Cowboys vs. Eagles Preview, Part I, Double Crossing the Run Blitz

One of the brightest spots from Dallas' 24-0 win last Sunday was the return of the big play running attack.  The Cowboys runners held to 76 yards in the November matchup broke loose for 179 yards in the rematch.  Both Marion Barber and Felix Jones finished with 91 rushing yards and each contributed an explosive run.  Barber gashed the left side of the Eagles' for 32 yards on Dallas' first play from scrimmage.  Jones put the outcome beyond doubt with a 49 yard romp up the left sideline late in the 3rd quarter.

A closer look at both runs shows that they resulted from superior self-scouting.  Jason Garrett went against the tendencies he showed in round I and left his counterpart Sean McDermott one step behind.  The challenge this week is to stay one step ahead, while McDermott hopes he's not fighting the last battle, as he did last week, with such dismal results -- for Eagles fans anyway.

Undermining the Overload

Cowboys fans know the team's rushing attack has three superior plays -- the lead draw, the counter (what the team calls "power") and tosses to the perimeter.  The Cowboys use a lot of the 22 set, which has two backs, two tight ends and one receiver. 

The team likes to overload a side, putting both tight ends on one edge of the line, and either run towards the overload, usually with the counter play, which adds a pulling guard to the two tight ends on the edge, or run the draw up the middle.

In the 20-16 win, the Cowboys stayed true to form, but added a wrinkle.  They ran power runs and sweeps from the Razorback formation, with Tashard Choice as a single wing halfback, taking a direct snap from the center and then following his interference to the strong side.

Choice scored from the Razorback late in the first quarter, on a goal-line play where Dallas showed an unbalanced line.  Right tackle Marc Colombo flopped to the left side and lined up next to regular LT Flozell Adams.  (Martellus Bennett covered RG Leonard Davis on the right side.  The Cowboys had three of their linemen to the left of center Andre Gurode, along with TE Jason Witten.  Fullback Deon Anderson lined up behind LG Kyle Kosier, adding to the overload on the left side. 

At the snap, Davis pulled to the left, meaning Choice had four linemen, a fullback and tight end crunching the Eagles' left side.  He scored untouched through a huge seam in the Eagles front.  In fact, every time the Cowboys put their fullback to the strong side, whether they were in a balanced line, an unbalanced line, a two back set or the Razorback. they ran to that strong side.

The Eagles clearly game planned for more power runs last week.  On Dallas' first play, Garrett put them in the 22, with Bennett lining up as a traditional tight end left, and Witten flanked outside of him.  The backs were in an a straight I, with John Phillips lined up as the fullback, in front of Marion Barber.  Miles Austin was the lone receiver on the right. 

Philadelphia called for a run blitz, expecting the draw or the power left, towards the two tight ends.  The Eagles deployed in their base 4-3 with the three linebackers stacked behind the four linemen and two safeties deep.  At the snap, all three linebackers crashed towards the strong side:  the strongside linebackers shot the gap outside Witten; the middle linebacker crashed the A gap to C Gurode's left and the weakside linebacker attacked the gap between RG Davis and RT Doug Free.   Eagles SS Quentin Mikel rushed up to support, behind the middle linebacker, while the free safety Macho Harris dropped into the deep middle. 

Dallas crossed up McDermott's guys by running a stretch play towards Free, right at the weak side backer and away from the other blitzing backers.  The Cowboys made the play a four-on-three scrum.  Gurode and Davis double-teamed the DT on their side and drove him upfield.  Free locked on to DE Juqua Parker and turned him outside.  The play would depend on Phillips' block on LB Moise Fokiu.  Phillips met him just before the line of scrimmage and shoved him wide.  Barber had a crease and had only the dropping FS Harris to beat.  Harris dragged Barber down but not until he had dashed 32 yards up the right sideline.

The Eagles expected a run to Dallas' left and sold out that way.  The Cowboys ran right, with a power running play they rarely call, and made a huge gain.

Jones' run was an even better example of going away from tendencies.  On this play, Dallas again went to the 22 set.  This time, Witten lined up wide left, as a receiver, and took the SS Mikel with him.  Bennett lined up as the TE right.  The backs were in an off-set I right, with FB Anderson behind RG Davis.  Miles Austin was again the lone receiver split wide right. 

The Eagles were again in their base 4-3, with the FS Harris in the box, giving them a 4-4 look.  Asante Samuel was man-to-man on Austin, while Mikel was manned up on Witten.  RCB Sheldon Brown was in the deep middle. 

Dallas tendency had been to run right, to the power side.  At the snap, they gave the Eagles every indication they were going to do it again.  LG Kyle Kosier pulled right, and Anderson ran to the hole; this looked like the power right, with Jones having the option to go inside of RT Free ot wide, depending on the blocking. 

The Eagles' backers and Harris were clearly keying on the formation and on Kosier. When they say him pull, they all raced up to stop the run to Dallas' right edge.

On counter runs, the running back usually takes one step away from the play before cutting back behind his interference.  If linebackes are keying on his movement, they will also take an initial step in the wrong direction, giving the offensive linemen better angles for their blocks. 

On this play, Felix Jones took a step left, and kept going. Tony Romo pitched to him, on what was a naked toss left.  The only defender with a chance to make the play was RE Trent Cole, but he also took two steps towards the pulling Kosier and could not recover.

All eight Eagles front men were suckered by the counter action.  Jones had the corner after two strides and had all but two Eagles behind him when he was just five yards upfield.   Mikel made a diving effort to trip Jones but missed.  Doug Free ran across the field from right tackle, locked on to Sheldon Brown at the 32 and rode him 20 yards upfield, until Felix was clear. 

McDermott's guys entered the game convinced they could anticipate Dallas runs based on formation and went all out to stop them.  Jason Garrett's self-awareness allowed him to cross McDermott up and beat the Eagles on the ground. 

This week, McDermott will have to figure out what the Cowboys will do next.  Will they stick with last week's tendencies, go back to their original plans or find something new? The Eagles clearly didn't know last time -- against the run or the pass.  Right now, Jason Garrett is the guy with all the secrets, and McDermott the coordinator who seems to be doing all the guessing.

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