In the first of what I'm sure is a series of posts in the 'Ask BTB' thread, Coty did a great job of discussing the scheme used by the Eagles on defense as well as how he would attack them on offense and defense. You can find that post here.Since I've covered quite a bit of the basics of how NFL teams attack one another, I decided I'd dive a little bit deeper into a few specific formations and schemes I would make sure to include in my gameplan if I were in Jason Garrett Bill Callahan and Rob Ryans shoes going into the 2012 season.
I will probably continue this as a bit of a series going forward, not as rebuttals to what Coty is doing, but as elaborations and drill downs.
First we will look at what I would carry into games against the Eagles if I were Jason Garrett or Bill Callahan. Specifics after the jump...
What they do/Who they are:
As Coty described, and is well known throughout the NFL, the Eagle's defensive line, specifically their Defensive Ends play in a "Wide-9" technique. Their Dline Coach Jim Washburn is the god father of this alignment and has alot of success with it. Jason Babin and Trent Cole were both very successful rushing the passer from this alignment in 2011. Both Babin and Cole are undersized for DE's in a 4-3 like the Eagles play, but because of the Wide-9 they are able to avoid being swallowed up by the larger Olinemen they face.
They have made efforts this off-season to upgrade the interior of their defense, both on the DL and at LB, DeMeco Ryans will be a big upgrade for them at Mike and Mychal Kendricks should develop into a nice player at Will for them. They also drafted Fletcher Cox to play DT.
As was well advertised in the 2011 free agency period, the Eagles made several big moves, none bigger than acquiring Nnamdi Asomugha, and trading Kevin Kolb to Arizona for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, giving them 2 quality press man corners, after trading Asante Samuel ( a zone/read&react CB) to Atlanta, I think it's safe to assume that we will see alot of press-man alignments on the outside. They did acquire some quality depth at the safety position in O.J. Atogwe but he's hasn't been the player of late that he was a few years ago and they don't really have a standout safety on their roster at this point.
So I think we will see a good amount of combination man coverage on the inside, with press man on the outside and atleast 1 safety in the box.
How do we run at it?
In order to run the football, you have to look at the numbers in the box, create an advantage, and attack the bubbles in the defensive front. Here's what I mean...
Here the yellow triangles represent the "bubbles" in the front when we line up in a 2 TE balanced set. The great thing about going 2 TE's vs a 1 gap scheme is it creates 8 gaps for 7 players to defend. This will either force your opponent to bring more guys into the box, or get killed up front. Lets look at some simple drawings of a few of the run plays I would bring into the gameplan.
Top Left: Lead Open
Top Right: Power OBottom Left: Outside Zone(blue player is 3rd OT)
Bottom Right: Counter Wham
As you look at these 4 run schemes, you will probably notice a common theme, and that is that we are attacking the DE's in their "Wide-9". Both of these guys are a little undersized, even though they generate quite a bit of power in their pass rush, we want to let our OT's and TE's fire out at them and force them to anchor at the point of attack, use up alot of energy in the run game, and hopefully slow them down on 3rd downs, and passing situations.
You can run these schemes out of almost any personnel grouping even though I have most of them here drawn out of base or bigger (more TEs less WRs) packages. As you put more WR's on the field the Eagles will have to decide whether to match that personnel with more DB's or walk LB's out over the inside WRs. Either way it leaves you with opportunities to run the ball at them.
I have the Outside Zone drawn with a 3rd OT on the field, I think this is something they will do rather often this year now that Bennett has gone to New York. This will be a great way for Garrett to attack the DE's in the run game, because it eliminates alot of the distance between the DE and the OLinemen, giving them a better chance to get their hands on the defender.
If you run this Outside Zone with Felix who is usually better without a fullback, he'll have a chance to break a big one. If the DE and the Sam over play to the outside he can cut it up behind them, and if he can get to the edge he can really turn on the jets and break one.
The final play is the Counter-Wham run that the Eagles used with so much success against us last year. Let the DE run himself out of the play, and let Phillips cross block him, and give T. Smith a chance to get to the second level and over power Kendricks.
How do we throw at it?
To attack the air against the Eagles, you have to look to attack between the numbers on the field. Their CB's are both very good, as is their pass rush so you have to look to give your QB easy throws on inside breaking routes and vertical routes up the seams where he doesn't have to hold the ball a long time.
One thing I look for the Cowboys to begin to do more of this year is moving Dez Bryant around in the formation to give him favorable matchups. It is something they do with Miles Austin regularly, but with Dez's ability to create big plays after the catch, and reports coming out of the ranch that he has stepped up to the plate as a leader and has learned how to be a pro, I think you have to take advantage of his physical ability. As an OC the idea of having Earl Boykin covering Dez Bryant in the slot makes my mouth water.
