Your Cowboys and Play Action

In my last post I suggested that the Cowboys should have taken more advantage of the success that they were having in the running game against Baltimore by taking more shots down-field against the single coverage that they were getting.

In the comment section, some suggested that the success of the running game was a reason to not take chances deep down the field. I'd argue quite the opposite.

If the NFL is the copycat league that it's said to be, then the Cowboys should be looking deep often off the success of the run.

I've been away, don't know where the jump went but this would be it...

The fact that the Cowboys were able to command the line of scrimmage from drive one resulted in man-to-man outside coverage with a single high safety for the vast majority of a game. In case you're new to football, man-to-man single high coverage is every 6'2" playmaker's dream. The Cowboys happen to have two 6'2" playmakers on the roster. So, after forcing the Ravens towards the line of scrimmage in the first quarter, play action deep bombs were expected to follow. However, only a hand-full of play action passes were attempted in the game and none were deep balls.

There's no one way to win a game in the NFL but this is what every coach would love to have happen week in and week out:

  • Quarter one: Establish the run game early
  • Quarter two: Run play action passes to build a solid lead
  • Quarter three: Balance a mix of runs and play action passes
  • Quarter four: Kill the clock with runs

Jason Garrett's offense was in position to execute this plan perfectly. Instead, they ran two play action passes in the entire second quarter and came away with only three points. When they did use play action, the on-on-one coverage on Dez Bryant and Miles Austin wasn't tested deep.

I compiled the few time that they ran play action on Sunday (5 times)

The fact that the Cowboys were able to run for 227 yards, threw 36 times, and only had one gain of 20+ yards is a mind boggling stat. By the time the Cowboys began to consider looking down-field, it was already too late because the defense knew that they were in a no run situation.

There are several models around the league of how to use your overwhelming running game to establish an explosive offense. It's one thing to be able to run the ball very well. It's another thing to be able to translate that into an all-around great offense that can suppress any defense on any given Sunday. For example, the Chiefs are ranked third in the league in rushing but have no idea how to build the passing game off of that success.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have teams like the Texans, Giants and Niners who rank in the top ten in rushing and have been able to use play action to set up efficient passing attacks (minus the last two Niners games).

Take a look for yourself:

Receivers don't become that wide open on regular three step drops. The Texans have made the play action bootleg pass their bread-and-butter passing play and receivers still run wide open. That's what the Cowboys could have experienced in Baltimore.

The thing that can be really baffling is that Jason Garrett and Tony Romo have tested the down-field waters off of play action hundreds of times since they've been together. That's why it's hard to understand why Garrett has digressed so much in his down the field play-calling. This "explosive"-(ESPN) offense has been reduced to 25th in passing plays over 20 yards and 27th in pass plays over 40.

I really don't know where all of the play action beauties went. Don't watch this video it will only upset you:

I assure you; the Carolina Panthers can be beaten by the play action pass and they have been multiple times all year. Number 43, free safety Haruki Nakamura is one of those Alan Ball safeties who jumps out at you as a guy who has no business starting in the NFL. After four years and no starts in Baltimore, this is his first year in Carolina and his first as a full time guy. He has no ball skills. Guess what? Dez Bryant has tons of ball skills. I'd like to see some deep bombs on that left side to see if Dez can't get the best of this undersized safety. With some running and some deep passes, Dallas can add to the Panthers play action woes.

Aforementioned Woes:

Thanks for reading. These videos take a bit of time so leave a rec so I know it's worth it to you guys!

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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