Our weekly look at how the Cowboys took advantage (or, often, didn’t take advantage) of their best offensive weapon.
Heading into the Cowboys Week 6 matchup with the Redskins, there was nothing clandestine about Washington defensive coordinator Jim Haslett's plan to combat Tony Romo and Co. He was going to blitz Romo to the quarterback's breaking point, just like he did in the de facto division title game in Week 17 last year. This was a dicey proposition, because the Redskins secondary (through four games anyways) had been very suspect. At times though, it seems as if Haslett doesn't care. He's so confident in his ability to generate real pressure that he's willing to roll the dice on his cover guys. And, despite being on the decline, he does still have DeAngelo Hall.
Hall and Bryant had an entertaining battle in the aforementioned final game of the 2013 regular season. This of course was the result of Bryant torching Josh Wilson on Thanksgiving, and it's a safe bet that for the duration of time that Hall is a Redskin (perhaps only this year, as he's on a one-year deal), he'll be shadowing 88.
As we can see below, he did a pretty good job in that regard this time around, without the benefit of down-to-down safety help.
BRYANT AGAINST HELP DEFENSE
|10-12 Yd. Out||1||0||0||0|
|Screen (any type)||0||0||0||0|
|5-7 Yd. Stop||2||2||2||11|
|13-15 Yd. Comeback||1||0||0||0|
BRYANT AGAINST NO HELP
|Route||Against No Help||Targets||Comp.||Yards|
|10-12 Yd. Out||1||0||0||0|
|Screen (any type)||1||1||1||2|
|5-7 Yd. Stop||0||0||0||0|
|13-15 Yd. Comeback||1||0||0||0|
So, on 28 routes, Hall was without safety help 39% of the time. Really, this is just basic math (or rather, the Redskins inability to convince the league to allow them to play with 12 or 13 defenders, I guess). Washington blitzed a far-and-away season high 55% of the time against Dallas. It's almost as if Haslett plays Romo in the way that a lot of teams play Dez: "I'm going to commit an extra defender to this guy, and see if they can figure it out from there." That constant pressuring of Romo which prevented too much from developing downfield combined with a good performance from Hall basically took Dez out of this game. As far as the boxscore is concerned, anyways.
However, as I've written in previous weeks, I believe this Cowboys offense is good enough to find a favorable solution to any problem it is presented. Not necessarily on a down-to-down basis, but on a game-to-game basic. In this game, they did just that with a nice mix of Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley. Obviously, the special teams plays were the key to the game, but I feel confident that had those plays not resulted in scores and field position, this Cowboys offense still would've been able to do enough to make the Washington defense pay for their aggressive posture.
Although Bryant only had 5 catches for 36, it's not like he was targeted several times but was just unable to make a play on the ball. Only three throws that went his way resulted in incompletions (actually coming on back-to-back plays in the middle of that string of three consecutive three-and-outs in the third quarter).
On their second drive of the game, Dallas seemed intent on making quick throws to Bryant in order to neutralize the blitz while also making Hall tackle Dez in space. Three of his eight targets on the day came on consecutive plays in this drive, all completed for short gains. The one I would like to briefly highlight was the third play of the drive, a 1st and 10 set up by a completion to Bryant on a stop route on the previous play.
There has been talk in the past of Romo not trusting Bryant, not believing he's on the same page with the quarterback when it comes to split-second decision-making. These charges certainly had merit at one point. I believe we are past that point. The visual is below.
Hall is pressing Bryant. The LB over Beasley in the slot, Perry Riley, is blitzing. It would seem that this would make Beasley the hot, and he clearly has some room to run if Romo opts to go there with the ball, but with pressure in his face and Riley about to level him, he puts the ball in front of Dez and trusts that he will get position on his man. Hall plays this route about as well as could be expected, but Bryant is just too physical to give up leverage here. More than that, he knows the angle he has to take when breaking inside to keep this from being a dangerous throw. The QB knows that, and most importantly, it seems he knows Dez knows that. The end zone view helps us see what Romo saw.
Our other visual this week comes from a play that occurred early in the 4th quarter with the Cowboys leading 21-16 and still needing points. After a 14-yard completion to Cole Beasley, Dallas faced a 1st and 10 from the Washington 47. Bryant is on the bottom of the screen and although their are no other receivers outside of him, he has a slot alignment which brings him closer to formation. As we have discussed in weeks previous, the variation in Bryant's alignments have been criminally low compared to other elite "outside" receivers around the league. Bringing him in tighter or putting him in the slot makes it easier to get him to the middle of the field with room to run, creates confusion for the defense on who is responsible for him, and makes it more difficult to double cover him. There is no player on this roster I would rather have with the ball in hands and a head of steam than Bryant. As you can below, Hall is running with Bryant no matter where he goes, and doing a pretty good job of it. But the more traffic he has to fight through and the longer he has to run, the more likely it is Bryant can fight for more yards. Which he did, turning this shallow drag into a 17-yard gain that was actually the Cowboys longest play of the day.
It's not exactly as pretty as a Denver/Manning pick play, but the idea is the same. This is how you get the most out of your playmakers regardless of how the defense wants to attack your QB or cover your elite WRs.