Shutting down the zone-read: thoughts from Big Blue View

Over at Big Blue View, the SB Nation fan blog for our rivals the New York Giants, there's a lively discussion underway on how to stop the read option that will be run by the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles. As the Cowboys are switching to Monte Kiffin's 4-3 scheme with some similarities to what Perry Fewell runs in New York, I thought I'd re-post a few enlightening excerpts about the scheme and how to stuff it:

The biggest thing with the read-option is that it attacks aggression. I like to think of it as a matador holding out the red cape, getting the bull to charge it, then sidestepping and sticking the blade in. With the Option, they present an easy target for the rushers, then when they attack, the QB lets the ball go where the defender isn’t.

The best way to counter that is to curb aggression, play disciplined, and keep the play in front of you and prolong the mesh point for as long as possible. That’s what the [Giants defense - CiC] did against Carolina and San Fran[cisco], and they were remarkably successful.

Against Washington (1) the D was overly aggressive and undisciplined. We saw Tuck, Osi, and JPP all charging forward like bulls and they got burned for it.

The key is discipline. They need to keep the play in front of them and stick to their assignments no matter HOW juicy the target in front of them looks. The breakdowns happen when guys start trying to do too much and neglect their actual jobs.

Schematically, I’d like to see them incorporate some hybrid 43 Over/Under looks (either in a base 43 set, or in the Buffalo Nickel [the 3 safety looks the Giants like to run, notably against the Patriots 12 offense in the Super Bowl, and that Dallas can expect to see when they put Witten and Hannah/Escobar on the field - CiC]). The 3rd playing close to the line gives them somebody to account for the RB and the QB. They have some great personnel for it with [Matthias] Kiwi [Kiwanuka], [Adrian] Tracy, [Aaron] Curry, and DaMonster [Damontre Moore?].

Alternatively, an idea I’ve been toying with is a 6-2-3 set with the normal 4 man front, and both OLBs [the SAM and the WILL] playing close to the line. Then, whichever side the play doesn’t go to, the LB can drop back in shallow coverage on any crossing routes, or to assist on a cutback, while the other OLB and DE can account for possible ball carriers.

Finally, and while this goes without saying I’m going to say it anyway, I’d like to see them play tighter coverage. The D NEEDS to shut down quick passes and keep the ball in the QB’s hands longer so the pass rush has time to work.

by Raptor22 on Jun 15, 2013 | 11:18 AM

However while this is an optimistic take if you're a Giants fan, the dialogue gets more interesting when the deficiencies of the Giants against RG3 are discussed: as several commenters point out, their cornerbacks couldn't consistently shut down or jam receivers one on one on the outside, preventing the safeties from being free to crash down into the box and stop Alfred Morris or lay the wood on RG3 when he took off.

However, one interesting idea our friend Invictus proposes is using two safeties in the box (perhaps with a single high look, as Kiffin often deploys). That way instead of being free to survey the field for the long ball after faking the handoff while freezing the DE who has to set the edge, RG3 or Vick still has to account for a human guided missile coming at him on the blitz. If nothing else, dialing up two of those a game will make Shanahan or Kelly hesitate to call the play action bomb that killed Dallas in the Thanksgiving game last year. As Cowboys fans we remember that in the last two openers at New York (Jets and Giants) Danny McCray got credited with a partial sack on Rob Ryan's safety blitzes...producing perhaps the best defensive coordinator gif of all time.

I like the 6-2-3

I don’t think I’d like our LBs to be on the edges though. Both Will Hill and Cooper Taylor have shown ability to rush the passer. Those guys are much more adept at backpedaling than someone like JWill or Rivers. Having one or both of them crash, or having one or both of them drop will create havoc. I like that.

Have two athletes like Rivers and Williams as the LBs covering laterally, and I think that’s an awesome idea.

by Invictus XI on Jun 15, 2013 | 1:31 PM

This is where having five talented safeties on the roster comes into play -- the Giants drafted Cooper Taylor, who's basically an undersized linebacker with good ball skills, in the 5th round. They're already developing Will Hill, they have ex-Raider Stevie Brown who picked off Romo twice last season, and the veteran converted cornerback Antrel Rolle as their defensive quarterback.

The Cowboys have their box safety in Barry Church who's shown surprising range and so far in OTAs and shows few signs of lingering effects from his Achilles tear in September 2012. Meanwhile Dallas has brought in the veteran Will Allen for insurance and hopes Matt Johnson can grab the starting job, while J.J. Wilcox and Jakar Hamilton develop in the 4th and 5th safety spots. Having Church as the third 'backer matching up with the Skins or Eagles TEs while Lee and Carter roam the zones with superior overall athleticism [in terms of size to speed ratio] to what the Giants have at LB gives me some hope that Rod Marinelli's 'rushmen' can do even better than Fewell's bunch against the zone read.

While we have to be wary about the DTs we have being smaller than the Giants and thus being pushed around, they might make up for it with quickness with the likes of Jay Ratliff, Ben Bass and Tyrone Crawford regularly getting into the opposing backfield. No matter how great a zone read or pistol play is it's hard to execute with DTs in the QB’s face or blowing the offensive lineman back just as the ball is handed off. But by the same token, if your DTs get pushed around you can’t maintain outside contain, as the Giants found out when they (admittedly) had several defensive tackles among the walking wounded last year and as Dallas found out without Jay Ratliff. This is why I’m wondering if the free agent the Boys just picked up from the Jaguars (Jeris Pendleton) doesn’t work out whether the Cowboys will add one more big bodied 1-technique at final preseason cuts in September. Losing Rob Callaway at that rotational anchor spot still gives me doubts about how well our d-line will hold up in the trenches.

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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