For Rob Ryan, It’s Boom or Bust vs. the Eagles Bend

The Eagles present the speediest opponent on the Cowboys schedule.  They’ve drafted skill position sprinters that can stretch a defense laterally and vertically — DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin at the wideout spot, LeSean McCoy at running back.  The addition of the fleet Michael Vick at quarterback means that blizing is a risky proposition for an opposing defensive coordinator.  If his rushers hit their target, a negative play will result, but a blown assignment or a whiffed tackle will turn one or more of these burners free into your secondary, without safety help.

Ryan called a game to his reputation in late October, rushing his inside linebackers, strong safety and slot corner frequently in the early series to destabilize Vick.  Ryan trusted his secondary to mark Maclin and Jackson until the pressure could get home.  He knew Andy Reid and his OC Marty Morhinweg liked to run boot action and straight drops and throw deep to the receivers early.  He planned on taking these deep throws away and forcing the Eagles to play a shorter game.

The Eagles passed up the head-to-head challenge, and got their big plays on the ground, courtesy of a counter run that destroyed interim DC Paul Pasqualoni in Philly’s 30-27 win last season.  The Eagles’ use different nomenclature, but it’s a play familiar to Cowboys fans — in Dallas’ playbook it goes by bend x.

It’s a counter trap, run off a wing formation, or what the Eagles call trey.  It puts both tight ends on one side of the line of scrimmage, creating an overload:

Here the Eagles run it from a tight set, putting F-back Clay Harbour (82) and TE Brent Celek (behind Harbour) on the right, with WR Jason Avant in a tight set.

A pet Eagles run from trey is boom, an outside zone run behind the power on the right edge.  Dallas hasn’t overshifted heavily, but they’ve cheated a safety up to the double-tight side, putting eight men in the box.  The Eagles line is all blocking towards their right, giving the play the initial look of a stretch play.  Michael Vick has pulled from center and is presenting the ball to his right.  On first glance, this is boom 14 right.

Harbour tips off something else.  he’s pulling right-to-left.  His target is DeMarcus Ware.  The edge man on the line of scrimmage is Harbour’s responsibility.  He’s supposed to kick that edge defender wide, so McCoy can run in the seam between him and left tackle Jason Peters (71) who has an angle block on the defensive end inside of him.

Defending this play depends on Ware and the DE holding their points, letting the inside linebacker and safety to their side flow to the ball carrier.

That will work if your defense is playing a softer, more disciplined front.  Ryan had his front selling out to the plays power.  Look at the inside linebackers and the linemen.  All of them have slanted to the strong side, to the Eagles right.  Jay Ratliff has blown past center Jason Kelce and would have blown up McCoy — were the play going that way.  Both inside linebackers are also charging to the right edge.  McCoy, however, has bent his run back to the right, where Marcus Spears has ridden himself out of the play with a charge to the strong-side.  The LT Peters simply has to help him further along that path.  The safety on that side of the field is the only one between McCoy and the end zone:

Gerald Sensabaugh cut off McCoy’s angle to the sideline, but good receiver blocking and a sharp cutback got McCoy inside the Cowboys five.

Many of the Eagles big plays came courtesy of heavy slants.  The Cowboys defense went after big plays and frequently ran themselves out of the action.  The Eagles had Ryan’s tendencies and beat him with simple runs away from his called charges.

It’s easy to say the Cowboys need to be more basic and more disciplined, but the Eagles will try running the straight boom and outflanking the D if the Cowboys front starts looking for counter.  If Ware plays the edge run, Vick can call a play action and look down the field.  In the 2010 game, Harbour let Ware go and proceeded into the left flat, where he caught a Vick bootleg pass.

Jason Garrett has had a lot of success in recent Cowboys wins pulling the quick-reacting Eagles linebackers with overload and misdirections, reverses and screens backside, once the fronts have over-committed.

The Eagles have had even more success with the same philosophy.  It’s hard to temper your aggression, however, when McCoy has so much edge speed.  If you’re slow in pursuit, he’ll simply out-run you to the sideline and keep going.

