The Cowboys probably aren’t going to make the playoffs. At 3-5 and playing horribly on offense, that’s pretty obvious. A Week 10 loss in Philadelphia would seal their fate, however, while a win would leave the door of optimism cracked open just a bit longer. Here’s what to watch. . .
Will the Cowboys run more spread?
Everyone is asking whether the Cowboys will run a hurry-up, no-huddle attack moving forward. They’ve excelled with an up-tempo offense late in their last two games against the Giants and Falcons. While forgoing a huddle can be useful for the Cowboys when they want to force the defense to keep certain personnel on the field, I think a lot of the success they’ve had in those situations is also due to running spread looks. Whereas Jason Garrett typically likes to attack defenses with tight formations and “12” personnel, spread looks have been more successful for the ‘Boys. We’ve all seen the passing efficiency, but don’t forget that the Cowboys ran for 5.1 YPC from spread formations against Atlanta, compared to1.5 YPC from tight formations—a consistent trend over the past three seasons.
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Will Garrett call for more screens or max protection?
No team in the NFL has run fewer screens than the Cowboys with 12. In addition to calling only seven screens to running backs all season, Garrett also rarely dials up max protection. Both screens and max pass protection could help slow down an Eagles defense that I’m sure is going to come after Tony Romo in an effort to force some turnovers.
Max protection in particular could be of use to Dallas because, with the Eagles’ aggressive secondary, the Cowboys could really find success on a double-move or two this week. Those require proper protection, of course—something in which Garrett has called such little confidence that the ‘Boys have attempted only five double-moves all season. Since Romo is 3-for-5 for 128 yards and two touchdowns on those passes, though, I’d say more are in order.
Will Rob Ryan bring pressure on Michael Vick?
Vick has a passer rating of just 41.2
and a habit of being careless with the ball when he’s pressured. Still, I don’t think that’s necessarily evidence that the Cowboys should blitz Vick. The quarterback holds onto the ball longer than all but one NFL quarterback—3.12 seconds on average, to be exact—so the rush should be able to reach him without blitzes.
Plus, outside of a few zone blitz concepts, the majority of coverage behind a blitz is Cover 1, i.e. most of the back seven defenders would have their backs turned to Vick following a blitz. The quarterback can still absolutely fly, so it would be suitable for the defense to avoid giving him big patches of space in which to run.
Jonathan Bales is the founder of The DC Times. He writes for DallasCowboys.com and the New York Times. He's also the author of Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft.