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Did Washington Discover The Blueprint To Defeat Dallas?

Dallas had no answer for Washington's blitzing attack. Is this a blueprint for the rest of the league to use?

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Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

At the halfway point of the season Dallas was riding high, going into its Week 8 matchup against the Washington Redskins on a six-game winning streak. Washington was limping along, and starting their third-string quarterback, and it looked like an easy win for Dallas. Then disaster struck. Dallas had no answer for Washington's constant pressure, Tony Romo got injured, and Dallas lost in overtime.

So did Washington come up with the blueprint to beat Dallas? Should we be worried that the rest of the league now knows how to stop our offense? Let's look at what the numbers say.

The blueprint that the Redskins used against Dallas was fairly simple; constant, unrelenting pressure. According to the folks at Washington blitzed Dallas 18 times, and pressured Romo 12 times. But what does that actually mean? Not all blitzes are the same after all. Some people consider a zone blitz where you rush a back-seven player but drop a defensive lineman into coverage to be a blitz, even though it's still only four people rushing. And should we really consider five, six, or even seven man blitzes equal?

To attempt to quantify exactly how much pressure a team brings, as opposed to how often it blitzes, I've devised what I call true rush rate. It's fairly simple. On each defensive play a team has 11 "snaps", one for each player. To calculate the true rush rate, I've simply taken the number of defensive snaps a team used rushing the passer each game (as provided by PFF), and divided it by the total number of defensive snaps played against the pass, thus coming up with a percentage of snaps used rushing the passer.

For example the week before playing Dallas, Washington played Tennessee. Tennessee attempted to pass the ball 29 times, meaning Washington played 319 snaps against the pass, (29 x 11 = 319). There were 135 pass rush snaps by Washington, giving them a true rush rate of 42.3%

So what does that mean for Dallas? Is rushing Tony Romo and Co. the way to win?

Pressure Against Dallas
Opponent Blitzed Pressured True Rush Rate Win/Lose QB Rating
San Francisco 3 9 40.7% Lost 60.8
Tennessee 18 12 46.3% Won 93.5
St. Louis 12 4 46.2% Won 116.8
New Orleans 9 8 41.8% Won 137.4
Houston 12 12 38.5% Won 98
Seattle 6 10 42.4% Won 110.2
New York Giants 7 7 38.5% Won 135.7
Washington 20 14 44.3% Lost 95.7/105.1
Arizona 13 12 44.4% Lost 55.5
Jacksonville 6 8 41.2% Won 138.8

Looking at the table, there aren't any real trends that stand out. Washington certainly blitzed the most with 20 blitzes, but that was only two more than Tennessee (18). Washington also had the most pressures, but not by much (Washington had 14 pressures, multiple teams had 12). If this was a blueprint, the league hasn't noticed yet; neither Arizona or Jacksonville blitzed Dallas nearly as much as Washington, though the Cardinals actually sent more rushers when they did blitz.

It's also not clear if blitzing is the most effective way to get pressure. Washington had to blitz 20 times to get their 14 pressures. San Francisco, on the other hand, blitzed only three times and generated nine pressures. New Orleans, Houston, Seattle, and the Giants all had much better pressure to blitz ratios than Washington had.

Nor is it clear that selling out on the blitz works. The two highest true rush rates we saw were against Tennessee and St. Louis, two games that Tony Romo played very well in. San Francisco and Washington make a good comparison as we had the same number of pass attempts in each game. But San Fran barely blitzed or pressured Dallas, and still won. I think it's fair to say that the blueprint to beating Dallas isn't pressure, it's hoping Tony Romo has an off game.

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