Every week during the regular season, I will roll out a list of “DOs and DON’Ts” for the Cowboys. I’ve done this for the past few years, using a combination of film study and stat analysis to create a game plan of sorts.
Seeing as how the third week of the preseason tends to resemble a regular season game in most ways, I figured I’d give my “DOs and DON’Ts” an early start this year. I’ll approach this list as though the Dallas Cowboys’ Saturday night matchup with the St. Louis Rams were the real thing, showing how I’d attack St. Louis (and giving you a preview of my game plans for the regular season). Let’s dive right in. . .
DO run a lot of double-tight sets.
Through two preseason games, the Cowboys’ first-team offense has run just six double-tight end sets, representing only 29.0 percent of their plays. It will be interesting to see if the loss of Martellus Bennett equates to fewer two-tight end formations during the regular season.
On Saturday night, however, I’d place both John Phillips and rookie James Hanna on the field at the same time on numerous occasions. I know those guys aren’t Jason Witten, but the Cowboys’ offensive tackles are going to have their hands full with perhaps the league’s most underrated defensive end duo. That tandem is led by Chris Long, who pressured the quarterback more often than any player in the NFL last year.
Plus, double-tight sets with max protection could allow the ‘Boys to take some shots downfield—something they should be doing more often anyway.
DO run right outside.
As stellar as Chris Long has been while rushing the passer in recent years, he hasn’t held up against the run. He notched a tackle on just 2.1 percent of his snaps last season. The Rams’ other defensive end, Robert Quinn, wasn’t much better with a 2.2 percent tackle rate. In comparison, Cowboys outside linebacker Anthony Spencer recorded a tackle on 5.5 percent of snaps.
I watched three of the Rams’ games from 2011, and the pass-rushing ability of their ends is immediately apparent. The problem is that they rush up the field right after the snap of the ball, leaving gaping holes for opposing running backs.
In particular, the Cowboys might be able to make use of their patented draw play. By showing a pass look, Long and Quinn will likely get up the field after Tony Romo, providing DeMarco Murray with plenty of room to scamper outside.
DON’T blitz too often.
Look, the Rams aren’t a good football team, and quarterback Sam Bradford hasn’t progressed as St. Louis fans hoped. There are two schools of thought when playing a struggling quarterback: blitz him to force turnovers, or sit back in coverage so as to not allow a big play.
I find myself in the latter camp. When playing as a favorite, the best way to maximize win probability is to make the opponent beat you again and again. Can the Rams continually move the ball up the field against Dallas without beating themselves? I don’t think so.
DO give Bruce Carter the majority of defensive snaps inside.
Carter is emerging as the probable starter next to Sean Lee at inside linebacker. Many of his teammates describe Carter as the most athletic player on the team, and that’s exactly what the Cowboys need in order to halt the versatility of Steven Jackson. The Rams’ star running back is getting old, but he’s not totally over the hill just yet. Let’s see how two of the league’s premiere height-weight-speed combos match up.
DO run double-moves at Janoris Jenkins.
In a scouting report on Jenkins that I wrote prior to the 2012 NFL Draft, I had this to say about the young cornerback:
Jenkins’ willingness to jump routes makes him an all-or-nothing type of cornerback. He makes a ton of big plays, but he gets beat a lot as well. We frequently throw around comparisons between prospects and NFL players to make assessing them easier, but I have never seen a college player resemble a pro player more than Jenkins to Asante Samuel.
Jenkins is a play-maker, and you really need to be careful when throwing his way. If the ‘Boys’ can find a way to provide Romo with ample protection, though, they can beat Jenkins outside on a double-move.
Jonathan Bales is a special contributor. He’s the founder of The DC Times and writes for DallasCowboys.com and the New York Times.