During the preseason, I formulated two separate articles called “What to Watch” and “DOs and DON’Ts for Dallas” as game previews for the upcoming contests. During the regular season, I will combine these two features into a single, more all-inclusive article known (solely to me) as a “Game Day Manifesto.” You’ll be able to find the “Manifesto” category under the “GameDay” tab above.
Also check back later in the week for a new feature called “Game Plan.” While the weekly “Manifesto” will contain some Xs and Os, the “Game Plan” will feature in-depth game strategy detailing how Dallas can win that week’s game and how they should go about doing it. There, you’ll find a lot of analysis of formations, personnel, play-calling, and so on.
Now on to this week’s Manifesto. . .
What to Watch for Dallas vs. Washington
Will Kyle Kosier and Marc Colombo return from injury? If not, who will start in their places?
Kosier and Colombo are both practicing today, so things are looking up for the offensive line. I would say Colombo has a better chance of returning than Kosier, but he isn’t a particularly fast healer.
Holland will start at left guard if Kosier can’t go, as he should. He played pretty well on Sunday night (I gave him a ‘B’ in my player grades).
The real mystery is who will start at right tackle if Colombo is down. In my opinion, Robert Brewster should have been starting there in the opener. Hindsight is 20/20, but Brewster was superior to Barron during the preseason when on the right side. Barron’s game simply isn’t suited for right tackle (and perhaps not for left tackle, either).
Will the Cowboys continue to blitz often against Chicago’s porous offensive line or will they try to get pressure without sending extra rushers?
I thought the Cowboys would blitz sparingly against the Redskins, but Coach Phillips brought pressure, particularly with the inside linebackers, quite often. It didn’t really work out, but the Dallas defense still played well.
Let’s see if the ‘Boys employ the same approach on Sunday against Chicago. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is known to make poor decisions in the face of pressure, but the Cowboys may be able to reach him without blitzing. If that turns out to be the case, they’ll have more defenders in coverage to take advantage of his mistakes.
Will the Bears’ aerial attack cause any problems, particularly over the middle of the field, for the Cowboys’ defense?
Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz is going to throw the ball early and often against whoever he plays. Even without elite weapons outside, Martz will test opposing secondaries.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the Cowboys’ cornerbacks will be able to handle Devin Hester, Johnny Knox, and Devin Aromashodu. Knox has the potential to get deep, but Alan Ball has shown he is capable of halting any big-play opportunities.
In my opinion, there are two players who could potentially cause problems for the Cowboys: tight end Greg Olsen and running back Matt Forte. Martz hasn’t utilized his tight ends in the past, but that seems like it may be changing with Olsen–a player who is more like a receiver than a tight end. Olsen could be a mismatch whether he’s covered by Bradie James, Keith Brooking, or Gerald Sensabaugh. Dallas will need to monitor him closely.
Forte’s receiving prowess was on display last week when he burned Detroit for 151 yards on seven receptions. He’s obviously tremendous as a receiver and possibly the Bears’ best opportunity to beat the ‘Boys. He has the advantage over any Dallas defender that is covering him, so it may be smart to play a lot of zone coverage. Screens to Forte could be the Cowboys’ kryptonite this week.
Can the Cowboys finally get some takeaways from the league’s most turnover-friendly quarterback?
Sunday night was another classic case of the Cowboys racking up yards without scoring points to show for it. To have a successful season, it is imperative they improve their points-to-yards ratio. The easiest way to do that is to force turnovers, creating a short field for the offense.
If the ‘Boys can’t force Jay Cutler to turn over the ball, there’s no hope for them. Cutler will throw plenty of balls up for grabs, and without much protection up front, Ware, Spencer & Co. should be able to get in position to strip the ball from the Bears’ gunslinger.
Will the Bears take a page from Washington’s playbook and creatively disguise their blitzes?
In my Cowboys-Redskins film study observations, I noted that Washington was able to get pressure on Romo by disguising their blitzes and confusing the Dallas linemen. You can bet the Bears will try to copy that success. Linemen always need to be nasty, but this week it is even more imperative that they are cerebral, adjusting to the various defensive looks Chicago is bound to throw at them.
Can the Cowboys’ receivers take advantage of the Bears’ slightly weak cornerbacks Zackary Bowman and Charles Tillman?
Bowman and Tillman aren’t exactly Leon Hall and Jonathan Joseph. Both are tall, but neither is particularly big (193 and 198 pounds, respectively), meaning the Cowboys’ tall, physical receivers should be able to use their size to not only gain position when the ball is in the air, but also break a few tackles once they make the reception. Look for Austin in particular to have a field day when running after the catch.
