Notes from the Seattle Win:
They Study This Stuff
Last month the Broncos hit the Cowboys with the best running play I've seen all year. Denver ran a weakside trap where they double-teamed the weakside DE with a guard and tackle and brought their H-back, who started the play on an overload next to the tight end, across the backfield to kick out Demarcus Ware. When blocked properly, it created a wide diagonal lane between the DE and OLB for Knowshon Moreno. It gained between eight and fourteen yards the four times Josh McDaniels called it.
The play worked in part because Ware was going upfield at the quarterback. The underneath drag by the tight end is a common pattern and Ware probably figured it Kyle Orton was setting him up for a bootleg.
The NFL is a copycat league. Sunday, Seattle tried it. This time, Ware closed down on the line and stuffed Julius Jones for no gain. That said, I would be very surprised if Jason Garrett, a copycat himself, doesn't try calling this play against the Packers, the next 3-4 team on Dallas' schedule. Dallas has the ideal tight end depth to make it work and big play backs.
The Felix Package Is Starting to Deliver
Slowly, but surely, Garrett is unwrapping that big box of Felix Jones toys the team asked the press to keep under wraps back at training camp. Against Atlanta, he used the power I pitch to Jones, where Marion Barber lined up as a fullback in a seeming pro-set, with Tashard Choice as the halfback. Jones started in the slot, then motioned to the I-back position and took a Tony Romo pitch. Later, Garrett called a rocket pitch to Jones in a 3rd and 2. This time, Barber was the fullback in a traditional I with Jones as the I-back. Romo faked a dive to Barber and pitched to Jones, who outraced the defense end to the sideline.
The inside action was designed to draw the DE and OLB inside and make the pitch a simple matter of speed for Jones, who gets no pulling linemen to lead interference.
Sunday, we saw one of the Jones pass plays unwrapped. At the Seattle 38, Dallas deployed in a two tight end, one back set, with Patrick Crayton lined up as the split end left and Miles Austin right, flanking Martellus Bennett and Jason Witten, who were parked outside RT Marc Colombo. Jones was the lone back behind Tony Romo.
Before the snap, Witten flexed to the flanker position wide right, with Austin moving to the right slot between him and Bennett. The shifting caused confusion in Seattle's secondary. Corner Marcus Truffant took Witten and the strong safety came up to cover Austin. The Seahawk linebackers all pointed to their left, towards, Austin and Witten, thinking they were going to run a combination pattern. At the snap, they the LBs all slid to the strong side.
Romo dropped to pass and Bennett stayed in to block, giving the impression that Dallas was going to run a three man deep pattern combo with maximum protection. Witten and Austin both ran hard up field, as did Crayton against Ken Lucas on Dallas' left side.
The primary, however, was always Jones, who released late and cut to the left sideline. He caught Romo's short pass in stride with only a linebacker in pursuit. Felix was yards clear and ran 20 yards upfield before Lucas peeled off of Crayton to challenge him. Jones ran over Lucas and his late stiff arm caused the corners helmet to hit the turf, knocking Lucas from the game.
The play was simple to execute and deadly in effect; clear out a side, put Felix in isolation against a linebacker in a flat and let his speed do the rest. I wonder what present Jason and Felix will unwrap this week?
Safety in a Zone
Last Thanksgiving Seattle rookie tight end John Carlson burned strong safety Keith Davis. The line: six catches for 105 yards. Sunday, Carlson, an emerging star, had modest production: three catches 36 yards. The difference was strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh, who shows us on a weekly basis what a coverage safety means to a secondary. Sensabaugh can find a ball and close on like a receiver. Were he not encumbered by a heavy wrap on his broken thumb, he would have several picks. He's tracked three passes into his hands in the last two games but dropped them all.
He'll face another big challenge this week in Eagles TE Brent Celek, who likes to get upfield. Dallas has bracketed Tony Gonzalez and Carlson the last two weeks, leaving the corners in man. With DeSean Jackson on the menu this week, Sensabaugh will have to cover a lot more alone. He seems to be up to the coverage part of the equation. The catching part?
The Cowboys offensive line has been a counterpunching group thus far this year, with lead draws and counters as their staple runs. Against the Seahawks they lined up and barreled straight ahead a lot more than normal, with third TE John Phillips as the lead blocker most of the time. Phillips is creating a niche or himself as a blocking F-back, freeing Jason Witten and Martellus Bennett to run patterns upfield.
Dallas ran several isolations in the fourth quarter, with Marion Barber and Felix Jones breaking a few for ten yard gains. Most of these calls were for Jones, who was a missed ankle tackle way from an explosive run on two of these plays. Watch this development going forward.