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Cowboys vs. Colts Week 13: What We Learned About Dallas

Jonathan Bales

DO stay in a nickel defense (or even dime) at all times.

Result: Pass, kind of

The Cowboys came out with their nickel defensive line (a forty front), using DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer as defensive ends and Jay Ratliff and Igor Olshansky/Jason Hatcher/Stephen Bowen/Josh Brent as defensive tackles.  The plan seemed to confuse Indy a bit early, as they likely anticipated the Cowboys’ usual three-man front.

Sean Lee also got a lot more playing time than usual, which clearly paid off.  If I said there’s zero chance Keith Brooking would have made the interceptions Lee did, it would be too much.

DON’T respect the running game or playaction fakes.

Result: Pass

The Colts showed the Cowboys a playaction fake quite a few times, but there was really no reason for the linebackers to respect the run.  Indy ran the ball 17 times for only 40 yards.  I specifically watched the Dallas linebackers’ pass drops late in the game, and for the most part, they remained steady even while Peyton Manning was faking handoffs.

DO focus attention on Reggie Wayne.

Result: Pass

Alan Ball’s early interception was a clue that Dallas was rolling coverage to Wayne’s side of the field.  The Cowboys were in Cover 1 on the play, meaning Ball didn’t have a specific responsibility–he was free to read Manning’s eyes and roam the field.  While Ball made a hell of a play, I doubt he would have made it without shading Wayne’s side before the snap.

Ball was placed over top of Wayne for much of the game, and Dallas seemed content to let him catch balls underneath (specifically on quick screens and ‘in’ routes), but made sure to limit his big-play potential.

DON’T blitz too often early, but do disguise your intentions.

Result: Pass

Like I said, the Cowboys gave the Colts a look they weren’t expecting with their frequent four-man defensive line.  When they did implement only three down-linemen, one of the outside linebackers moved to a middle linebacker spot and either rushed from there or dropped into coverage.

Manning and the Colts eventually figured out how to move the ball on Dallas, but the early confusion Dallas instilled in Indy was enough for the ‘Boys to come out with the win.

Still, I want to see more unique looks out of the Cowboys defense.  Did you see the Steelers and their “Amoeba” defense on Sunday night?  Why can’t the Cowboys be innovators instead of followers?

DO hit Peyton Manning whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Result: Fail

Dallas got almost zero pressure on Manning for much of the contest.  He rarely went to the ground and generally had plenty of time to throw.  The lack of pressure speaks to the incredible play from the linebackers and secondary.  If you told me the Cowboys would intercept Manning four times (and twice return it for a touchdown) without getting in his face, I would have told you that you were nuts.

DON’T place Keith Brooking on Colts tight end Jacob Tamme.

Result: Mostly Fail

Although Sean Lee got a ton of playing time and Gerald Sensabaugh covered Tamme from time to time, Brooking also covered the tight end quite frequently.  Although strong early, Brooking eventually displayed poor hips and zero ability to break down in space.  It’s time to start Lee.

DO twist the defensive ends to create some sort of pressure.

Result: Fail, sort of

I didn’t see any twists from Dallas, but they did something similar in their three-man fronts.  As I said before, one of the outside linebackers lined up in the middle of the defense and would sort of roam around over the center and guards.  Since the offensive line couldn’t be sure from where the backer would rush (or if he would at all), the alignment sort of had the effect of a twist or stunt in that it forced the offensive linemen to respect the potential rush of more than one defender.

DO realize the Colts love to run behind tight end Brody Eldridge, not Tamme.

Result: Pass

I can’t be sure of this, of course, but the Colts’ 2.35 yards-per-rush showed that Dallas was able to sufficiently stop the running game, allowing the linebackers and safeties to focus solely on defending the pass.

DO run a lot of double-tight sets to aid Doug Free and Marc Colombo (specifically the latter) against Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.

Result: Pass

The Cowboys ran a lot of double-tight sets (25) and packages with two tight ends (50).  However, nine of the double-tight plays were runs from “Double Tight Left/Right I.”

Garrett made up for that by using both Witten and Bennett to chip the defensive ends out of a variety of formations, including the new “Gun 5 Wide Tight.”

DO take some shots deep.

