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Why Couldn't The Cowboys Handle The Washington Blitz?

The Cowboys were disastrous against the blitz on Monday night, but the question is why?

Tom Pennington

One of the more perplexing aspects of the Cowboys game against Washington on Monday night was why the offense was so terrible against the blitz. It's not like teams haven't blitzed Dallas before. Tony Romo is an experienced quarterback and the coaches on the Cowboys sideline have played against Jim Haslett many times. This shouldn't have been the disaster that it was, but the Cowboys were unable to pick it up, or adjust to it later in the game. Washington sacked Romo five times. Let's take a look.

Sack 1 - The Cowboys first drive of the game.


Watching how this played out, you have to think that Romo just made the wrong call at the line. The initial set up is actually the one Dallas wants, outside you have Jason Witten lined up with safety Brandon Meriweather (yellow circle). The Cowboys have enough guys to block up the line (red lines) but Romo seems to be worried about safety Ryan Clark (green circle) so he calls Witten into the backfield.


Instead of Clark blitzing, it is Meriweather unopposed (yellow circle). The Cowboys have single matchups (red circles) and one double-team (green circle), but no one picks up Meriweather now that Witten is in the backfield. If Romo had left Witten over there, he could have blocked Meriweather or been the hot route. Instead Witten hangs in the backfield with no one to block and eventually releases into the pattern (blue circle/arrow).


From the overhead view, the Cowboys actually have guys open. Meriweather (red circle) is closing in on Romo. Two Cowboys receivers are open but their heads are not turned (blue circle, green circle). It does appear that Romo has an outlet receiver just making his turn (yellow circle) but chooses not to throw it there. The Cowboys got out of position in their blocking scheme and weren't ready with hot routes to receive the pass, something that plagued them all game. They also never resorted to three-step drops.

Sack 2 - Cowboys second drive.


At pre-snap the Cowboys look to be in good shape. They have six blockers including the running back (yellow circles) while Washington has six guys at the line showing pass rush (red circle) and one middle linebacker in standard position.


Washington goes ahead and blitzes the middle linebacker, so they now have seven rushers on six blockers. Ryan Clark is the free rusher coming around the end (yellow arrow).


The overhead view shows that with Clark (yellow arrow) closing in, Romo is locked on the single receiver (red circle) who is just turning his head and has a corner moving in on him. On the other side, Cole Beasley is wide open (green circle) but Romo has no time to turn in that direction and Beasley hasn't turned yet either. Romo eventually has to scramble around and the defenders finally get him. This illustrates the two basic things that happened all night. The blocking scheme never seemed to be correct with the blitzes, and if the Cowboys were going to leave a free pass rusher, why didn't they have receivers getting their heads turned immediately and have Romo only drop three steps? Look at all that open room in the middle, a couple of quick slants from each side probably would have produced a huge play. Instead of running patterns that require a guy to run upfield and turn his head - using quick slants, drags, and short crosses would have killed these blitzes, but Dallas never adjusted.

Sack 3 - Cowboys drive right before halftime.


This is something Washington did quite a few times. At pre-snap it looks pretty standard, three guys on each side of the center line on defense. But then they shift the defensive tackle (yellow circle) over on top of Jeremy Parnell (red arrow).


Here at the snap you can see the defensive tackle shifted over (yellow circle). But Dallas is still in good shape with enough blockers to handle the blitz (red lines).


But what happens is Washignton runs a simple stunt, with defensive end Ryan Kerrigan looping over the defensive tackle (red arrow). Zack Martin and Jeremy Parnell are doble-teaming the tackle (yellow circle) but Martin never sees the stunt and doesn't disengage to pick up Kerrigan. He has a straight line right into Romo. This was simply a breakdown on a stunt by Martin.

Sack 4 - The one that injures Romo's back.


This one is very simple, but also a perfect illustration of how the Cowboys never adjusted all night. Washington is showing eight men in the box (yellow circle) and had shown all night they weren't afraid to bring them all on a blitz. The Cowboys have only seven blockers. This sounds like a Washington advantage but this is perfect for the Cowboys. Look at all that room between the Washington corners and the Cowboys wide receivers (red lines). Run a couple of quick slants and your receivers might still be running with the ball today.


Instead, Dallas did what they did all night, ran patterns that took too long to develop and let a free rusher go on Romo. At first, the Cowboys are okay with a quick pocket forming (yellow lines) before the middle linebacker comes screaming through untouched. But look at the receivers (red circles), neither of them have their heads turned and are still getting into their pattern, taking way too long. Imagine instead if they would have run quick slants (green arrows). If you hit Dez Bryant on this pattern three yards from the line of scrimmage he probably takes it to the house. Instead, Romo has to hold the ball and gets buried, injuring his back.

Sack 5 - The final drive of regulation.


First off, looks like a great defense to run against. But, given that Dallas chose to pass, they just didn't execute, mainly DeMarco Murray but Romo could have helped out, too. You can see Murray in the backfield (green circle), Washington is blitzing a linebacker (yellow circle) and a safety (red circle).


Once the ball is snapped, the safety is coming through the line (yellow circle) but Romo still has time. Over to his left, Cole Beasley is being covered by a linebacker, total mis-match (red circle). The linebacker had to leave from his spot lining up as the defensive end, so all his momentum is taking him outside (blue arrow) while Beasley is running a quick slant (finally!) to the middle (green arrow). If Romo just gives him the ball he's going for at least 10 yards. Instead Romo holds it.


From this view you can see the safety coming in (yellow circle) and the reason he is untouched. DeMarco Murray never sees him and instead goes to help Zack Martin double-team the blitzing linebacker (red circle). That mistake cost Dallas as Romo gets hit and fumbles the ball. Murray does make the recovery but two mistakes on this play hurt Dallas.


The Cowboys were not ready for the blitzes and the coaches never adjusted. Romo bears some blame for not getting his blockers in the correct position and he seemed slow to recognize open receivers and held the ball looking for longer gains. But it is hard to put blame on Romo when untouched pass rushers were in his grill all night. The Cowboys had a couple of break downs from Zack Martin and DeMarco Murray that contributed to the mess.

But by far the biggest question is why the Cowboys coaches didn't recognize how much of the middle of the field that Washington was leaving open and not calling more slants, drags and the like to take advantage of it. Why weren't they running some three-step drops against these all-out blitzes? This was open all night and could have led to huge plays for a guy like Dez Bryant who is very good after the catch.

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