The Philadelphia Eagles thumped the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day. It was a complete beatdown. So how can the Cowboys avoid a repeat this Sunday night in Philadelphia? A few key concepts could help.
1. Set The Edge
If I'm Dallas, I want LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles fighting for yardage in the middle of the field instead of getting the edge. In the first game, the Cowboys gave up the edge way too easy.
This is basic football that the Cowboys failed to execute repeatedly. There's nothing fancy here, Darren Sproles is going from left to right in the picture and searching for a hole. Jeremy Mincey is the defensive end (yellow circle) and has to set the edge forcing Sproles to turn the ball up field. He appears to be in good position to do that. Anthony Hitchens (red circle) is flowing to fill the hole, he also looks to be in good shape.
Sproles presses the hole ever so slightly and Mincey gives up his outside edge (yellow circle), meanwhile Hitchens is taking on the block of the offensive lineman (red circle). At this point, if Mincey forces Sproles to the middle, the Cowboys have the play contained.
Instead, Mincey gets washed inside (yellow circle), Hitchens is fighting a block (red circle) and Sproles is free to get 13 yards outside (blue arrow). All becasue the Cowboys don't set the edge.
The Cowboys do the same thing again on the next play. Here, they even know that McCoy is going to fake going towards the right side of the picture and cut back to the left. Notice Rolando McClain (yellow circle) pointing out what is going to happen. But no one trusts the scouting.
When the ball is snapped, McClain takes one false step then gets picked up in a block (yellow circle) that slows him down just enough to where he can't get outside. More egregiously, Hitchens and J.J. Wilcox crash down on the fake to the inside (red circle and arrow) while McCoy cuts back and rumbles for huge yards (blue arrow).
If the Cowboys hope to have any chance on Sunday, the ends, linebackers and safeties will have to set the edges and send McCoy/Sproles back into traffic in the middle of the field.
2. Don't Outscheme Yourself
Plays like this are just handing yards to the Eagles offense who do a great job going counter to your defensive design. Here Dallas over-shifts their front seven. The Cowboys beef (yellow arrows) are all on one side save the defensive end who is plying inside the right tackle. That leaves Barry Church and Anthony Hitchens (red arrows) to set the edge.
The Eagles run across the formation, the tight end blows out Church and a pulling guard seals off Hitchens (yellow circles), McCoy is free to take the edge for 31 easy yards (blue arrow).
The Cowboys would be wise to stay in base looks and force the Eagles to the center of the field in the run game. The Seahawks did a lot of that on Sunday and bottled up the Eagles offense.
3. Understand Your Assignment, Don't Overcommit
Dallas was a disaster in coverage in the first game. Part of it was they didn't even understand what their assignments were.
Twice on the same drive Brandon Carr broke off of his receiver to cover Darren Sproles, even though he was already being checked by Orlando Scandrick. Sproles (yellow circle) runs a simple pattern out of the backfield. Scandrick (red circle) slides over to cover him but Carr (red circle/arrow) leaves his man to do the same. The Eagles receiver (blue circle) is wide open and makes a huge gain.
Later on the drive it happens again. The Eagles motion Sproles out (something they do often with both backs) and he ends up in the flats (yellow circle). Scandrick is sort of covering him and Carr breaks off his man to do the same (red circles). Meanwhile, two Eagles receivers are open (blue circles) and only because of a terrible pass by Sanchez to one receiver (blue arrow) did the Eagles miss a touchdown.
The Cowboys simply can't blow coverages like this throughout the game. Don't think it was only Carr, others also got lost in their coverage.
Here is another play the Eagles run all the time. They fake the handoff (yellow circle)and roll Sanchez out. The Cowboys linebackers all bite on the fake and overcommit (red circles/arrows). Meanwhile, the Eagles are slipping Jordan Matthews across the line (blue circle/arrow).
The Cowboys are asking a lot of their linebackers to make this coverage. Hitchens realizes his mistake (red circle) and starts to reverse field but Matthews (blue circle/arrow) has got speed and momentum on his side and blows by for an easy catch and touchdown on the play. If the Cowboys are going to use this coverage on this play, then McClain should at least get a hit on Matthews and not give him a free release.
The Cowboys defense was not ready for the Eagles. Whether it was bad preparation by the coaches, bad execution by the players or both, they were simply not prepared to face and offense of the Eagles' caliber. Fortunately, these mistakes are correctable. We'll just have to see if they do it.
To buy tickets, visit the NFL Ticket Exchange.