Who will return kicks and punts?
Last week, Dez Bryant and Akwasi Owusu-Ansah took turns fielding punts, while AOA and Kevin Ogletree manned kickoffs. This week, I think the Cowboys should choose one guy and stick with him. ‘Kwasi needs to be the guy, at least on kick returns. He’s strong and decisive. If they want to leave Bryant back as a punt returner that’s fine, but it doesn’t make sense to continually rotate guys. The best return man (whoever they decide it is) should be returning all the time.
DOs and DON’Ts for Dallas
DO continue to run outside (right at Julius Peppers).
The ‘Boys ran outside a ton against the Redskins, which isn’t their normal modus operandi. Actually, 12 of the Cowboys’ 22 runs were outside of the tackles, and only four were inside the guards. I didn’t think that was a particularly good game plan against the Redskins, but I do think it will work against Chicago.
First, there’s some guy named Brian Urlacher manning the middle of the Bears’ defense. With help from defensive tackle Tommie Harris, Urlacher could make it quite tough to gain yards inside.
Further, Julius Peppers lines up outside. Peppers is an insane athlete and one of the league’s top pass-rushers, but he’s not good (or at least inconsistent) against the run. It’s not that he couldn’t be good against the run, but rather he plays selfishly. He doesn’t stick with his responsibility, nearly always rushing upfield in an attempt to get to the quarterback. The Cowboys can take advantage of that by running right at him.
One method by which they can accomplish that task is by doing the following. . .
DO bring back the draw in a big way this week.
The Cowboys ran just three draws against the Redskins after calling nearly eight per game in 2009. I explained in my Ultimate Guide to Dallas Cowboys Draws that the ‘Boys could maximize the efficiency of draw plays by calling them less often, but this week is an exception.
As I mentioned, Peppers is likely to rush up the field on most plays. This is particularly true when he sees a play that resembles a pass. If Doug Free drops into a pass set and Romo drops back as if to pass, Peppers will be gone. The Cowboys should be able to run right in the vacated area, particularly if they dial up a few five-step draws (as opposed to the more conventional three-step variety).
DON’T leave Doug Free or whoever starts at right tackle on an island versus Julius Peppers.
The Cowboys could accomplish this by leaving Jason Witten in to block, but statistically that’s a poor idea. The more prudent method, in my opinion, would be to run a bunch of double-tight sets, leaving Martellus Bennett in to block. Plus, the Cowboys are very successful when passing out of two-tight end looks such as “Ace.”
DO continue to air the ball out, but take some shots downfield.
The Cowboys came out passing on Sunday night, but not as usual. They called a boatload of screens and other short passes that were really an extension of the running game. Actually, a couple of the smoke screens they threw were actually designed run plays that Romo checked out of.
This week, Dallas needs to trust their offensive line and get the ball down the field. With weapons like Austin and Bryant outside, there’s no reason the Cowboys shouldn’t be able to stretch the field to open up the middle for Witten and running lanes for the backs.
DON’T get fooled by inevitable twists and stunts.
As I mentioned above, the Bears are going to try to copy what worked for Washington on defense: disguising their blitzes and implementing a lot of stunts. Even the Cowboys’ veteran linemen (particularly Gurode) seem to get fooled quite easily by stunts. They should make pass protection against them a priority this week in practice.
DO continue to get Romo on the move with rollouts.
Worried about pass protection issues? Designed rollouts could possibly be a solution. Dallas shouldn’t overdo it, but calling a few plays where Romo is on the move (preferably away from Julius Peppers) could not only make Peppers path to Romo longer, but it will also be a defense against Bears defenders who like to rush to a certain spot.
DON’T run many playaction passes.
Rollouts are fine, but playaction bootlegs are not. Why? Because Peppers isn’t going to bite on playaction anyway. There’s really no reason for Dallas to waste their time with playaction (unless a play is perfectly set up).
Notice a theme on who Dallas should be preparing for?
DON’T be afraid to continue running the ball on third down.
I love third down runs. They are more successful than passes on 3rd and 1-5, and nearly as efficient on 3rd and 6-10 (amazingly). They will work against the Bears. . .trust me.
DO play Robert Brewster if Marc Colombo can’t play.
This is a no-brainer to me. Brewster is better-suited for right tackle than Alex Barron. Period. And he tries harder.
Dallas Cowboys Times is on Twitter.
Subscribe to our free e-mail updates.