Coming into their Week 7 matchup with Dallas, the Eagles were averaging nearly 28 points a game and 6.6 yards a play, both good for Top 5 in the league status. So it was not foolish to assume that Dallas would have to bring their "A" game offensively to get above .500 and go to 4-3. I tend to bristle at the seemingly weekly statements of "Well, I guess this just shows none of us really know what we're talking about." I believe that if you listen to the proper sources and value the proper information, the fan or media member can actually get a pretty good feeling for the pulse of a game. Usually. This...was not one of those times.
In Week 6, the Redskins made it a point to blitz Tony Romo like crazy (55% of passing downs, the highest percentage Dallas had faced to date). This, of course, made it tough to allow for the receiver's routes to develop downfield. The Dallas offense was forced to be efficient in the short-passing game, which they were. DeAngelo Hall was tasked with covering Dez Bryant, which he did without safety help 40% of the time. Special teams obviously had a massive impact on that game, so it is tough to really know how much more Dallas may have decided to attack that single coverage had they needed more points from the offense. In any case, many of us surmised that this may be the type of defense the Cowboys will begin to see more of. At least for Week 7, it appears that hypothesis was correct.
BRYANT AGAINST HELP DEFENSE
|Fade||6||1 (Hail Mary)||0||0|
|Back Shoulder Fade||1||1||0||0|
|5-7 Yd. Stop||0||0||0||0|
|13-15 Yd. Comeback||4||0||0||0|
BRYANT AGAINST NO HELP
|Route||Against No Help||Targets||Comp.||Yards|
|Back Shoulder Fade||2||2||0||0|
|Square In||1||1||0 (+1 PI on DB)||0 (PI 1st D)|
|5-7 Yd. Stop||3||2||1 (+1 PI on DB)||9|
|13-15 Yd. Comeback||4||0||0||0|
|25||13||5 (+2 PI)||56|
Early in this game, this aggressive posture befuddled the Dallas O, as they managed just a field goal on seven drives in the first half (excluding the short drive at the end of the half). Romo was able to connect on a couple of deep throws, but on the whole, the offense was just unable to find any rhythm. The QB was 10-23, and he was sacked twice. He targeted Bryant 7 times in the first two quarters, connecting just twice (once on a dig, once on a square in) for 34 yards. Romo did not look his best in this game, missing several throws. However, some of this also falls to Bryant. The referees were allowing the DBs a little more leash than average, but if Bryant wants the "Dez Or Megatron Debate" to be a serious one, he's going to have make a few more plays against physical single coverage. Especially if opposing defenses are going to keep up with this commitment to the blitz.
In the second half, he was able to do just that. After getting low returns on Bryant targets in the first half, Callahan and Romo could have gone away from Dez. Instead, they doubled down, targeting him 11 times in the 3rd and 4th quarters. He rewarded them with six catches for 76 yards and two plays where the defender covering him was flagged for pass interference.
In addition to the 50/50 split on help vs. no help, the other aspect of our route chart that jumps out is the heavy usage of inward breaking routes. Without the time in the pocket to let deep routes develop, slants, drags, and square-ins are a good way to utilize Bryant's playmaking skills when the long ball is not an option. Factoring in dig routes as well, inward-breaking routes accounted for 11 of his 18 targets on the day, and 101 of his 110 yards on the day. For the first of our visuals this week, we will focus on one such route.
3Q - 10:23 - 2ND & 2 - BALL ON PHI 20
This is the seventh play of the Cowboys first drive of the second half. Bryant had already been targeted twice for two catches and 24 yards on the possession.
Dez Bryant in the slot? Dez Bryant in the slot! As we have detailed in previous weeks, Bryant is not in the slot near enough, relative to other top flight "outside" receivers. Philadelphia is in man coverage, with an extra man stacked over Dez to make sure he can't get free. Bryant and Witten team up on a textbook "mesh" concept which serves as a pick for Bryant's defender. The second defender has to wait for the traffic to clear his face before he can break on the ball, at which time it is too late. Here's the end zone view, just to further illustrate how perfectly this is executed.
For our second visual, we will stay with the inward-breaking routes that worked so well Sunday. But this time, let's take a look at one of the second half targets where Dez was targeted but did not come up with the catch or a PI call. Again, slants and drags were a perfect antidote to what the Eagles were dialing up Sunday. But, of course, there is a danger to going across the middle. Below, see the danger.
3Q - 3:36 - 1ST & 10 - BALL ON PHI 42
This is the play right after Bryant caught a slant and took a big shot. Dez is in the left slot again, and headed for the heart of the defense again. Except this time, the Eagles' LBs have just about had enough. Bryant gets put on his butt right at five yards. The intention here, clearly, is to gain the mental edge and force the receiver to think twice about entering this territory. Interestingly, Dallas sent Bryant on the exact same route on the next play (three inward-breaking routes in a row), and although they targeted Randle out of the backfield this time, it speaks to the fact that this offense wants Dez to feel comfortable owning the middle of the field.
For our final visual this week, we will focus on a pair of catches made by Cole Beasley. As we highlighted after the Denver game, putting Beasley in the slot next to Bryant has the potential to be a lethal combination.
4Q - 10:44 - 2ND & 10 - BALL ON PHI 22
This is the eighth play of the drive, and with a 10-3 lead, Dallas needs a touchdown to put this game out of reach. Beasley has already been targeted five times for four catches. From the right slot, Cole runs a quick out, whole Bryant runs the fade. Although it is maybe the most basic route concept in the book, this combination with these two players is quickly becoming the Cowboys most effective passing play.
In fact, it's so effective, they go right back to it.
4Q - 9:28 - 3RD & 2 - BALL ON PHI 14
This time, there is no safety on their side of the play, but the results are the same. If the defender over Beasley in the slot plays his inside shoulder, he will plant his foot and drive to the outside every time, and he will be open every time. Pitch and catch.
All in all, despite his early struggles against physical man coverage, Bryant recovered in the second half and made enough plays to put the Cowboys in position to get an important road division win. In Week 8, it will be interesting to see how a Detroit defense who usually doesn't rely on the blitz chooses to defend Dallas. Although my prognostications about how the Philadelphia game would play out were quite inaccurate, I will go ahead and make the prediction that this is a week where we see Dez targeted deep multiple times. What he does with those targets may ultimately decide the outcome.