toward the right edge.

You can read the other DOs and DON’Ts at DMN. More content coming tomorrow.

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Cowboys vs. Rams, Preseason Week 3: Game Plan for Dallas

Over at Dallas Morning News, I just posted my first “DOs and DON’Ts” feature for the Cowboys’ Week 3 preseason tilt with the Rams. Here’s a preview:

DO run a lot of double-tight sets.

Through two preseason games, the Cowboys’ first-team offense has run just six double-tight end sets, representing only 29.0 percent of their plays. It will be interesting to see if the loss of Martellus Bennett equates to fewer two-tight end formations during the regular season.

On Saturday night, however, I’d place both John Phillips and rookie James Hanna on the field at the same time on numerous occasions. I know those guys aren’t Jason Witten, but the Cowboys’ offensive tackles are going to have their hands full with perhaps the league’s most underrated defensive end duo. That tandem is led by Chris Long, who pressured the quarterback more often than any player in the NFL last year.

Plus, double-tight sets with max protection could allow the ‘Boys to take some shots downfield—something they should be doing more often anyway.

Check out all of my DOs and DON’Ts here. I’ll once again be doing these throughout the regular season.

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Dallas Cowboys vs. New York Giants, Week 17: How Dallas Can Win the NFC East

Jonathan Bales

In addition to my article for the Times on how Dallas can beat Cover 2 Man Under this weekend in the Meadowlands, I also did a piece for the Dallas Observer.  Head over there to check out my DOs and DON’Ts for Dallas. Along with more analysis of the coverage which irritated Dallas in Week 14, I add a full game plan for the ‘Boys.  Here are some of the highlights:

  • Don’t blitz often.  Eli Manning’s passer rating against the blitz is very comparable to that when four or less defenders rush him, but the Cowboys do not have the talent in the secondary to deal with a blitz that fails.  The team should be in the business of playing aggressively while still allowing for a chance to win the game late, and yielding quick scores due to unsuccessful blitz attempts won’t help.
  • The ‘Boys should mimic the Giants’ Week 14 game plan by playing a lot of Cover 2 Man Under.  By keeping everything in front of them, the defense can maximize their chances of halting Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz and force either a tight end or a running back to beat them.  Although Brandon Jacobs wore down Dallas in the teams’ last meeting, Ahmad Bradshaw is the more likely of the two to give Dallas fits this week.
  • The Giants pass a lot out of double-tight formations, so the Cowboys cannot sell out to defend the run when they see the look.  The G-Men used a double-tight set 34 times in Week 14, so the ‘Boys better be ready for it.
  • The Cowboys, on the other hand, do tip their play calls via their formation, personnel package, or down-and-distance.  Jason Garrett could benefit from being a bit less predictable this week.  Garrett’s predictability could be utilized to get the ball downfield with play action. But since 2009, Dallas quarterbacks have thrown for 20-plus yards on only 8.7 percent of play-action passes. And in two-plus years of passes, Garrett has called a play-action pass only eight times with 1-4 yards-to-go for a first down — the situations when faking a run would actually work. Instead, he’s called for a play-action look on 11 plays with 20-plus yards-to-go, when showing a running play is either an obvious decoy or hopeless.

For additional analysis, head over to the Observer and leave your comments there.

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Dallas Cowboys vs. Philadelphia Eagles, Week 16: Dallas May Be Able to Clinch NFC East

Jonathan Bales

One of the advantages of playing at 4pm on Christmas Eve is that the Cowboys will know if they will be able to clinch the division with a win.  If the Giants lose to the Jets during their 1pm tilt, Dallas will be the NFC East champs with a win over Philly.  If the Giants win, the game doesn’t become meaningless for Dallas, as they could still theoretically win a Wild Card spot if they do not secure the division.

I have a feeling the G-Men are going down on Saturday, meaning this one has the potential to be an incredibly important game for the ‘Boys.  They do not want to head to New York in Week 17 needing a win to get into the playoffs.  Here is how they can take down Philly. . .

DON’T blitz much from Psycho, Cloud, and other unique passing down alignments.

Last week, we saw the Cowboys line up in Psycho (below) and similar “chaotic” alignments quite often, but they usually backed into safe coverages.  They should do more of that on Christmas Eve.  If they can confuse Michael Vick and the Eagles’ offensive line, it will be much easier to generate pressure with just three or four rushers.  One of the major keys to the game will be if Dallas can get to Vick without blitzing too often.

DO place DeMarcus Ware all over the field, but rush him primarily from the right side of the defense.

Last week, we saw Ware line up at middle linebacker and a few other spots before the snap.  Even if he eventually shifts to his normal seven-technique alignment, it is valuable for Dallas to hide Ware’s rush location for as long as possible.  A lot of Philly’s protection calls will be based on Ware’s position.  If he is constantly shifting, it will be difficult for the Eagles to make proper protection calls.