Result: Fail

As I mentioned in my film study observations:

Of Kitna’s 26 pass attempts, only nine traveled 10+ yards, and four went 20 yards or more.  Of the former, Kitna completed only three for 34 total yards.  The Colts played much more of their usual Cover 2 scheme than I expected, particularly early, so Kitna simply took what the defense was giving him.

DON’T punt on 4th down in Indianapolis territory unless it is 4th and 10+.

Result:  Fail

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.

DO duplicate the Chargers’ game plan from last week.

Result: Pass

In my pre-game article, I wrote:

Last week, you saw a lot of different looks from the Chargers defense.  They did the unthinkable:  confuse Peyton Manning.  A staple of their game plan was the zone blitz–something I think Dallas needs to utilize a lot more.  Zone blitzes this week could trick Manning into thinking more defenders are rushing than is actually the case, forcing him to mistakenly “throw hot” into the waiting arms of a Cowboy.

On offense, San Diego ran the ball a lot more than usual.  It’s no secret that Indy loves to draft “undersized” defensive players who can defend the pass.  This leaves them susceptible to getting overpowered in the run game.  If Dallas can run the ball effectively early (and there’s no reason they shouldn’t be able to), it will set up big play opportunities later in the contest.

The ‘Boys didn’t zone blitz much (which needs to change), but they did throw some different looks at Manning.  They also ran the ball much more often than usual, and it clearly paid off.

DO be physical early and often–this team doesn’t respond well to getting punched in the mouth.

Result: Pass

The Cowboys blew the Colts off of the ball early, running the rock on 15 of the first 20 plays.  They gained 86 yards on those plays (5.73 yards-per-carry).

DON’T run a strong side dive from “Double Tight Strong,” unless it is in short-yardage situations.

Result: Fail

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.

DON’T use Shotgun much unless in hurry-up mode.

Result: Pass

Dallas lined up in Shotgun on only 19 plays (25.7 percent of all snaps).  Plus, the ‘Boys were lined up in “Gun 5 Wide Tight” on 11 of those plays, meaning the tight ends were still in position to chip the Colts’ defensive ends even in most of the Shotgun snaps.

DO give Tashard Choice all short-yardage and 3rd down snaps, at least.

Result: Pass

Choice received all but one 3rd down snap and all but one short-yardage snap (three yards-to-go or less), and they were the same play.  Altogether, Choice was on the field for 29 snaps, and he certainly capitalized on his first significant activity of the season.

Overall Results

I’ll give the Cowboys 10 passes and 6 fails.  They did a really nice job of fighting back, displaying the heart they didn’t always show during the Phillips era.  That’s particularly impressive considering the team knows they’re out of the playoff hunt.  There is always something for which to play, however, and as long as these players remember that and continue to fight, they’ll be fine moving forward into 2011.

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Dallas Cowboys vs. Indianapolis Colts Week 13 Film Study Observations

Jonathan Bales

This week’s film was a joy to review because (aside from the obvious) the Cowboys threw some new looks at the Colts, both offensively and defensively.  Here are some of the most interesting of my observations. . .

  • The Cowboys employed a new formation I will call “Gun 5 Wide Tight.”  It was similar to the normal 3×2 alignment of a five-wide look, but both Jason Witten and Martellus Bennett lined up next to the offensive tackles (in a receiver’s stance).  Before heading out into their routes, both tight ends chipped the Colts’ defensive ends.
  • I drew a diagram of a particular route combination Dallas ran a few times from the formation.  This was the play the Cowboys ran for a 22-yard gain to Roy Williams (the slant route) on 2nd and 19.  As I said, Witten and Bennett both chipped before heading out into the flat.  Dez Bryant ran a backside comeback, while Miles Austin ran an out route from the slot.

  • In my initial post-game notes, I claimed Jason Garrett should have provided more help to Doug Free in blocking Doug Freeney.  After observing the tape, Free actually got a lot more aid than I thought.  The Cowboys ran their new “Gun 5 Wide Tight” formation 11 times–nearly 15 percent of all offensive snaps.  They gained 131 yards on those 11 plays (11.9 yards-per-play), and only one play didn’t gain yardage (the lone incompletion).
  • Garrett also used a new “Tight Spread” formation (below) to help Doug Free and Marc Colombo.  The Cowboys gained 26 total yards on the four plays they ran from the look (6.5 yards-per-play).  Overall, I think Garrett would be wise to implement more new formations into the offense as he has done intermittently thus far in 2010.

  • From my count, the Cowboys wasted 26 seconds on their final drive before halftime.  First, they let 10 seconds run off the clock before using their second timeout.  Later, they decided to spike the ball (inside of 10 seconds) instead of using their final timeout.  It resulted in an illegal shift penalty (which then forced the Cowboys to use that last timeout).  It took 16 seconds to get the offense lined up and (illegally) spike the football.
  • The Cowboys ran 74 offensive plays, tying a season-high.
  • Dallas ran a remarkable 35 plays in Indianapolis territory (46.7 percent of all snaps).
  • Unfortunately, the Cowboys ran the strong side dive from “Double Tight Strong” (read the study here) way, way too often (and one time is already too much).  This week, they ran the majority of the dives from the “I” variation of the formation (which simply places the fullback directly behind the quarterback).
  • Most concerning is that Garrett called the play in a lot of non-short-yardage situations, including five times on 1st and 10 and once on 2nd and 9.  Overall, the Cowboys lined up in “Double Tight Left/Right I” 10 times, running a strong side dive on nine of those plays.  They gained 22 total yards on those runs (2.44 yards-per-attempt), which is simply unacceptable.  Since only three of those runs were in short-yardage situations, there’s no excuse for that kind of predictability.  The six strong side dives in “regular” game situations resulted in only 17 yards–2.83 yards-per-rush.
  • The Cowboys motioned much less than usual–only 18 times.  17 of those plays were runs, and Dallas gained just 38 total yards on those runs.  The one pass went for six yards.  They may have limited their motions, particularly on passes, because they figured they could accurately assess Indy’s intentions without the aid of pre-snap movement.  That seemed to be the case to me, at least.
  • Jon Kitna checked out of four plays–all runs that went for 52 total yards.  I’ve been extremely impressed with Kitna’s ability to recognize defenses and put the offense in high percentage scenarios.
  • Many times this season the Cowboys’ “offensive balance” has resulted from late runs after a lead was already secured.  That wasn’t the case on Sunday, as 15 of the team’s first 20 offensive plays, and 14 of the 18 plays on the final regulation drive, were runs.
  • Six of those runs were draws, and they went for 39 total yards.
  • Kitna was four-for-five on playaction passes for 41 total yards.  He also threw three screen passes for 18 yards.
  • Of Kitna’s 26 pass attempts, only nine traveled 10+ yards, and four went 20 yards or more.  Of the former, Kitna completed only three for 34 total yards.  The Colts played much more of their usual Cover 2 scheme than I expected, particularly early, so Kitna simply took what the defense was giving him.
  • Even with the majority of his throws being short, I’d still characterize Kitna’s day as efficient.  According to my count, he threw only four off-target passes all day–and he barely missed on those.
  • Of the 29 times Dallas dropped backed to pass, Witten was in a route on 23 of them (79.3 percent).  That rate is higher than normal, which means Garrett didn’t regularly double-team either Freeney or Robert Mathis.  Instead, Witten and Bennett generally chipped the defensive ends and headed out into their routes.
  • The Colts didn’t blitz until the Cowboys’ 38th offensive play, but they ended up bring extra pressure eight more times throughout the game.  Dallas gained only 29 total yards on the Colts’ nine total blitzes.  I’m not sure why teams haven’t begun to place more pressure on Kitna.

I am going to take some time to break down the Cowboys’ defense a bit more this week, and I will report back to you tomorrow with my notes and answers to my pre-game DOs and DON’Ts list.

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Cowboys vs. Indianapolis Colts Week 13 Initial Post-Game Observations

Jonathan Bales

What a nerve-racking and heart-pounding game for Dallas this week in Indianpolis.  The ‘Boys were able to overcome a multitude of mistakes to take down Peyton Manning and the Colts, due in large part to their four interceptions of the All-World quarterback.  I will break down the game film tomorrow, but take a look at my initial thoughts below. . .

  • Sean Lee was a beast today.  He picked off Manning twice and made a lot of other plays, specifically in the passing game.  He can thank Mike Jenkins for his second pick, but the first was a tremendous play by the rookie in what appeared to be Cover 2.  It’s clear to me that Lee now deserves the opportunity to start over Keith Brooking.

