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To Catch a Copycat, Part Two

Part one of this mini-series demonstrated a play the Broncos effectively sprung on Dallas in an early season game.  In part two, we'll explore how the Eagles incorporated this play into their plan of attack, modified it, and what the Cowboys did to stop it.

The Wrinkles

Denver's play succeeded because it countered a Dallas' strength, namely Demarcus Ware's weak-side rush.  The Broncos' pass attack in the game's early phases relied on short passes and bootlegs, which also aimed to confuse Ware -- is action to his side a play-action pass or a run?  Ware and his mates played run first and left themselves open to the trap.

The Eagles made note of the trap.  They are a pass-heavy team in the best of circumstances.  In this matchup, they were missing their long-time running back Brian Westbrook, who had suffered a severe concussion.  They needed to demonstrate a running threat to keep Ware from teeing off.  

The Eagles worked to confuse Ware from their opening drive.  On Philly's initial possession, the team faced a third and short.  The team deployed in the two-tight end overload Denver used to spring the trap:

                          43                                               26

                                                    51                 56

      21                    93      99                 90            96        94                                41

      WR                   TE       LT     LG      C      RG    RT                           
                        H-B ----------------------------------------------------->                                  WR


                                                          QB        RB

On this play, Donovan McNabb faked a run left to LeSean McCoy and rolled to his right.  McNabb's primary target was H-back Alex Smith, who was running a drag underneath the line of scrimmage.  Smith released into the right flat, where he was picked up by a Cowboys' linebacker.  Ware charged McNabb and forced and errant throw. 

The Eagles had shown the Cowboys the overload and had run the H-back at Ware.  Because the back was running away from the H-back, Ware correctly read the play as a pass and forced the incompletion. 

A short time later, Michael Vick replaced McNabb and the Eagles set up in a spread formation, with three WRs, at TE outside the RT and FB Leonard Weaver set in the left flat.  Before the snap, Weaver motioned left-to-right and started the play just outside the TE, as a wing-back.  This is a spread overload, with only Vick in the backfield.

The look of the formation suggests a pass, but the design of the play was the Denver counter.  At the snap the TE blocked the Cowboys DE Marcus Spears.  The Eagles RG pulled left.  Weaver went left, faked taking a handoff and followed the RG towards the left edge of Dallas' D.  Vick simply tucked the ball into his own gut and followed Weaver and the guard. 

The play was designed to suck Ware into a looping pass rush, block him wide and give Vick another lead blocker into a lane off left tackle.  Ware stayed home and his friends made a scrum in the middle of the line of scrimmage, holding Vick to a short gain.

The Eagles were now showing their quarterback as a run threat, the target for Ware to key on.  Almost immediately after Vick left the field, they called the original Denver weakside trap, straight up.  They overloaded the right side with two TEs, but again added another wrinkle.  The TE Brent Celek was split wide of the RT, with H-back Smith standing inside of him.  Both TEs were standing at the snap, again suggesting a pass from this formation.  LeSean McCoy initially took the handoff right and then followed the trapping Smith left at Ware.

By now Ware had the feel for the play, but his mates were fooled by the pass tendencies.  Ware crashed down the line and he and Smith formed a pile on the left edge.  Because no Cowboys defender covered the outside, McCoy bounced the play wide and gained 13 yards, before Keith Brooking tracked him down.

Philly ran the play a second time for a big gain, when McCoy spun free from a crashing Junior Siavii and bounced wide of Anthony Spencer for 17 yards.

The Cowboys were still seeing this play and had yet to figure out how to stop it.  Familiarity seemed to help.  In the second half, the outside linebackers and the inside linebackers got that the overload likely meant a trap run away from the overload.  When the Eagles tried the play in the 3rd quarter, Ware read it, raced into the backfield and directly at Smith.  He knocked Smith backwards.  Just as important, Ware kept his hat outside of Smith's wide shoulder, preventing McCoy from taking the play wide. 

McCoy had to cut the play into the middle of the line, where Keith Brooking and nickel back Orlando Scandrick stopped him for just three yards. 

The Cowboys defenders, in the course of 30 minutes of game time, sifted through the dummy looks and misdirection and tuned in the patterns of Philadelphia's running attack.  They shut the Eagles runners down in that half and in the rematch in December, when Weaver, McCoy and the rehabbed Westbrook combined for a measly 27 yards.

Andy Reid and Marty Morhinweg had thrown three wrinkles at Wade Phillips' guys and the Cowboys quickly ironed them out.  However, Reid and Morhinweg had one more go at Dallas' D the following week and showed just how far one play can evolve over the course of a season.

Next:  A run to the back, a run by the QB, a bootleg,or something else?


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