Dallas fans have been exasperated by pick plays, or rub routes, for some time now. New England used them to great effect in their last win here in 2015 and since then Cowboys fans have been asking them two questions almost incessantly:
1) How do we stop these things?
2) Why don't we do it, too?
Well the answer to number two is that the Cowboys do use them and have had some success in contributing to Cole Beasley's "always open" status by their application.
But sometimes things go awry, as they did against San Francisco. So on this play we'll examine one way to defeat this kind of route combination. Here we find Dallas lined up with Brice Butler split left and Terrance Williams wide right (off screen). Jason Witten (blue circle) is standing up and Cole Beasley (blue rectangle) is in the slot.
The intent is for Witten to run the seam and Beasley to break inside underneath, causing the CB over him to have to run through Witten's path to cover Beasley. Unfortunately, Witten gets jammed hard off the line and circles way to the right when he should be moving upfield. This totally disrupts the timing and spacing of the play.
Beasley (in the blue circle now) literally has to wait for Witten to move out of the way-- something that would've taken too long even in Witten's prime. Had Witten gone straight upfield he'd be a few yards further on, Beasley could break in, and the CB covering him would be the one having to wait for Witten to pass like an oncoming freight train.
Several things happen here. Because he is holding up and waiting, Beasley has gone deeper than he intended and hasn't cut in at all. Had he been able to break inward at the previous picture, he'd be somewhere along the blue arrow, crossing the face of the relatively stationary safety and headed for that nice open blue rectangle. More importantly, Navarro Bowman has patiently waited for the offensive line to occupy themselves and has now noticed that no one is standing between him and Dak Prescott. He charges. Were Beasley on his route, Dak could easily deliver him the ball. Depending on how fast he was moving, number 11 might have even made a big gainer out of it. There's a lot of green out there and not much in the way of red and gold uniforms. But instead, Dak, with nowhere to really send the ball, takes a sack .
The real thing to notice here is that timing and precision play every bit as much a part of this game as power and athleticism. If one player botches their execution, the entire play can be ruined. This is why guys like Jason Witten can stay effective for so long... because he very rarely does something like this and fails to clear his assignment.