  • Brooking was awful once again today.  There are times when he can stick with guys in coverage, but the consistency just isn’t there.  Too often he’s getting turned around and beaten in space.
  • Dez Bryant has a fractured ankle, and his season is over.  It’s a big blow to this offense, but at least it didn’t happen in a season during which the team held playoff hopes.
  • Tashard Choice’s early score was sick.  The burst he showed is incomparable to that of Marion Barber, and comparing the two is disrespectful to Choice.  I truly believe Barber would have been tackled for a loss on that play because, unlike Choice, he dances in the backfield way, way too much.  By the way, the move Choice made at the five-yard line to juke two defenders was nasty.
  • You may have noticed the Cowboys used a four-man line for the majority of the game.  It was their nickel defensive line–DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer/Victor Butler at defensive ends, and a combination of the regular defensive ends and nose tackles at defensive tackle.  Jay Ratliff was on the field for most of the game, but Igor Olshansky, Josh Brent, Jason Hatcher, and Stephen Bowen all rotated at the other defensive tackle spot.
  • When the ‘Boys weren’t in a forty-front (four-man line), they didn’t line up in their traditional defense.  Instead of placing two outside linebackers on the edges of the defensive line, the Cowboys used one of the outside linebackers in a more traditional middle linebacker spot.  That player (usually Butler or Spencer) would either rush up the middle or drop into coverage.
  • That look gave Indy some trouble early, but I think Manning and the Colts got used to it by the end of the game.  Dallas got very little pass rush late in the contest, and I thought they should have switched up their scheme.  It was a nice job to give Manning a look he wasn’t expecting, but you have to constantly adjust, because you know he will be doing the same.
  • Manning took the Colts into a true no-huddle hurry-up offense for almost the entire game (as opposed to their usual “muddle huddle”) in an effort to keep Dallas from switching personnel.  I think Manning liked the idea of Brooking on the field against any of the Colts’ skill position players.
  • On Manning’s first interception, the Cowboys were in Cover 1.  That’s man coverage with a free safety deep.  It was obvious that Alan Ball was instructed to shade Reggie Wayne’s side heavily, and he did a fair job of doing that.  On that pick, Manning forced the ball to Wayne and Ball did a nice job of reading the quarterback and making a play.
  • On the Cowboys’ second drive, Jon Kitna checked into a draw play on 3rd and 5 in Colts territory.  The Cowboys converted and I loved the decision by the veteran quarterback.
  • On that same drive, Jason Garrett bypassed a 4th and 1 attempt at the Colts’ 12-yard line for a field goal.  Later in the game, the Cowboys punted on 4th and less than a yard at midfield.  They should have gone for it on both occasions, and the statistics bear that out.  Factor in their record, and the decision to be more aggressive becomes a no-brainer to me.
  • I think Orlando Scandrick’s pick-six was the result of film study.  The Colts love to run combination routes with the inside receiver running an ‘out’ or ‘corner’ route.  Scandrick sat on the route and then used his athleticism and instincts to secure the interception and take it for six.
  • I have major issues with Garrett’s play-calling and clock management at the end of the half and game.  The Cowboys showed very little urgency before haltime this week and wasted precious seconds before using their timeouts.  The coach should know whether he will call a timeout or not before a play, not after it while the clock is running.
  • I know David Buehler made the game-winning field goal in overtime, but am I the only person that wasn’t comfortable with a 37-yard attempt?  Once Dallas was in field goal range, they ran the predictable strong side dive from “Double Tight Strong,” telling me they were content with the field goal try.  A lot of teams get ultra-conservative in these situations, but why?  You can be safe and still try to get the ball into the end zone.  When you combine Buehler’s inconsistency with the limited upside of the plays Garrett was calling, I thought settling for a field goal try in overtime was a lower percentage play than being slightly more aggressive and trying to score a touchdown.
  • Speaking of “Double Tight Strong,” the Cowboys ran a strong side dive from the formation at least six times in the 4th quarter and overtime.  Most of them came down by the goal line on their final regulation touchdown drive.  Had the offense not been bailed out by the penalty called on Indy during their field goal try, the predictability of the plays would have cost the ‘Boys the game.
  • I don’t know why teams don’t use a quarterback sneak more when they have less than a yard-to-go for a first down or touchdown.  Dallas had a 2nd and Goal from the half-yard line late in the game and threw a slant to Miles Austin.  Why not sneak the ball, then sneak the ball, then sneak the ball again?  Are you telling me you can’t gain half a yard in three tries?
  • Another major issue I have with the Cowboys’ short-yardage and goal line play-calling is that it nearly always comes out of tight formations.  Sure, you have more blockers, but you also force the offense to block more defenders.  Ever notice how much more successful the Cowboys appear to be when running the ball out of spread formations?  A study on this subject will definitely come this week.
  • I loved the call to bring out the punt unit on a 4th and short, but then line up in “Wildcat.”  It forced the Colts to burn a timeout, although I wish they hadn’t, as Dallas ended up making a mistake by punting.
  • I think I figured out why Marc Colombo is struggling.  He saves his energy during the play so that after it he can rush to the quarterback and help him up from being sacked by the guy Colombo was supposed to block.  I’m sure Kitna appreciates Colombo’s help, but I think he’d appreciate it even more if Marc didn’t get him killed five seconds prior.
  • The Cowboys left Doug Free on an island for most of the game, and he struggled to consistently block Dwight Freeney.  It’s such a difficult task to block that guy one-on-one, and Dallas always has to make sure they aid Colombo first.  There are only so many guys that can stay in to block, but I thought Garrett should have used Martellus Bennett and Jason Witten to help Free a bit more often.
  • The blocked punt appeared to be the fault of Jesse Holley.  He just whiffed on his block.
  • Most of the “offensive balance” the Cowboys have displayed in their wins has been the result of late runs that came after Dallas had already secured a lead.  That wasn’t the case today.  The ‘Boys pounded it all day long, including 14 runs on their 18-play touchdown drive near the end of regulation.  Good idea to take advantage of a very undersized defense.