The majority of the time, though, I would rush Ware from the right side of the defense.  Some might argue he should be placed on the left side to rush against Todd Herremans instead of the vastly superior left tackle Jason Peters (Pro Football Focus‘s top-rated tackle in the league), but I disagree.  Ware is superior to just about any tackle he faces, and his presence on the right side of the defense means the Eagles will send help to the left side of their offense.  This leaves open the ability to. . .

DO blitz from the left side of the defense.

I think the Cowboys should blitz fairly often in this game (just not as much in obvious passing situations), and there are five reasons they should send most of those blitzes from the left side of their defense:

  • With Ware on the right side, Anthony Spencer, Victor Butler, and Orlando Scandrick from the slot should be isolated nearly all of the time.
  • RT Todd Herremans and RG Danny Watkins are inferior to LT Jason Peters and LG Evan Mathis.
  • The right side of the Eagles’ offense is Vick’s blind side.
  • As I discussed in my previous Eagles-Cowboys preview, Vick does not throw any better when rolling left (contrary to popular opinion), so go ahead and force him that way.
  • It will help stop the running game.  The Cowboys were overpowered on the ground in the teams’ first meeting, and that can’t happen again.

The second bullet point is the primary reason to blitz from the left side of the defense.  Together, Peters and Mathis (ranked as the top players at their positions in the NFL by PFF) have yielded 29 total pressures on the season.  Herremans and Watkins have given up 51.  I’ll take my chances with Peters on Ware and hope the left side of the Cowboys’ defense can work together to get to Vick.

DON’T use Jason Witten to help Doug Free.

Don’t get me wrong–Free needs all the help he can get against Trent Cole.  Cole is an absolute monster and has been the Eagles’ best defensive player for awhile.  He will destroy Free if he is singled up against him.  I think the ‘Boys should use primarily Martellus Bennett to aid Free, however, allowing Witten to go out into routes.  Witten has been an Eagles-killer, and that could very well be the case again this week with Philly’s horrendous linebacker corps.  Jamar Chaney, Casey Matthews, Brian Rolle. . .who is going to stop Witten?

DO use Tony Fiammetta on passes.

You can probably expect a lot of double-tight sets so that the ‘Boys can help Free and Witten is still able to catch passes, but there is another option.  I think now wold be a good time to use Fiammetta on passing plays.  Thus far this season, Fiammetta has played 79.7% of his snaps on running plays.  I have noticed on film that defenses are keying Fiammetta and attacking the line of scrimmage when he is in the game.  This is one of the reasons the Cowboys’ rushing efficiency has declined a little in recent weeks (as compared to Demarco Murray’s initial run).

Fiammetta is still a major tool in the Cowboys’ rushing arsenal, but it might behoove the team to use him on some passes this week.  Obviously he doesn’t have much use in clear passing situations, but on 1st and 10, 2nd and medium, 3rd and short, why not use Fiammetta as a decoy?  He can help Free on the left side of the line, giving Romo time to get the ball downfield.  Plus, it should confuse Philly.

DON’T forget about Jason Babin.

The most likely matchup Philly will exploit is Cole vs. Free, but fellow defensive end Jason Babin is no slouch either.  With 18 sacks on the year, Babin has an outside chance to break the all-time single-season sack record.  He’s gotten a little “lucky” since he actually has one less pressure (32) than Cole, but it isn’t like Babin can’t cause major problems for Dallas.  The only way to ensure (or come as close as possible) that neither Cole nor Babin cause problems is to. . .

DO use max protection a lot.

The Eagles will be aggressive this week, and they have the potential to give Dallas’ entire offensive line fits.  Don’t forget defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins has the third-most pressures of any tackle in the league.  He will be a nightmare for center Phil Costa.  To combat that rush, the Cowboys may use more max protection than normal, sending just two or even a single receiver into routes.  I like the idea, as either Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, or Laurent Robinson should be able to find openings if Romo is provided ample protection.  If the ‘Boys can get one of them isolated on Asante Samuel or Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, double-moves will work.  It all comes down to protection.

DO play far more nickel than normal.

Even though LeSean McCoy killed the Cowboys’ on the ground earlier this season, I’d make the Eagles and their pass-happy offense do it again.  Until they find continued success in the running game, I’d be in my nickel defense.  It’s a better one from which to blitz anyway.

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 screen a lot, but bring out the power running game as well.

The screen is always useful against Philly, and you should see a lot of it with Felix Jones.  You might also see the return of some wide receiver screens which have made their way out of the playbook in 2011, especially on third downs.  I normally advocate a finesse running game of counters and tosses to complement the screens, but this week I would stick to a power rushing attack.  The Cowboys’ offensive line should be ale to overpower just about everyone on defense other than Cole.  I’d run away from Cole with powers, and even up the middle at times.  Cullen Jenkins is an excellent pass-rusher, but he can lose gap integrity and give up big plays on the ground.  The lead draw will be a useful way for Dallas to get Jenkins out of position, then hit him with a power running play.

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