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Cowboys vs. Redskins: The secondary meltdown

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I watched the game tape and I’ll do an abridged version of the Film Review tomorrow with this being an abridged week. But what I was really interested in while watching the game again was the poor performance of the secondary so I decided to write them up separately. I had some answers in my mind on what went wrong before the Wade Phillips press conference but I wasn’t totally sure of my conclusions, the secondary is the hardest area to diagnose using the TV feed. If you don’t have the "All-22" film it’s very difficult to get a good read on exactly what the secondary was doing. Luckily, the FOX broadcast had a lot of good replays where you could see some of the damage done. Back to my conclusion, I thought before the press conference that a lot of it was blown coverages mixed with some plain old bad physical technique. It turns out I was on the right track as Wade confirmed into today’s press conference that players were blowing the zone coverages regularly. Wade also mentioned we ran the same zones and they ran the same patterns and yet we continuously blew the coverages. I don’t know why we had this major malfunction but you could see it plainly in the replays.

Let’s break it down if we can. I’ll dispense with some of the minor stuff that hurt us but wasn’t a major problem. Occasionally the Redskins were hitting the zone between a dropping LB and the safeties. Greg Ellis has trouble getting deep drops and even DeMarcus Ware couldn’t get back on one occasion. But these were relatively minor in the whole scheme. They were also able to work a RB on Ellis in the flats that led to a couple of good gains. These things will happen in every game.

OK, what about the stuff that hurt us. On the first TD by the Redskins Roy Williams just blew the coverage. He guessed that Chris Cooley was going to run the corner and opened up his hips to the outside and Cooley ran the post and had an easy score. That was just bad coverage by Roy. After that, we had a couple of breakdowns in individual coverage that led to key 3rd-down conversions. Keenan McCardell beat Jacques Reeves for one and the Redskins got lucky on a pass by Antwaan Randle El who kept the play alive long enough for Ware to turn Cooley loose for a good gain. Later in the first half, Anthony Henry gave up a 3rd and 4 that extended a drive for a FG.

In the second half, the Redskins had even more success. After Santana Moss made an incredible catch beating Reeves, I started to see something that plagued us the rest of the game. On a 3rd and 10, the Cowboys ran a blitz and the Redskins lined up two receivers on the right-side of their offense. The inside guy ran a short out and the outside guy ran an intermediate dig pattern. Both Newman and Reeves took the short route and left Moss wide open in front of the safety, Roy, and converted the 3rd down. That play and similar variations of it burned us all afternoon. On a 3rd and 15, we blitzed Newman and left Ken Hamlin underneath and Reeves had Moss over the top. Hamlin didn’t get a good drop into his zone and Reeves couldn’t keep up with Moss, Redskins convert. Later in the game Moss beat Reeves again and after that McCardell beat Anthony Henry straight up to convert a 3rd and 10. McCardell beat Reeves for another first down on the next drive.

But it was the Moss TD drive were we really starting to get exploited. Moss beat Reeves, McCardell beat Henry, and Cooley caught one in front of Roy. But mixed in with those were three plays where the Redskins ran the same combo of receivers on one side against Newman and Reeves, and they got completions each time. Whatever Newman and Reeves were supposed to be running against the crossing receivers on the outside, they weren’t doing it right, I can guarantee you that. Later in the drive, Cooley beat zone coverage by Roy to convert a 4th down. Then they ran the same crossing pattern on the right side and both Newman and Reeves covered the outside guy. Moss was on the slant all alone until Hamlin tried to jump in and he mistimed his play, got interference and Moss still scored. I mean that’s just bad. Later on Pat Watkins had bad coverage on a pass, then Roy did, then Watkins messed up a combo coverage with Reeves but Campbell blew the throw.

So there you have it, as best as I can tell. I can’t say exactly why we kept blowing the same coverages against the same patterns, but we did. We also just got beat by playing way too soft and not breaking on the ball. Guys left receivers all alone in zone coverage, it was just a mess back there.

Of course, if you feel that I made some errors here, feel free to point them out in the comments.