More observations to come tomorrow after I break down the film. . .

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Cowboys vs. Indianapolis Colts Week 13 Manifesto: DOs and DON’Ts for Dallas

Jonathan Bales

This week’s game against the Indianapolis Colts has a different feel to it because, for the first time all season, the Cowboys are officially out of the playoff hunt.  While hopes of a trip to the postseason were eliminated among most fans weeks ago, there was still a glimmer of hope (in me at least) that something magical could happen.

At eight losses, the Cowboys are now all but mathematically eliminated from the playoffs.  In my opinion, this means they should now fully focus on producing the best team in 2011.  That means putting Tony Romo on IR.  It also means providing youngsters like Sean Lee with more playing time.  We’ll see which approach Jason Garrett decides to take–doing everything possible to win games now, or making the correct long-term organizational decisions.

Still, we all want to see our Cowboys win.  Even if they “lose” a top 10 pick, I would never root for Dallas to lose a game.  Here is how they can beat Indy this week. . .

DO stay in a nickel defense (or even dime) at all times.

A lot of teams have found success (relatively speaking) against Peyton Manning and the Colts by using a nickel defense as their base personnel package (except in some short-yardage and goal line situations).  Indy runs a three-receiver set as their base offense (although they have been utilizing two tight ends more of late).  Who would you rather have covering a slot receiver: Orlando Scandrick or Keith Brooking?

I propose that the Cowboys should actually use their dime package in “regular” game situations, and their nickel package when the Colts bring in two tight ends.  You want to take the ball out of Manning’s hands as often as possible.  The ‘Boys should have “one too many” defensive backs on the field at all times, daring Indy to run the ball.  Don’t let Manning beat you.  If Donald Brown does it, then so be it.

DON’T respect the running game or playaction fakes.

The primary reason Dallas should stay in nickel and dime packages is the lackluster Colts running game.  The Colts are 29th in the NFL in rushing with just 82.6 yards-per-game.  For a team that runs the ball so little, you’d think their rushing efficiency would be at least average, but Indy also ranks 29th in the league in yards-per-carry with just 3.6.

Thus, there’s really no reason to respect their running game.  That means don’t worry about “undersized” personnel and definitely don’t bite up on playaction fakes.  Manning has shown that you don’t need to be a rushing juggernaut to still find success on playaction passes.  Much of that success stems from Manning’s incredible fakes and ability to suck up the defense.  There’s no reason to bite on these fakes, however, as it is unlikely Indy will be able to 1) muster much of a running game, or 2) stick with the running game even if it does work.