Ryan’s adjustments will be interesting to track.  His aggression hurt his defenders badly in the first game.  How will he respond this time?  There’s no easy answer.  Speed kills, in more ways than one.

Rafael Vela

Rafael Vela

Senior Analyst Cowboys at Sports Talk Line
Started covering Dallas Cowboys @ in '95 and '96. Two more stops along the way and here I am. Senior Analyst for
Rafael Vela

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  • AustonianAggie

    Dallas will need to control the clock. They got away from the run too quickly in the October game. I don’t think our defense can stop the Eagles consistently so its on the Offense to dictate the game

  • Oklahoma

    This year Romo has responded to a growing chorus of criticism, including from this sceptic, and played terrific football.  He has played through extreme pain (Wash), shown improved leadership on the sidelines and led an average team to beat most of the average teams on their weak schedule.  He has outperformed QBs that I rank above him, e.g. Rivers.  His TD-INT rate is a stellar 29-9, achieved behind a mediocre OL.  Of course his statistics have never been the question mark with Romo.  Will he come through in the clutch in the next two weeks?  This Giants team doesn’t appear to have the consistency to win out, and will probably lose to the Jets.  The Cowboys will have just enough to beat the Eagles, and take the division at 9-7.  That said, the one thing that sticks with me about the Romo-era Cowboys is that you can never bank on them.  This regrettable fact makes them interesting to watch.  They simply are not good enough or bad enough to be boring.  Even the Christmas Curmudgeon out west finds them compelling.
    Looking to the future, please tell me why I am mistaken in thinking the 49ers are building a dominating team, and that their next 5-7 years looks (on paper) considerably brighter than the Cowboys’?  Dallas has a lot of holes to fill on defense, plus needing two additional OL.  I think they’ll be above average for a few more years, but I don’t see this Dallas team in the SB anytime soon. 

    • ClassAct

      The 49’ers are building a team but they forgot the one key ingredient…..QB. Alex Smith is not anywhere close to a true top 5 QB. He’s not going to be able to win games when the rest of the team has cashed it in. Romo does this and has done this for us this year.

      • kameleon_o

        Exactly. They’re building a good team, and doing it the right way through the draft for the most part, but they aren’t IMO anything close to “dominating”. They don’t have enough offensive playmakers, starting with QB, to make this team dominating. And as good as their D has played this year, as good as they’re ranked, does anyone look at them and fear playing them?? Fear being able to score points on them?? I don’t see them that way.

    • Raja

      Granted SF has a great front 7 – but let’s not gloss over the fact that their secondary is not stellar.  We fix our front 7, we may be able to play even with the Alan Ball’s of this world as our safety.

      ClassAct is right – Given his body of work, Alex Smith is at best a rich man’s Dilfer (!!). However, he has never been in the same offensive system for 2 consective years and there is no telling what he can do if Harbaugh trusts him enough to open up the playbook next year. 

      Let’s not also forget that SF was lost for 10 years – their year-in and year-out losing/mediocre seasons getting them high picks – they got lucky in 2010 – fixed 2 spots in their OL in 1 first round.  Since 2003, the only times Dallas has drafted in the top 12 were in 2005 (DWare) and 2011 (TSmith). 

      • klyngman

        Dilfer did win a superbowl. I’m not saying its a common occurrence, but it’s certainly not a rare one. (brad johnson). If he IS a rich man’s dilfer at this point that is enough to consistently make playoff runs.

        There is the counter-argument that the trend within the past decade or so is having us see extraordinary super bowl winning QBs.

        Still, its a possibility.

  • kameleon_o

    I really just don’t have a whole lot of faith in this D to be able to stop the Eagles. I’m really hoping that we can just outscore them. I know we weren’t able to do anything right in that last game but if we can score quick and get a lead then I think this Eagles defense can be beaten. Keep McCoy and Vick off the field is the strategy. Keeping Brooking and James off the field is just as important. This is a game where we really could have used a healthy DeMarco Murray.

  • greatwhitenorth

    Dead on analysis, as usual.  Rob’s playcalling killed the team last time.  Hopefully having watched the Eagles suck against the rest of the league will convince him that he doesn’t have to risk everything to beat them this go-round.

