Thanksgiving games always have a different feel to them. In all honesty, they’re a big advantage for the Cowboys. Not only do they get an extra day of preparation compared to their opponent (due to travel), but they also get 10 days of preparation for the next game.
I think the Cowboys will play well tomorrow, but here are some DOs and DON’Ts which should allow a win to come easier. . .
DO focus on stopping Reggie Bush–with more than one defender.
Bush will be back for New Orleans, and despite his layoff, he should be the focus of the Cowboys’ defense. It’s sort of a “Catch 22” in that placing too much of an emphasis on Bush is what gets defenses in trouble, but not monitoring the former USC star is even more deadly.
There isn’t a single player on the Cowboys who can defend Bush one-on-one, and that includes the cornerbacks. Instead, the ‘Boys need to use a variety of defenders to stop him. One way to make that task easier is. . .
DON’T play as much man coverage.
Playing man coverage will make the Saints’ job easy. They are extremely effective at using motions and shifts to create favorable matchups. It will be much easier for Sean Payton to do that if the Cowboys are in man coverage. There’s no easier way for New Orleans to isolate Bush than to recognize man coverage and run defenders off of him.
Another monumental reason the Cowboys need to play a lot more zone coverage than normal is the Saints’ spread offense. Drew Brees throws short passes (less than 10 yards) more than any quarterback in the NFL. He’s deadly accurate and will simply pick defenses apart with underneath throws. There’s no way Dallas can expect to play man coverage the majority of the time and still defend the short crossing routes, rub routes, and so on that the Saints will utilize. They need to be in a zone, preferably. . .
DO play a lot of Cover 2.
The Cowboys aren’t big on Cover 2, but I think this is the week to run it. The coverage allows for maximum defenders underneath, but it’s still a safe coverage deep. There’s no sense in stacking all your defenders near the line-of-scrimmage if you just let Devery Henderson or Lance Moore beat you deep.
The weaknesses of Cover 2 are the deep middle of the field and the area by the sideline between the cornerback and safety. The best way to cover up these holes is to not let the offense know your coverage before the snap. The Cowboys have been doing a better job of this lately, but Brees is the master of pre-snap reads. The Cowboys really need to disguise their coverages if they expect to win.
DON’T think the Saints won’t bring pressure.
For whatever reason, the Giants and Lions haven’t brought much pressure on Jon Kitna. They’ve sent only five and 12 blitzes, respectfully, over the past two weeks.
That trend won’t continue on Thanksgiving. The Saints’ primary objective on defense is to force turnovers, and they do that by getting after the quarterback. The Cowboys must be prepared for a variety of innovative blitz packages, as Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams loves to send the “unexpected.”
DO continue to be exotic with blitz packages.
The Cowboys should try to beat New Orleans at their own game this week. As I said above, there’s no way Dallas will win if they let Brees decipher their coverages/blitzes before the snap. They need to hide their intentions, lining up in base formations and then blitzing from weird angles, or showing blitz and then backing out.
DON’T run any “predictable” plays.
From last week’s Cowboys-Lions Manifesto:
Last week, the Cowboys ran the play below three times. The formation (“Double Tight Left Ace”) was a completely new one. If they line up in it again versus the Lions, they better have a new play-call.
The Cowboys did a similar thing in the Vikings game with the play below. This time, the formation is “Double Tight Left Twins Right Ace.” The Cowboys have since added new plays to the formation’s repertoire, but the one pictured below is still a staple.
And of course we can’t forget about “Double Tight Strong.” Last season, the Cowboys ran a strong side dive from the formation nearly three-fourths of the 100+ times they lined up in it (including 85.7 percent of the time when motioning into it). The play basically disappeared early in the season, but it has reemerged since Kitna has taken over (perhaps in an attempt to simplify the playbook).
