NFL coaches are notoriously tight-lipped about what their game plan for the next opponent will look like. Coach Garrett and Coach Pasqualoni are no exception. They'd rather tell you how 'awfully good' Michael Vick is, or how Trent Cole is 'explosive, quick, non-stop, relentless, really good against the run, good pass rusher'. All true, but what are the coaches going to do about it?
Both coaches were their usual non-committal selves on Friday when they talked to the press, Coach Garrett in his press conference and Coach Pasqualoni in a locker room interview. But they did talk about a couple of things that will likely make a difference in the game on Sunday.
After the break, find out what Garrett and Pasqualoni had to say about third down efficiency, penalties, maintaining lane- and contain discipline as well different defensive looks.
The quotes you'll find below are all taken from interviews with the coaches and players available at the mothership. I have transcribed portions of what was said for your reading pleasure. To watch the full interviews, follow the links provided.
All offensive coordinators live on Dial-A-Down Street. If they're smart, they'll try to live in house number one or house number two. Houses three and four spell trouble - unless they're located close to house number one.
Against the Eagles, former OC and now interim Head Coach Garrett will once again try to control the game by creating manageable third down distances via a strong ground game and an efficient, high percentage passing game. After all, Garrett knows that in his quest to become the next head coach of the Cowboys, it will help a lot if his place of residence is number one or two on Dial-A-Down Street.
Manageable third downs have been one of the keys to the Cowboys recent success. The Cowboys have converted more than 50% of their third downs the last three games. If the Cowboys had been able to achieve their current conversion rate over all 11 games this season, they would be leading the league in third down efficiency.
|First 9 games||Last 3 games|
|Third down efficiency||44-112||21-41|
According to Garrett, the key to this conversion rate has been keeping third down distance manageable: "I think if you look at the statistics of third downs in the NFL, typically teams when the third down distances are shorter they have a better percentage converting them. Now there are a few exceptions to that, but for the most part, that’s the case," Garrett said in his press conference on Friday. "So if you’re better on first and second down, typically you’ll be better on third downs. I think we’ve been efficient throwing the football and we’ve also run the football better these last few weeks. I think that makes those third downs more manageable."
Philadelphia adds another dimension in successfully managing the Dial-A-Down: "Obviously, when you’re playing a team like Philadelphia, they’re a team that threatens you on every down, but third downs, they’re particularly dangerous," Garrett said. He was a little less forthcoming on how exactly the Cowboys are going to deal with that threat: "They have very good pass rushers, they have a great blitz scheme that you just have to be on top of."
Another aspect of the game that has seen a marked improvement in the last three games have been penalties, more specifically, penalty yards, which have dropped to half of what they were in the first nine games of the season.
|First 9 games||Last 3 games|
|Penalties per game||7.4||5|
|Penalty yards per game||63||31|
In his press conference, Garrett explained that having officials at practice has a great deal to do with this: "Officials at practice and engaged in our practice is an important part of the process. There’s just an overall focus on it. Just because you did it one week doesn’t mean you’re going to do it the next week."
Now, credit where credit is due, it was Wade who brought in the officials, albeit very late in his tenure, and in what had the distinct feel of a desperation move. Garrett, staying on message once more, makes the officials just another part of the process of stacking one good day on top of the last: "You have to continue to pay attention to it, put an emphasis on it and make sure that as the emotions of the game get going, you’re still using good technique and you’re still playing the right way and typically the penalties will stay down."
How will the Cowboys contain Michael Vick? Coach Paul Pasqualoni said in his locker room interview that nobody seems to have a really good answer on how to stop Michael Vick, with one exception, the Bears: "Chicago is an excellent pass rush team. They did a very, very good job of keeping him somewhat under control. Not totally, but as good as anybody has done."
So will the Cowboys return to rushing the passer with the reckless abandon of the Wade Phillips era? No way. Not if you look at how Coach Pasqualoni seems to be gameplanning for Vick: "The challenge [with Vick] is you’ve got to take both [the run and the pass] away on every down, because you can’t be giving up big plays. You’d better be prepared on every down for what he can do. You just can’t leave escape lanes inside. He’s as dangerous getting out of there inside as he is getting out of there outside. I think you want to stay in front of him, and when you get your hands on him you want to hold on for dear life."
So how do you stop Vick? Discipline, says Coach P. All you can really do is maintain your rush lanes on the inside and not lose contain on the outside. Or as Bob Sturm of the DMN puts it in his look at the Cowboys defensive objectives:
If you do decide to blitz, you better not screw it up. They will barbecue you without breaking a sweat. Rush 4, try to get to the Vick release point, don't let him roll left, and have your LBs ready to get after him if he breaks contain. That is your only hope.
Last week, the Cowboys dressed only five defensive linemen (Ratliff, Brent, Olshansky, Bowen, Hatcher) instead of the usual six against the Colts.
In his locker room interview, Coach P. explained the rationale for this move: "We expected last week to be in a little bit more nickel and dime personnel. Just by the way we thought that game would go, we just thought we’d be in a little more four man rush than five man rush last week."
Turns out, more nickel and dime was just what the doctor ordered against the Colts. ESPN's Stats & Info site provides these statistics on the effectiveness of the Cowboys' nickel & dime defense:
Entering overtime against the Colts, the Cowboys' nickel-dime-quarter packages had allowed 10 passing touchdowns and recorded 10 interceptions (for an 85.5 opponents' passer rating), while their 3-4 pass defense had allowed 15 touchdowns and recorded only two interceptions (for a 120.7 opponents' passer rating)
Will Coach P. once again call the right defensive scheme to contain one of the currently most effective QBs in the league? Perhaps with an extra linebacker or two? Who knows, but you're likely to see a couple of new and perhaps unusual wrinkles to this defense, particularly on third down, in an attempt to contain Vick and the Eagles' big plays.