Beating The Cowboys: Three Plays To Attack Their Defense

Splash plays.  Every team wants them but how do they happen? This article is going to look at the upcoming defense of the upcoming opponent focusing on the three biggest plays they allowed the previous week. It’ll take a look at the whole play including details such as personnel, formations, blocking schemes and route combinations. As a follow up to each play, there will be the Steelers Scenario identifying the player or players who could benefit by running similar plays.

Week 9 Opponent – Dallas Cowboys

Games reviewed vs Arizona Cardinals, The Washington Football Team

Play One

Q4 10:44 – 3rd and 2 on the ARZ 29

Arizona – 11 personnel

Dallas– Nickel, Cover 1 Man Under

The Cardinals have two receivers to each side in tight splits with a running back flanking the quarterback to the right. The Cowboys have five defensive backs on the field which is basically their base defense.

To the left Arizona has Larry Fitzgerald (11) on the line of scrimmage with DeAndre Hopkins (10) outside of him and off the line. To the right they have the same formation with tight end Dan Arnold (85) on the line with Christian Kirk (13) on the outside.  In the backfield they have Chase Edmonds (29) flanking the QB to the right.

Dallas has their nickel back Jourdan Lewis (26) and Trevon Diggs (27) to the right, safety Donovan Wilson (37) in the deep middle and Anthony Brown (30) and free safety Xavier Woods (25) to the left.

The Cowboys are playing Man coverage making the mesh the Cardinals run very hard to defend. They run four receivers to the middle of the field to force natural rub routes making it difficult for the DB’s to stay with their man. Fitzgerald runs up the seam before turning outside to the corner while Kirk runs a curl to the middle of the field. Arnold runs a crossing route to the left with Hopkins crossing underneath him to the right. The convergence of routes causes Diggs, who is covering Hopkins to have to run over the route of Fitzgerald, avoid Woods who is crossing with Arnold and then avoid Brown trailing Kirk. Add in the wheel route by Edmonds taking linebacker Jaylen Smith (54) with him this opens the middle of the field.

Hopkins is hard enough to cover without other obstacles so this leaves him wide open and he turns a 5 yard pass into a 60 yard gain.

Steelers Scenario – The Steeler could use Ebron to run the crossing route with Washington running the curl to the middle.  JuJu Smith-Schuster runs the seam route with Diontae Johnson running the shallow cross where they could put his elusiveness after the catch on display.


Play Two

Q1 11:49 – 2nd and 9 on the DAL 45

Washington – 21 personnel

Dallas – Nickel, Base

Washington has two running backs on the field, two wide receivers in a bunch to the left with a tight end inline to the right.  Dallas is in there base defense with their defensive tackle in the A gaps.

Washington has J.D McKissic (41) is lined up in the backfield and tight end Logan Thomas (82) on the right end of the line. The grouping to the left has Terry McLaurin (17) in the front, wide receiver Cam Sims (89) on the outside and running back Antonio Gibson inside.  The defensive line is playing with a two gap responsibility.

Before the snap Sims will run jet motion to the right with the timing to receive a fake handoff while in motion.  From the center out to the tight end the offensive line is  going to block down to the left with the left tackle hinging to cover the back side.  The left guard Wes Schweitzer (71) is going to pull to the right to become a lead blocker along with Sims. At the snap Gibson breaks to the right and will take an inside handoff from the QB and run around the right edge with the two lead blockers. Smith keys on McKissic and this gets him to move left with the motion then right with McKissic before giving chase. Leighton Vander Esch tries to duck under the right tackle to get to the ball but this shortens his angle and he can’t get there. Sims walls off the DB Brown to the outside with Schweitzer getting enough of the nickel back Lewis to clear a lane for Gibson and a 40 yard gain.

Steelers Scenario – The Steelers have only run 21 personnel twice so this would be a nice wrinkle to the offense. The receivers have been the same with Johnson and Chase Claypool but the running backs have varied.  So for this play Johnson would line up in the front of the bunch with Claypool on the outside running the motion and becoming the lead blocker. I’d like to see James Conner in the backfield and Anthony McFarland running the ball to get his speed on the edge.


Play Three

Q1 5:04 – 2nd and 5 on the DAL 45

Washington -12 personnel

Dallas – Nickel, Cover 3

Washington starts out in a power I formation with a tight end lined up at fullback.  Dallas again is in their base nickel defense and it looks like this should have been a Cover 3.

Tight end Jeremy Sprinkle (87) lines up as the fullback with Peyton Barber (34) dotting the I in the backfield. Thomas is lined up on the wing to the right. McLaurin is wide to the right and Sims wide to the left.  Sprinkle will then shift to the left wing and Thomas will then motion inside and settle back where he started.

This is a three man route with play action with quarterback Kyle Allen (8) showing the ball to Barber in the backfield. Dallas looks like they are playing a Cover 3 with Zone underneath.  Sims will run a Dig route with Brown staying close and then running with him on the break heading toward Wilson in the middle of the field.

Diggs is lined up over McLaurin and will run with him on a Post. Vander Esch is keying the running back if he releases but drops into the curl/flat Zone. Free safety Woods is going to blitz from the left side. These three actions leave the right side of the field open allowing Thomas to run an out and up with no one near him. If Diggs plays Zone, he’ll pass off the Post to the safety and can cover the open area but he doesn’t leading to a 26 yard gain.

Steelers Scenario – In 12 personnel the Steelers are fairly consistent with who they use.  Conner is the running back; Johnson would be running the post and JuJu running the Dig.  Vance McDonald would line up as the fullback and Ebron on the wing running the out and up.




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