Well, the Cowboys ended up running all three plays against Detroit. The last was simply used in garbage time (and the Cowboys do have other plays from the formation), but the other two were used in meaningful situations. I was able to predict the play before the snap, and if I can do that, the other team should be able to do the same.
DO attack Tracy Porter, especially with double-moves.
Porter made a name for himself in the playoffs last season, but he’s still far from an elite cornerback. Gregg Williams’ scheme allows him to gamble a lot. Kitna will have to be prepared for that, but it also means Jason Garrett can call a few double-moves on him to try to secure a quick score. Plus, the Saints’ other starting cornerback (Jabari Greer) is one of the most underrated players in the entire NFL.
DO run a lot of “right-handed” formations.
This is simple. The Cowboys need to protect Kitna and Marc Colombo can’t do it. He needs help from a tight end. Plus, Dallas usually finds success when running to the weak side of the formation, which would be away from Colombo if the tight end is next to him.
DON’T leave Orlando Scandrick in the slot if Marques Colston bumps inside.
Scandrick has put together two magnificent games in a row, but he’s been the recipient of favorable matchups. Scandrick vs. Colston is not a favorable matchup for Dallas. Colston won’t even need to get open against Scandrick, as he can simply post up and use his far superior size to fend off the cornerback and make the catch. The Cowboys may want to look at moving Terence Newman inside when Colston does the same.
DO continue to throw the ball out of two and three-tight end sets.
The Cowboys implemented three or more receivers on only 16 offensive plays last week (after doing so on just 14 plays the prior week–a season-low). In the past, I’ve explained why passing out of running formations is successful. Combine that with Jason Witten and Martellus Bennett’s superb pass protection ability and the deep threat posed by Miles Austin and Dez Bryant, and you have the makings of a lot of “surprise” deep passes. Now, if Garrett would just call a few after playaction fakes. . .
DO leave Jason Witten in to block so you can take some shots downfield to “The Rookie.”
Whether in base personnel or a two-tight end set, Dallas should leave Witten in to block more this week. The Cowboys could really help themselves by scoring quickly a time or two, and the easiest way to do that is No. 88. Considering the frequency with which I expect the Saints to blitz, it won’t be so easy for the Cowboys to provide Kitna proper protection unless they have more blockers. Lots of blitzers means true man coverage, though–a dream scenario for the ‘Boys.
DO use a dummy snap count (and allow Kitna the freedom to check out of plays).
Against the Saints, Kitna will see a lot of different looks, many of which New Orleans won’t “show” until he goes into his cadence. If Kitna can use a dummy snap count to force New Orleans to show their intentions, it will make his job a lot easier. By the way, a dummy snap count is used when you hear the quarterback yell “Omaha.” Before that, the entire cadence is meaningless. “Omaha” signals to the offense that the snap count is now live.
Once Kitna recognizes the Saints’ defense, he should be allowed the freedom to check into whatever play he chooses. He’s been outstanding with audibles since the preseason. Last week, he checked out of three plays, two of which went for touchdowns.
DON’T resort back to Shotgun.
The Cowboys’ lack of three and four receiver-sets of late has resulted in less Shotgun snaps (or perhaps vice versa). Through Week 10, the Cowboys were in Shotgun on a ridiculous 47.3 percent of all snaps. Last week, however, Dallas used Shotgun on only 13 of 54 offensive plays (24.1 percent). This comes just a week after using Shotgun at the same rate in their win over the Giants. Garrett must have recently realized how much more successful Kitna is under center as opposed to in Shotgun.
DO use the same aggressive mentality that beat the Saints in 2009.
The Cowboys beat the Saints last season because they came out on fire. They opened up the playbook and played with a sense of urgency. If they do the same this week, they’ll have a good opportunity to once again take down the defending Super Bowl champs.
That’s all for today. It may take a day or two for me to analyze this week’s game film due to travel, but it’s a long week anyway, so deal with it. Happy Thanksgiving to all loyal DC Times readers (I hope the disloyal ones have a really shi**y one). See ya.