Eagles Recap: The Cowboys Are Caught in the Denver Trap

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In July, I wrote a three-part series on the series of moves and counter-moves the Cowboys defense followed to stop an effective counter trap play the Broncos used against them.  Denver’s Josh McDaniels got big yard for Knowshon Moreno trapping Demarcus Ware, using Ware’s rush skills against him.

In the October Eagles game, Andy Reid and his OC Marty Morhinweg used the same play, and got some real estate of their own.  The Cowboys adjusted to the play in the week 17 re-match and stuffed the Eagles running game.   In the playoff game the following week the Eagles planned a special pass off this run action and beat Dallas for a long touchdown.  At the end of part three, I noted:

This is how NFL coordinators spend good chunks of their summers, looking for obvious tendencies in their own games and how they can tweak them for their team’s benefit, especially against familiar divisional foes.

Round one in 2010 goes to the Eagles.  Morhinweg unwrapped the counter trap in the third quarter and it was probably the decisive play in Philadelphia’s close 30-27 win.  It’s a brilliantly conceived play, and the Eagles have tweaked it to maximize the complementary skills of Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy and the speedy Eagles wideouts.

It was unveiled on the first play of Philadelphia’s series after the Cowboys had scored a touchdown to take a 20-14 lead.  Philadelphia worked out of a two tight end overload, with both lined up outside of the right tackle.  WR Desean Jackson lined up tight, just wide of the TEs, while Jeremy Maclin worked left.  Dallas deployed to stop a run towards the overload.  It’s in man-to-man coverage with FS Alan Ball high and SS Gerald Sensabaugh in the box over the wider TE, who is Sensabaugh’s responsibility if he released on a pass:

At the snap, McCoy  takes a step to his right, as if he’s running behind the right edge blocking, but he’s going to bend the run back left and follow the F-back Clay Harbor, who is pulling left to trap Ware on the left edge:

The action for his play occurs on the left edge.  Both Ware and DE Igor Olshansky are rushing upfield to take away any Vick bootleg or to get to him if he keeps the ball and looks for play action.  Philadelphia had opened a couple of runs with run fakes and a Cowboys sellout to the run had given Vick time to find Jackson deep behind Dallas’ secondary.

ILB Bradie James has crashed the C gap outside the RT, but Keith Brooking and Sensabaugh are holding to see if Vick keeps the ball or hands it off.  If Brooking changes the run and Vick runs a boot, Harbor will run underneath the line of scrimmage and release uncovered into the left flat.  If Sensabaugh crashes, he’s giving up the middle to Brent Celek on a play action.

That hesitancy, and Olshansky’s hard outside rush, create a huge lane off left guard.  Todd Herremens blocks down on Jay Ratliff, allowing the center to get out in space and lock onto Brooking.  McCoy following Harbor inside and he’s gone for 55:

The play has other variants.  The ”purer” play the Broncos ran attacked the gap between Ware and Olshansky, and the Eagles called it in the 4th, on their drive after Dimitri Patterson picked Jon Kitna.  Here, you see the multiple options the run gives McCoy.  Philly again deploys in the overload, but this time the guard and right tackle double-team DE Stephen Bowen, to win the edge:

The counter gives McCoy three possible running spots, depending on how the defense plays it.  If Ware rushes hard upfield, Harbor will trap him wide and McCoy can but back in the lane between Ware and Bowen. If Ware flattens out, Harbor will block his outside shoulder and open up the edge, where McCoy can bounce outside.  This is why Sean Lee appears to take the wrong step.  That outside gap, between Ware and Bowen is his responsibility, and you can see him fighting to get there in this still:

Brooking has hung too deep in space and has let Herrmens get out and engage him.  This creates the third option, inside, where McCoy takes the football.  The Cowboys safeties are late to charge and McCoy rips off eleven.

Dallas stopped the play for a short gain the next time it was run, because Brooking was much faster on his read and raced into the right A-gap before Herremens could reach him.  However, the Eagles had an evolutionary play in their bag to keep the defense honest.  On the next play it lined up in the same overload, with Jackson on the edge of the tight ends.  They ran the trap at him, but ran Jackson on a reverse outside of McCoy’s inside fake:

Ware was sucked inside, after seeing McCoy run inside so often.  Sean Lee held the edge against LT Jason Peters, allowing Ware to recover and chase Jackson down after a short gain.

This proved one of Dallas’ few wins.  Watch the game-killing Eagles drive after Dallas closed to 30-27 and you’ll see this trap draw run several times, with McCoy gaining 8 plus yards every time.  Dallas got this game under control in January, but the Eagles have now based their running game off of it.  McCoy gained over 100 yards in the second half, and I’d say at least 80% of it came on this counter trap.

Pasqualoni and his guys get a rematch in three weeks.  If they want a chance to win it, they’ll have to again come to terms with this play.

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Rafael Vela

Rafael Vela

Started covering Dallas Cowboys @ TheBoys.com in '95 and '96. Two more stops along the way and here I am. Senior Analyst for SportsTalkLine.com