Caught in a Trap: Eagles 34, Cowboys 7

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Martellus Bennett flashes his Roy
Williams ”who me?” grin

The Philadelphia Eagles pole-axed the Cowboys last night, decking them with several early big plays that pushed Philly ahead 21-0 less than 20 minutes into the contest.

On the offensive side, the Eagles top-ranked rushing attack gashed the Dallas front with a pet play they used to torture Paul Pasqualoni’s D last winter, a bend trap that attacks the weakside end, usually Demarcus Ware.  Dallas could not stop it in Cowboys Stadium and last night, Rob Ryan’s over-zealous calls made it very easy for the Eagles to spring it on their first two series.  The first time it was called, LeSean McCoy ripped it for 28 yards.  The next time, it broke for 36.

The ease with which it worked suggest that the Eagles Andy Reid and Marty Morhinweg saw a clear tendency in Rob Ryan’s methods, because his defense ran itself out of both plays more than the Eagles blocked them out.

Play 1.  First series.  The Eagles have completed a slant to Jeremy Maclin to get near mid-field.  The Eagles set up in a one-back set, with three receivers and a tight end flanked on the right:

At the snap, the Eagles block right and McCoy starts in that direction, suggesting the sprint draw, a stock edge run.  The entire line will block that way, with the exception of TE Clay Harbour (82) who is pulling across the formation.  His task it to trap block Demarcus Ware.  The Eagles hope he’ll rush upfield and that Harbour can but him off.  If LT Jason Peters seals the DE in front of him, McCoy will have a cut-back lane when he runs bend action right to left to the lane between Peters and Harbour.

Note, however, how easy the Cowboys make it for them.  Their front slants yard to the apparent strong side. All the linemen cut across the face of their linemen.  Look at Jay Ratliff.  He’s on the right hash mark.  Also look at RE Kenyon Coleman.  He starts the play between the hash marks.  Where are both of them when McCoy gets the handoff:

Ratliff is upfield and a good 7-8 feet wide of the hash mark.  Coleman is also wide of the right hash.  Peters and C Jason Kelce didn’t have to muscle them there; they simply had to help the Cowboys go where they already started.  Harbour doesn’t even have to touch Ware.  The Cowboys have sold out to their left, and the Eagles have run a perfect play away from them.  Look at the space McCoy has when he clears the line:

Drive two.  Similar situation.  The Eagles are in 1st and 10 at the Dallas 38.  Ryan wants to take pressure at Michael Vick, and brings the house.  His slot corner Orlando Scandrick, ILB Sean Lee and FS Abe Elam all join the front five:

The Eagles are in the same formation and run the same play.  The max blitz gives McCoy even more room;  Elam is rushing outside of Ware, and when the OLB is trapped play-side, Elam is even wider of McCoy’s running lane.  Lee has run into the scrum in the middle of the field and Scandrick is behind the play the instant he crosses the line of scrimmage:

Again, the line has slanted to the strong side of the formation, making the blocking easy for the Eagles line.  When McCoy clears the line this time, there are only three Cowboys defenders with a shot at him and every one of them is engaged by a receiver:

No need to overpower the Cowboy in front of you.  Just let him do what he wants to and get out of McCoy’s way.  We talk about matchups, but on these two plays the matchups were won on the play-sheets.  Reid called a basic run that was the perfect antidote to Ryan’s pressure.

From there, the game plan was inside running and attacking the still soft-underbelly of the Cowboys pass defense, the inside linebackers and SS Gerald Sensabaugh.  Dallas could make a play or two and get the Eagles in a 3rd down, but they could not get off the field because Michael Vick could find a receiver or a tight end winning his matchup against Keith Brooking and Sensabaugh.  Lee was having a tough time as well, but the matter got out of control when he left the game with a wrist injury a couple of plays into the 2nd quarter.  Bradie James was badly overmatched, so the Eagles didn’t have to challenge the Cowboys corners deep.  Then ran crosses and TE seams and scooped up bushels of yards.

Brooking and James have long careers on their resumes, but both linebackers legs are shot.  Hope that Lee’s MRI turns out negative.  Bruce Carter isn’t far away, but he’s not ready to start.  If Lee is lost for any significant amount of time, it will be the grey-beards getting most of the reps in the middle of the D.  The season could slip away in the next couple of games.

The Turning Point

The game snowballed early, on Dallas second offensive series.  With the Eagles offense leaving Ryan’s nose bloodied, the offense had to answer.  It had gone three-and-out on its first series, but now the score was 14-0 and Garrett’s guys needed to answer, to get points and to give the defense time to re-group and re-think their strategy.

They made one big play, springing DeMarco Murray for 29 yards on a pitch from an overloaded 22 set, with Tyron Smith and Tony Fiammetta making superb blocks on the edge.  On 2nd-and-8, Dallas went to the 12 set,with Martellus Bennett left and Jason Witten right:

The call was a play fake for Murray, with Miles Austin and Bennett running a scissor-like combo on the left side.  Austin cut inside and Bennett wheeled behind him:

Bennett got behind LB Moise Fokou up the left sideline and Tony Romo dropped a perfect pass into Bennett’s hands:

The pass went through Bennett’s hands and off his shoulder pad.  He flailed at the ball, only to bat it into Nnamdi Asomugha’s reach:

Dallas had another promising drive go three and out and the Eagles were set up for their third drive.

Sometimes, the key play needs to be made in the first quarter, instead of the fourth.  Bennett showed, as Tashard Choice did the last two games, that he’s a player who can’t be trusted.  He came up waving a hand across his face, to suggest that Fokou has facemasked him, and broken his concentration, but that was an exercise in butt-covering.  Fokou never saw the ball and never raised his arms.  Bennett simply bungled a perfectly thrown pass.

Bennett made much of his superpowers on his Cowboys debut, referring to himself as Aquaman.  Martellus again showed that he’s a cartoonish player, though he’s really a Telly Tubby (I’ll say Dipsy) instead of a superhero.   The rolling hills and the rabbits of Telly Tubby land seem a better place for him than an NFL field.

Perhaps he and Tashard can build a windmill there.

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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