DO focus attention on Reggie Wayne.

Wayne is one of the league’s most talented receivers and possesses such great chemistry with Manning.  He’s coming off one of the worst performances of his career, as he dropped a handful of passes on Sunday night.  That won’t happen again, and Dallas needs to be prepared for Wayne’s “A game.”

I expect the Cowboys to play a lot of zone coverage on Sunday, so the safeties need to be sure to keep Wayne in front of them.  When the ‘Boys do decide to blitz and play man coverage, free safety Alan Ball must shade Wayne’s side heavily.  Force Manning to look elsewhere on the field.  Let Jacob Tamme or Pierre Garcon beat you before Wayne.

DON’T blitz too often early, but do disguise your intentions.

Call me crazy, but I think the Cowboys can get pressure on Manning without blitzing. DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer (when he’s at his best) are capable of beating Colts offensive tackles Charlie Johnson and Ryan Diem.

The key will be forcing Manning to hold onto the ball just a tad longer than usual, as he has one of the quickest triggers in the league.  With seven men in coverage (including five and sometimes six defensive backs), that task is made easier.

Of course, you can’t play the same defense and expect Manning to not figure it out.  The ‘Boys will have to mix in the occasional blitz to throw him off.  More importantly, they’ll need to disguise their defense whether they are blitzing or not.  Don’t let Manning know you’re in Cover 2, or he’ll beat you.  Don’t let him know you’re in man coverage, or he’ll beat you.  Don’t let him know your 2nd grade teacher, favorite food, or social security number, or he’ll beat you.  Got it?

Fake blitzes, line up “normally” when you do blitz, and experiment with “odd” looks.  What is there to lose?

DO hit Peyton Manning whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Despite some reports to the contrary, Peyton Manning isn’t God.  Like the rest of the quarterbacks in the league, he gets rattled after being hit.  His decision-making is so quick that sacks are rare, so the best way to judge the Cowboys’ pass-rushing performance this week is by how often they get in Manning’s face, knock him down, and force errant throws.  As San Diego showed on Sunday, it can be done.

DON’T place Keith Brooking on Colts tight end Jacob Tamme.

Tamme isn’t insanely athletic, but neither is Brooking.  Brooking played very well in coverage last week, but I don’t think he has the ability to do that consistently.  The NFL is all about percentages, and placing Brooking on Tamme (who is basically Manning’s second option of late) is not a high-percentage play for Dallas.

DO twist the defensive ends to create some sort of pressure.

All four of the primary defensive ends (Olshansky, Spears, Bowen, and Hatcher) have been a disappointment this season.  They’ve proven again and again that they’re all very limited in what they can do, and not a single one can seem to generate pressure on his own.  Hatcher has been decent of late, but that play should be expected all the time.

I know Wade Phillips (and now Paul Pasqualoni) don’t like to twist much, but if there was ever a week to do it, this is it.  It’s harder to stop the run if you twist, but as I wrote above, there’s no reason to respect the Colts’ running attack.  Perhaps twisting Hatcher and Ratliff, for example, could benefit each player more than it hurts.

DO realize the Colts love to run behind tight end Brody Eldridge, not Tamme.

Mike Mayock declared Eldridge the best-blocking tight end in this past year’s draft, and he’s certainly lived up to the billing.  The Colts have full confidence when running behind the rookie.  It isn’t a guarantee, of course, but the ‘Boys need to be aware that wherever Eldridge is lined up, a run could soon follow.

You might be asking why I would care about this after just detailing how Dallas should disregard the Colts’ running game.  The tight end alignment could be useful for Dallas’ pass defense, though, as a play-fake is more likely to come on Tamme’s side of the field.  When Tamme and Eldridge are on the field together, it’s far more likely they’ll run behind the rookie.

DO run a lot of double-tight sets to aid Doug Free and Marc Colombo (specifically the latter) against Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.

In the Saints game, there were 66 offensive plays for Dallas with a tight end lined up next to one of the offensive tackles.  44 of them (66.7 percent) were “right-handed,” i.e. the tight end(s) was next to Colombo.  I realize Dallas is a right-handed team, but it’s clear an effort is being made to “hide” Colombo.

Garrett should continue to do this.  Colombo’s job was made far easier last week and Dallas benefited from it.  This week, the ‘Boys certainly can’t expect Free to block Freeney one-on-one all game.  They’ll need to run some double-tight sets and either leave both Witten and Bennett in to block, or use the tight ends to chip Indy’s defensive ends (followed by a chip from the running backs as well).

DO take some shots deep.

This isn’t the same old Colts defense.  They still play some Cover 2, but not nearly as much as in prior seasons.  They are far more aggressive and make more plays, but they also yield more big plays as well.

Awhile ago, I also noted that the teams who throw deep most often generally find more success in the passing game.  Sunday’s game sure would be made a lot easier if Dallas can secure a quick score or two.  It starts with rushing efficiency.  If the Cowboys can run the ball effectively early, they can draw the Colts defense up, using two tight-end sets to provide Kitna with the proper protection to throw deep, particularly following playaction looks.

DON’T punt on 4th down in Indianapolis territory unless it is 4th and 10+.

On Thanksgiving, the Cowboys punted on a 4th and 4 at the Saints’ 35-yard line.  They ultimately gained only 16 yards of field position.

Garrett is usually aggressive in his decisions, but that was a horrible one.  The Cowboys need to attack teams and go out trying to win football games, instead of simply attempting to not lose them.

Zone blitzes, such as the one shown above, lower the risk of giving up a big play and can confuse a quarterback, often taking away his ability to "throw hot" against the blitz.

DO duplicate the Chargers’ game plan from last week.

Last week, you saw a lot of different looks from the Chargers defense.  They did the unthinkable:  confuse Peyton Manning.  A staple of their game plan was the zone blitz–something I think Dallas needs to utilize a lot more.  Zone blitzes this week could trick Manning into thinking more defenders are rushing than is actually the case, forcing him to mistakenly “throw hot” into the waiting arms of a Cowboy.

On offense, San Diego ran the ball a lot more than usual.  It’s no secret that Indy loves to draft “undersized” defensive players who can defend the pass.  This leaves them susceptible to getting overpowered in the run game.  If Dallas can run the ball effectively early (and there’s no reason they shouldn’t be able to), it will set up big play opportunities later in the contest.

DO be physical early and often–this team doesn’t respond well to getting punched in the mouth.

Manning isn’t the only Colts player who doesn’t respond well to getting hit.  The whole squad is made up of finesse players who use their athleticism and intelligence to beat bigger, dumber players.  Well, if the Cowboys can be big and smart, they’ll have an advantage.  They already have the big thing down. . .so when does the intelligent play come in?

DON’T run a strong side dive from “Double Tight Strong,” unless it is in short-yardage situations.

Last week, for whatever reason, we saw the return of the strong side dive from “Double Tight Strong.” The Cowboys lined up in the formation 12 times, and ran the strong side dive nine times.  It’s one thing to do it in obvious running situations (and I still don’t support it then), but it’s a whole different story to run it in “regular” game situations, such as 2nd and 10 at midfield.

By the way, those nine strong side dives gained 12 total yards.

DON’T use Shotgun much unless in hurry-up mode.

I’ve showed before why the Cowboys are a superior team with Kitna under center (as opposed to in Shotgun).  Through Week 10, the quarterback was averaging nearly 1.5 yards more per pass when under center.

Garrett has done a nice job of keeping Kitna out of Shotgun, but last week he got away from it a bit due to game situations.  The ‘Boys need to make sure they stay in situations in which Kitna can remain under center.

Plus, we won’t have to cross our fingers before every Gurode Shotgun snap.

DO give Tashard Choice all short-yardage and 3rd down snaps, at least.

I want to see Choice get a lot of touches this week, but he needs to be on the field for 3rd downs and short-yardage plays, at least.  Choice is a smaller back than Felix Jones, but his balance and vision are uncanny.  On his touchdown run last week, Choice got hit fairly solidly before reaching the goal line, regained his balance, and dove in for the score.  It’s so hard to say what another running back may have done, but I really don’t think Marion Barber would have broken that tackle.

Of course, he may have fallen down before he even reached the defender.

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