Offense for Redskins Week: Bend Them, Shape Them, Anyway You Want Them

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The Cowboys pulled a minor miracle in week three, staging a comeback with a fractured quarterback throwing to a lame and lost receiving corps.  Dez Bryant, if you recall, was back from the bruised quad suffered in the Jets opener and faded quickly after a quarter, thought he did make a key grab to convert a 3rd and 21 on Dallas’ game-winning drive.  Miles Austin, as today, was re-habbing a pulled hamstring.  Kevin Ogletree was goofing his way out a starting job and Laurent Robinson was making his Cowboys debut.

Mid-game, Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett so disdained the Cowboys receivers that he stopped assigning safeties to help his cornerbacks cover them.  As exhibit A, I offer an end zone shot of bend right, that big play which has so helped and hurt the Cowboys (see the Eagles game)  this year.

Dallas jump started its rushing game, and its offense, late in the 3rd quarter, by running bend twice for Felix Jones.  The first call gained 29 yards. On the second, Jones ripped off 40 more.  Take another look at that top still and note the degree of difficulty.  Washington has ten men in the box.  Dallas does have a heavy set, with only one receiver on the field.  Nonetheless, the Redskins didn’t worry about leaving their corner in isolation.   In normal sets, safeties sit roughly 12 yards off the line of scrimmage.

On this play, both safeties are only seven yards deep. They’re playing at almost the same depth as the linebackers.  Even if every Cowboys blocker gets his man, which all of them do on this play, there will be two men unblocked, with a chance to drop Jones.

The key to the bend, the misdirection run off zone blocking is to get the safeties and linebackers to overpursue to the initial side of the bend action.  Note how middle linebacker London Fletcher (59) and the three other defenders behind the Redskins line are all charging hard to their right, where Tony Romo is showing the ball.

The twist is that Dallas rarely runs this play from the I-formation.  Bend runs to the strong side, and the key is the trap block on the strong side outside linebacker, Ryan Kerrigan.  Tony Fiammetta is able to seal Kerrigan outside, and right guard Kyle Kosier is able to slide off his initial double team on the Redskins nose tackle to lock on to Fletcher.  The play really works because right tackle Tyron Smith is able to run his man down the line and throw him to the ground.  Note that Smith starts his block on the right hash mark and has pushed his DE five yards inside before planting him:

Jones was able to juke the free safety charging up the middle of the field and break far upfield before being tackled.  Dallas has used this play sparingly but look for it to return this week, in volume.  Washington runs a very aggressive front and they will have a lot more to worry about outside.  Bryant is healthy and Laurent Robinson is emerging as a deep threat.  If the Redskins want to leave their corners without deep help in this game, Romo will bomb away — immediately.

More conventional coverage means Washington will only deploy seven or eight man fronts, not nine and ten men lineups.  After seeing the Eagles and Seahawks run this play against their defense with such success, Dallas started to run this play again.  Here is bend-x, the weakside counterpart to bend, run for DeMarco Murray last week.  The 8-man Bills front plays it well on the edge, but this is a zone run, leaving it to the back to attack the hole wherever he finds it.  Murray finds it inside, and barrels for a ten-yard gain:

Because they worked so well against stacked fronts, I look for bend and bend-x to be run extensively against more basic Washington fronts.  And because Murray and Jones should have fewer defenders to beat on these plays, I think we’ll see more big runs from them.

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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
  • Jarhead

    murray seems to me to excel at seeing the hole (really the play) develop, showing patience sometimes to let a promising block develop or attacking a “fleeting” hole when he sees it, minizing the time a lineman has to hold his block.

  • 33

    “I think we’ll see more big runs from them.”

    If the Skins use more base D, then we should see more consistent gains per rushing attempt, but not necessarily an increase in the “big” runs. 

    • Rafael Vela

      I meant more big runs as in addition to the last game, not an increase over the last game.  And you’re right, that game was two huge runs and a lot of 2 yard runs.  See more base fronts and we’ll see more 5 to 6 yard runs.

  • Ridgelake

    ESPN Dallas is reporting that Fiammetta is out versus the Skins due to illness.  Must be some case of the flu to get declared on Friday to be out for Sunday.

    • AustonianAggie

      it would have to be a pretty bad case to knock him out; hope it’s nothing worse

    • Rafael Vela

      They’ll still use this play, but with Phillips as the F-back

      • Miguel

        But, will Phillips be as efective as Fiammetta?  I guess this game will let us know what´s the difference without him.

  • Egtuna

    With Fiametta out, can the Cowboy still throw from a formation where Phillips lines up as a FB? One of the best things about Dallas’s success with Fiametta was that in their RB, FB, WR, WR, TE set, they could run or pass and keep defenses guessing via play pass actions; as pointed out eloquently in Raphael’s wonderful column earlier this week. 

    With Phillips as FB, is Dallas still unpredictable? 

    • mojoness

      Fiametta is a good blocking fb but is not a receiving threat…  at all….  Pretty much anyone in would be better in that capacity.