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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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+.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.