Against the Eagles, I would plan to spend 60-65% of the snaps on offense with either 2 TE's or 3 WR's on the field. Make the safeties and LB's talk to determine coverage responsibilities and run fits, and put players between the numbers to make catches and force their defenders to make tackles.
So each of these concepts will be drawn from a 2 TE or a 3 WR personnel groups. Here Y & U will be Witten and Phillips respectively and X Z and W will be Austin, Dez, and Holmes respectively because I think the 3rd WR spot is his to lose going into camp.
This is the basic 4 vertical scheme run out of a Balanced 2 TE 1 Back set. This can actually be a quick 3 step throw up the seam for Romo to use Witten or Phillips to attack the seams and make the Eagles OLB's to react quickly to the ball. But this is usually a 5 step throw with the opportunity to attack a single high safety in Cover 3 or Cover 1, or a Mike LB like Ryans in Philly in Tampa 2. The flat route by the back puts the Curl Flat defender in Cover 3 or zone pressure, as well as the CB in Tampa 2 and either the FS or Mike LB in man in a bind because of the vertical push by all the other receivers.
Here we have another basic concept, the Flat-7 on either side, run out of another interesting personnel group, this is 3 WR 2 TE, lined up empty. Splitting Witten out into the slot on the open side, and putting Austin in the Slot on the closed side is going to make the defense talk pre-snap. Also because there are 5 eliigible guys and we are empty, I have Austin coming out of the slot attacking the middle of the field. This is the "Bang-8" route that the 90's Cowboys made so famous, and it converts to a straight seam if the defense rolls their coverage from 2 high to single high at the snap. This route by Miles puts him in a mismatch against a Mike LB in Tampa 2, or a Nickel CB in man situations. When this is combined with Phillips flat route, it forces the Curl-Flat or Seam-Flat defender in Cover 3 or Zone pressure to make a decision which we can take advantage of no matter what he chooses.
This is a Deep cross concept, which is something Witten does very well. Here we are in 11 Personnel, Holmes runs a clear out 9 (Go) route, Austin runs an option route, and Dez gets to run his best route, the Dig. Wittens route is the key here though. He must run under the Sam, but over the mike, and aim for the sideline. His trajectory should be set to run out of bounds at 22 yards down field if he kept running. He also flattens his route to more of a shallow cross or drag if the Mike blitzes across his face. The progression is Option-Cross-Dig, with the Go as an alert vs Cover 2. The H stays in to protect to give Witten time to get across the field. The bind on the defense comes with Holmes running the CB out of the play, and Witten running away from anyone who would have him. He has a leverage advantage and can us his body to box out for the throw.
This is probably my favorite that I was able to come up with for this particular game plan. This is actually a concept that you will see in various forms throughout the Eagle's own playbook, but I love the way it attacks the LBs and safeties and basically eliminates the CB's from being effective. This is the NCAA or Drive Concept, which features a shallow cross and a dig coming from the same side of the formation. Here we have Dez lined up inside of Witten with Phillips flexed off the line on the same side giving the 'Boys a bunched look. Dez runs the Dig, Witten runs the shallow, and Miles on the back side runs a post. That gives us the Post-Dig combination we have seen several times in our analysis of different plays. This 3 route combination puts the LB's and Safeties in a big time bind,a single high safety will be very eager to drive on the dig, especially with Dez matched up against Boykins or a SS, and the Ryans and Kendricks will have to be very disciplined to sit back and not try to jump the shallow by Witten as he runs across their face. If any of these 3 players makes a bad decision its a chunk play. I also love the Angle route by the H here. I love it because it attacks DeMeco Ryans a 3rd time in the same play. If he's in zone he has to be disciplined enough to sit back in his zone against the dig, but not move across the field with either Dez or Witten because if he leaves his area that puts Murray or Felix in the belly of the defense for a catch and run with no one within 8 to 10 yards of them. I also love the idea of the Wheel route by Phillips, he is likely either matched up with a Sam LB in man or will be attacking a weak area in a 2 deep zone. If they are in Cover 3 then he will be there to keep the CB from helping the FS against the post. I would come out in this formation atleast 2-3 times in the first half and look to throw the flat route to Phillips, then come out in the first drive after half time with this. If the LB or CB sees the release to the flat and tries to jump the route, when Phillips turns up the field it will be time to strike up the band and play the fightsong.
The Eagles are a very good team on paper and they had really started to put it together in the last several weeks of 2011. I, like Coty, feel as though they may be the best team in the NFCE going into this season but I do feel like the Cowboys have a chance to beat them and win the division. Attack the B & C gaps in the run game with down hill runs directly at their DE's and force the safeties and LBs to make plays in the pass game and I think you give your self a chance offensively.
Congratulations and Thanks to anyone who actually made it through this entire post. I know this is unusually long but I hope it was worth it. Please leave any questions, comments, suggestions, disagreements or complaints in the comments section, I'd love to discuss these ideas more with anyone who wishes.