Weaknesses of the Dallas Cowboys offense were on full display in the recent loss to the New Orleans Saints. The Cowboys running game started off pretty well, but had to be abandoned when they quickly got so far behind that they had to use the pass to try to get back into the game. But unlike the game against the Broncos where they were able to pretty much match the opponent score for score, they weren’t able to do much with the pass either in this game.
If you read my last column that detailed what the defense needs to do to improve, then you know I am a proponent of press coverage (bump and run) by the cornerbacks on the opposing receivers. I know it works because it’s the same type of coverage that shuts down the vaunted passing attack of the Cowboys. And that is indeed the type of coverage the Saints used against them to great success. In that game Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo had to often hurry his passes due to pressure from the Saints defensive front. Because timing was off with the receivers, due to press coverage, there was often no one to throw to.
So how do they, or any other team, beat this type of coverage? The best way is to move the receivers around either with motion before the snap, or by moving them to the slot. Romo did that with their best receiver, Dez Bryant, once in that game to great success. Romo had Bryant trade positions with slot receiving specialist Cole Beasley, moving Beasley outside and Bryant into the slot. The result was Bryant’s only catch in the game and it was good for about 40 yards. I don’t understand why they didn’t do more of it in that game. There is one other way to beat press coverage as well and that is with bunch formations. Whether you know what it’s called or not, if you watch football much, I know you have seen it.
One example would be one receiver on the line and two slot receivers behind him. When the ball is snapped these three receivers start running routes that take them in different directions, hopefully impeding a defensive back that has a receiver or another defender between him and the receiver he is responsible for. In theory, that receiver is the one that is open and the quarterback throws him the ball. I say in theory when I am talking about the Cowboys because they don’t seem to be into doing anything innovative on offense, including the types of adjustments I have just described. And playing good offense became more of a challenge for the Cowboys once their best guard, Brian Waters, was put on injured reserve. So now, more than ever, it’s time to innovate.
There are games on the remaining schedule against teams the Cowboys can run on. Yes, even with this offensive line. In these games they need to keep pounding their opponent with run after run. Not only will they control the ball and time of possession, they will also be able to have success with play action passes. When a team is running well the opponent often commits more defenders to the line of scrimmage, setting up excellent opportunities for the long pass in selective situations.
As much as we all like the hurry up offense and spread formations with empty backfields that the Cowboys have had success with this year, a team like the Cowboys must use it sparingly. When your defense is struggling, as the Cowboys defense has, you have to limit how many times the other offense gets the ball. So the best way to do that is to control the clock with a good running game and short passes. I know that not what many of us want to see, but that is where the Cowboys find themselves. It goes without saying that after long time consuming drives the Cowboys need to come away with points.
So the formula for offensive success is as follows:
When ahead run the ball and use short passes to control the clock, mixing in high percentage play action passes.
When behind especially against press coverage, use motion, bunch formations and your best receiver in the slot to make plays.