The Cowboys’ win over the Indianapolis Colts was a tremendous boost to the team’s confidence, but this week’s matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles contains almost no similarities to that game. While the Colts can’t run the ball to save their lives, the Eagles are one of the league’s top rushing squads, thanks in large part to Michael Vick. While the Colts rarely blitzed Dallas, you can bet Philly will be pinning their ears back to reach Jon Kitna.
It will take another magnificent effort from the ‘Boys to take down a hungry Eagles team. Here’s how they can do it. . .
No. 1-7: How to Stop Michael Vick
DON’T let Vick roll out to his left.
I saw a stat a week or two ago noting that Vick has a passer rating of over 122 when he rolls left, but under 60 when he rolls to his right. That’s quite a difference, so Dallas needs to do everything possible to make sure they contain Vick when he attempts to move to his left.
When he does roll right, the southpaw loves to run the football. While you never want to force the league’s most talented athlete to run the ball, it’s a better option than having him roll left with a run/pass option. Dallas will need to be extra cautious about Vick’s legs if they force him right (and his arm if he does escape left).
DO blitz from the right side of the defense.
One way to make sure Vick doesn’t roll left is to blitz him on that side. If he senses pressure in front of him, he’ll be more likely to spin out the backside–to his right. Of course, the Cowboys can’t blitz too much, as Vick will kill you–either through the air or on the ground–if you send extra rushers and then whiff.
DO place DeMarcus Ware on the left side of the defense.
If you don’t want Vick to roll left, why place the team’s best player on the opposite side of the field? Here are five reasons it will work:
- Anthony Spencer isn’t creating much pressure lately anyway, so why not ask him to employ a “cautious rush” in which he makes certain that Vick doesn’t get outside of him?
- Ware will be free to utilize his entire repertoire of moves instead of trying to contain Vick.
- Ware will be matched up on right tackle Winston Justice–a huge mismatch.
- The Cowboys will be blitzing from the right side of their defense to force Vick right–into the waiting arms of Ware.
- Ware will be coming from Vick’s blind side.
DON’T place a spy on Vick.
To me, spying Vick is wasting a defender. If that’s the only method you employ to corral Vick, 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.
DON’T play nearly as much man coverage as usual.
Imagine this scenario: the Eagles run their usual deep routes–DeSean Jackson on a 20-yard dig, Jeremy Maclin on a skinny post, and Brent Celek up the seam. The Cowboys play Cover 1–man coverage with a single-high safety. Dallas fails to reach Vick with the rush and he steps up into a sea of green, all defenders 20+ yards downfield. Uh oh.
You can’t consistently play man coverage and expect Vick to never successfully run, so Dallas needs to implement a lot of zone coverages–something they’ve been doing more anyway since Paul Pasqualoni took over as defensive coordinator.
DO zone blitz often.
“But Jonathan, you said the Cowboys should blitz from the right side of their defense. Won’t that put them in a lot of man coverage?”
Not if they zone blitz. I’ve previously talked about why the Cowboys should zone blitz more in general, but this is a game in which I think you’ll actually see them do it fairly often. The zone blitz can be confusing to the offensive line and quarterback because, often times, there aren’t any “extra” rushers coming. The defense simply gives the illusion of a blitz, meaning zone blitzes have great upside without much risk. At worst, they’ll be a tremendous way to force Vick to roll to his right without giving him an entire field to juke defenders.
DO play nickel more than usual.
While the Eagles are one of the league’s top rushing teams, they don’t have a power running game. Instead, most of their yards come from a combination of Vick’s scrambles and the “fancy” runs–draws, counters, and so on–from LeSean McCoy. And make no mistake about it. . .a gigantic portion of the running back’s yardage is a direct result of the “Vick effect.” Backside defenders can’t crash down on handoffs because they have to honor Vick’s arm/legs in the event of a play-fake.
Thus, I don’t think implementing nickel personnel will hurt Dallas in their effort to contain the Eagles’ running game. In fact, more speed on the field can only help against Philly’s finesse players. Who would you rather have chasing down Vick–Keith Brooking or Orlando Scandrick? Mark my words: Brooking will struggle mightily in this game if he’s given too much playing time.
No. 8-14: How to Beat the Rest
DO place Terence Newman on DeSean Jackson and jam him early.
Newman has struggled lately, but he’s traditionally played well against Jackson and other small receivers like him. Last year, he caught only seven passes for 79 yards in the three games he played against the Cowboys.
Jackson will surely want to redeem himself this Sunday, so Newman should get in Jackson’s face early. If Jackson struggles to start the game, it will affect his effort later in the contest.
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 the Eagles with downfield throws–especially double-moves on Asante Samuel (if he plays).
I found more evidence this week that Dallas should throw the ball downfield more often. It hurts that Dez Bryant is gone for the season, but Miles Austin and Roy Williams (yes, Roy Williams–just look here) are big play threats themselves. Quick scores can change games in a hurry.
On top of that, the Eagles’ cornerbacks are susceptible to double-moves, particularly Samuel. If he is active, the Cowboys can surely beat him deep on a hitch-and-go or sluggo route. 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.
DO throw a lot of screens.
When not taking shots down the field, the Cowboys need to throw a lot of screens. Last season, Garrett called screens at the perfect times to take advantage of the Eagles’ sometimes overaggressive defense. Timing is everything, and the Cowboys will gain a big advantage of Garrett can continue to dial up screen passes when Philly decides to blitz (particularly on 3rd down).
So, almost paradoxically, I think the Cowboys can succeed by throwing the ball deep on 1st down or 2nd and short, but throwing short on 3rd and medium to long.
DON’T keep punting/kicking field goals on 4th down.
Last week, the Cowboys made mistakes by punting on 4th and 1 at midfield and kicking a field goal on 4th and 1 at the Colts’ 12-yard line. They also decided to kick a field goal on 4th and goal inside the Colts’ two-yard line before the end of regulation, but were bailed out by an Indianapolis penalty.
If Garrett wants to put his team in high-percentage situations, he needs to stop giving the ball away on 4th and short-to-medium. I know it seems risky to go for it on, say, 4th and 7 at the opponent’s 40-yard line, but the real risky play is punting away the football.
DON’T run a strong side dive from “Double Tight Strong.”
From my Cowboys-Colts post-game article:
Nine strong side dives from the 10 times they lined up in the formation? Only three of those in short-yardage situations? Five strong side dives from “Double Tight Left/Right I” on 1st and 10? A 2.44 yards-per-attempt average on the nine runs? Gigantic fail.
I’m not sure why this play has returned, but it needs to leave ASAP.
DO increase Tashard Choice’s workload just a bit.
Choice received 29 offensive snaps on Sunday and capitalized big-time on his first significant playing time this season. The Cowboys need to continue to feed Choice because:
- Felix Jones can’t consistently handle nearly 50 snaps a game.
- Marion Barber should be gone in 2011.
- Choice is superior to Jones in pass protection, which will be vital this week.
DO double-team Eagles defensive end Trent Cole with tight ends and running backs.
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. I place him on par with guys like Dwight Freeney and even Ware (but no, I wouldn’t prefer Cole to Ware).
If the Cowboys leave Doug Free on an island against Cole, he will get abused. Free has been the Cowboys’ best offensive lineman all season, but I don’t think he’s up for that sort of challenge just yet. Look for the Cowboys to run the same “Gun 5 Wide Tight” formation they created for last week’s game in Indy to help Free and the always helpless Marc Colombo.