Cowboys at Texans Week Three Game Plan: How Dallas Can Beat Houston



Jonathan Bales

You guys know the backbone of DC Times is film study and stat analysis.  Consequently, I will be posting these weekly “Game Plan” segments which will include tidbits about how I believe the Cowboys can use the same film study and stat analysis which drives this site to win football games.

These will come later in the week after I’ve published the “Game Day Manifesto”–a combination of “What to Watch” and “DOs and DON’Ts” for the Cowboys.  Although still film-driven and stat heavy, I will try to refrain from too much game-planning in the Manifesto to prevent unnecessary overlap.  You can read this week’s Cowboys/Texans Manifesto here.

Let’s get to the game. . .

1. Continue to line up in double-tight end sets in passing situations.

I’ve said it a few times:

In obvious passing downs, though, it might actually be a good idea to go to a more run-oriented formation–double tights.  The reason is that backup tight end Martellus Bennett will be able to help block (insert Pro Bowl pass-rusher here).  No matter what you think about Bennett, he’s a tremendous blocker.

Why not use Jason Witten in pass protection?  Well, I’ve showed in the past that the 22.9 percent rate at which Witten stayed in to block on pass plays last season was already too much.  Dallas is a better team with him in a route (excluding perhaps 3rd and very long).

Plus, stats show the Cowboys should pass out of double-tight formations more in general.  Actually, the formation from which they had the most passing success last year was ‘Ace.’

Lining up in two-tight end sets will also allow the Cowboys to more effectively throw the ball downfield.  Tony Romo has attempted just 10 passes of 20+ yards all season.  With weapons like Miles Austin and Dez Bryant outside, why not take some shots down the field?

2.  Put Miles Austin in the slot a lot more.

The Redskins exposed a weakness in the Cowboys’ offensive line–an inability to effectively block “disguised” blitzes.  When the Cowboys are uncertain from where a blitz may come (including when teams stunt and twist), they have trouble providing ample protection for Romo.

You can bet the Texans are going to duplicate the game plans of Washington and Chicago.  Expect a lot of blitzes, and even a lot of feigned blitzes (showing blitz and backing out, or coming from another angle).

The best way for the ‘Boys to beat this is by “throwing hot”–immediately hitting the uncovered receiver.  Austin spent plenty of time in the slot during the preseason, but we haven’t seen it as much in the regular season.  That needs to return, because Austin is clearly the wide receiver with whom Romo has the most chemistry.  The Cowboys could hit on some big-time plays if they can effectively beat the Texans’ blitzes.

3.  Send overload blitzes to the left side of the Texans’ offensive line.

The Texans will be starting Rashad Butler (who?) at left tackle in place of the suspended Duane Brown.  This is by far their largest weakness on offense and the Cowboys need to exploit it.  I’d really love to see them disguise their blitzes/coverages better, particularly in an effort to take advantage of Butler.  The most effective way the Cowboys can limit the play of Andre Johnson probably starts with Butler–if they can take advantage of him and get to Matt Schaub, AJ can be (slightly) contained.  Remember, no matter how talented the wide receiver, he is still completely dependent on his offensive line and quarterback.

I still don’t think the Cowboys should blitz very often, but being creative with their blitzes when they do send them will be imperative.

4.  Don’t stuff the box unless it is absolutely critical.

Texans running back Arian Foster has been sensational thus far this season (I would know–he’s on most of my fantasy teams), but he’s probably not going to gash the Dallas defense for a huge run.  I’d much rather see the Cowboys keep their safeties deep in an effort to minimize the big-play options Houston possesses on the outside, simultaneously forcing Foster and the Houston offensive line to continually beat the them to move the ball.

5.  Use the playaction pass often, including bootlegs off of it. . .but be less predictable.

Last week, I thought the Cowboys should have all but abandoned the playaction pass.  Instead, they ran it 12 times for an unimpressive 80 yards.

This week, I’d love to see it quite often.  I think the Cowboys can take advantage of a Texans defense that can sometimes to over-aggressive.  Further, if they run playaction passes from run-oriented, double-tight end formations (see No. 1), the line should be able to provide enough time for the Cowboys receivers to beat a very underwhelming Houston secondary.

But stop running playaction passes in such predictable situations!  Jason Garrett loves to run playaction with exactly 10 yards-to-go (either on 1st and 10 or after an incomplete pass on first down).  On Sunday, 10 of the Cowboys’ 12 playaction passes were from this distance.  The trend dates back to last year.  Take a look at these numbers.

Finally, use some rollouts.  Two designed rollouts on the season (and zero last week) isn’t optimal.  Not only do bootlegs and other rollouts allow Romo to improvise a bit (which is when I believe he is at his best), but they can also be an effective tool against the blitz and a struggling offensive line.  If Romo simply drops back to the same spot on the field every pass, Mario Williams will be able to pin his ears back and just rush to that spot.

6.  Be flexible!

I think this is the sort of game in which the Cowboys need to be willing to deviate from their game plane to accommodate game-specific situations.  You could probably say Dallas needs to do a better job of that in every game, but this week it is especially true.

The reason has to do with match-ups.  It is obvious the ‘Boys need to run the ball more effectively, but Houston has been tremendous in run defense this year.  Mario Williams, DeMeco Ryans, Amobi Okoye, Bernard Pollard and so on are all really good run defenders.  The Texans are susceptible to the pass, however, yielding over 400 yards-per-game thus far in 2010.

So what strategy is Dallas to employ?  Should they try to establish the run and set up the passing game off of that, or immediately take advantage of the Texans’ weakness in the secondary?  In my opinion, they should simply find out what is working and stick with it.  If they can run the ball early, then pound it and don’t look back.  If the passing game is on fire, then disregard any pre-game commitment to the run and just air it out.

Recognize the flow of the game, adjust accordingly, and bring home a win!


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