A couple of days ago, we dove into the defensive mistakes the Cowboys made in the first Eagles games. But it wasn't all on the defense, the offense was equally culpable in that Thanksgiving Day disaster. How can they avoid that the second time around? Glad you asked.
1. Tony Romo Must Play Better
Romo knows it, we all know it. He played poorly in the first game. We already know he'll take a pain shot to relieve the issues with his back, something he didn't do before the previous game. But it's more than that, Romo was making poor decisions throughout the game.
This is a pretty typical look at what the Cowboys offense was facing most of the game. The Eagles played a lot of man-to-man with a single-high safety. They also blitzed. Here they are going to bring six rushers (yellow box) and leave their cover guys in man (red lines) with a single-high safety (red circle).
As they play progresses, the Cowboys pick up the blitz and leave Romo with a fairly comfortable pocket (yellow lines). The three receivers are covered in man (red circles) with the safety starting to cheat down towards Dez Bryant (red arrow). Romo is looking at Dez all the way. What he's not looking at is Jason Witten down the seam (blue box) who is just starting to get separation.
Romo still has a nice pocket so he's got time to survey the field (yellow circle) but decides to throw it to a covered Dez (bottom red circle) anyway. The Cowboys outside receivers are covered (red circles) but in the middle Cole Beasley (green circle) and Jason Witten (blue circle) have broken into the open. Witten is deep enough for an easy first down.
Romo was locking in on receivers early in this game, and he also wasn't trusting himself when they were open. There were at least four plays on crucial downs where Romo threw into coverage instead off looking off for a second or third read, or just bypassed an open man. And he had time on these plays, the Eagles rush was not always in his face. Romo is the key to winning by playing better, but the Cowboys game plan could help him out. Read on.
2. Utilize The Middle Of The Field
The Cowboys are a team that likes to work outside the hashmarks, they generally only go inside with their tight ends or running backs. They need to change that up against the Eagles. They were leaving the middle of the field wide open and Dallas was not flooding that area with receivers. Slants, drag routes, two-receiver crossing patterns causing natural picks, bunch formations with picks for guys to the middle - all of these would destroy the Eagles defensive game plan.
Here is just one example, but this is a formation the Cowboys saw on defense a lot. Look at how many Eagles are crowding the line (yellow line). On third downs especially, the Eagles were very aggressive. Now look at how open the middle of the field is (red circle). This is no exaggeration, the Cowboys had this all day and failed to take advantage. On this play, they finally ran a pattern that would work.
Romo drops back with a secure pocket (yellow lines). He looks to Dez again who is double covered (red circle). Look at Cole Beasley (blue circle) running a slant across the middle of the defense. He's wide open. Will Romo come off of Dez and throw to Beasley?
File this play under "Romo needs to play better" and "the Cowboys should utilize the middle more." There is Romo (yellow circle) with plenty of time. There is Beasley (red circle) coming across the middle and has been open his whole pattern. Why Romo does not throw him the ball (it would be a first down) is anybody's guess. But if the Cowboys run more patterns like this on Sunday, and if Romo will give them the ball, things will be different.
3. Use Their Aggressive Defense Against Them
The Eagles defense was so aggressive that if the Cowboys had taken the time to use that against them, they could have had a lot of success. I won't post screencaps of it, but some of the Cowboys best success on the ground was when their running backs used cutbacks. Dallas should go ahead and scheme in some planned cutback runs on the Eagles in this game.
They also can use more play-action.
Here is the typical Eagles defense against the Cowboys. Single-high safety (red circle) with linebackers and safeties (yellow circles) crowded along the line.
As Romo drops back to hand off to DeMarco Murray (yellow circle), look how aggressive the linebackers and safety are (red circles). This screen cap is at the moment of handoff, so if the play had been a play-action pass Dallas would have had a ton of room to work with in the middle (blue circle).
Obviously if Dallas had sent eligible recievers into the pattern, the safety and linebackers would have tried to back off and recover, but I'd take my chances with the Cowboys skill players running man-to-man with the Eagles defenders who are trying to reverse course after being so aggressive.
Here is a perfect example of things the Cowboys can do to combat the Eagles aggressive, stop the run and blitz nature against Dallas. On third down, once again the Eagles are crowding the line (yellow line).
Dallas counters by running a bubble screen to Cole Beasley. Romo (yellow circle) sucks in the pass rush while Beasley comes back for the screen pass (red circle). Dez (blue circle) is lining up his block while the Cowboys line (orange box/arrow) is getting out on the screen. The Eagles only have two guys even remotely close to the ball, this play goes for 16 yards.
If the Eagles are going to play Dallas again like this on Sunday night, the Cowboys offense could kill them by utilizing more screens, play-action, bunch formations and other plays that counter aggressive defenses.