  • texstad

    I don’t think you can shut down the Eagles offense with Vick playing. The best one can hope for is to limit them to a manageable total, to give your offense a chance against their defense. The key to doing that is to limit their best plays – the counters, screens, draws and the passes up the seams. McCoy is not a classic north-south runner and it will be interesting to see how he fares running up the gut.

    The trade off is to give up the occasional deep ball – its a low percentage play anyway, even if the WR has single coverage. Andy Reid has a tendency to abandon the run if the big plays aren’t coming, so it might not be too hard to make them one-dimensional and they also tend to turn the ball over quite a bit.

    I think this one is a lot closer than October and goes down to the wire.
    27-24 Cowboys.

  • 33

    How do you know this play was not intended to go strongside?  It appears as if the early pressure by Ratliff forced McCoy to make the cut to his left, which just happened to work out really well for him on that play. 

    • Because they’ve run it successfully a dozen times or so the last two games.  I don’t believe in 12 accidents

      • Bluefin

        Raf also pointed out second TE Clay Harbor pulling from the right to the left to get the important seal block on Demarcus Ware so LeSean McCoy had a lane to run through.

        Harbor wouldn’t have done that if it was designed to be strongside run.

      • 33

        If that formation and blocking never leads to an actual strong side run, then it should be very easy to snuff out.  I am very surprised Ryan and his assistants would fail to spot such a strong trend.

        • tyrant

           maybe it’s easier to see than to stop…

          • 33

            In that case, either our coaching staff can’t spot trends, or the players are too dumb to learn from the coaches.

          • kameleon_o

            I’ve complained enough about the coaches over the years. I’m done with that. The same player, different coaches year to year, and same stupid stuff. It’s got to be these dummies on the field. Wade looks like Mr. Fixit again with different players. These players are just DUMB is all

        • Bluefin

          No one said anything about the Eagles having to run to the weakside out of that alignment.

          Of course they could go strongside or between the tackles. At times, they undoubtedly do.

          But they also like testing the discipline of a defense and seeing if they maintain their gap responsibilities by feinting to the strongside and running a bend to the weakside.

          It looked like something they put in for the first game against the Cowboys to take advantage of a weakness they had spotted studying film.

          • 33

            Bluefin, I agree that no one said the play HAS to go weakside. Rafael says he has observed a strong trend for this play to bend to the weakside.  I think the Dallas coaches, if they are any good, should also be able to spot such trends.  Is that clear enough?

  • Montecito Tex

    Not so much Ryan or anybody else besides Romo… these are the games that the slippery-fingered quarterback has found a way to lose over the last five+ years. The bigger the game, the smaller the Romo.

    • Pos_poca_madre

      Replying to Montecito Tex

      You Cry a lot Tex

      I like it though

      Nothing makes my Christmas like Tex not like the Cowboys QB

      Stick around for a few years

      It makes my Holidays

      Romo loves you too !

      • Montecito Tex

        How many defensive coaches has Romo run out of Dodge because of his poor play in December and January? Next year, instead of May in Spain, Tex is going to spend December in France to avoid Romo’s annual Christmas gift of heatbreak and coal.

        • Locke

          Tex, there are 31 NFL teams that do not feature Romo as QB.  Pick one of them.

        • kameleon_o

          I thought Tex was the one who ran our defensive coaches out of Dodge?? See the beleaguered  Brian Stewart. The most unqualified defensive coordinator in the league.

        • Miguel

          Yes Tex, we all know that you are suffering a lot because of Romo performance last game… sob…

          But dont worry, we all want you to keep posting your stuff. Makes this forum a lot more fun.

    • HanD

      stop relying on bspn and deion or faulk.  when romo loses its a big game, if he wins, it’s forgotten.  what happened the last time romo faced philly in dec?  or jan?

    • Lee1936

      Right, the only thing wrong with this team is Romo.  


  • Pos_poca_madre

    The Defense has collapsed in the 4th Qtr

    Special Teams has not been so special – blocked kicks/punts & big returns

    The O-Line has been mistake prone and heavily penalized

    The WR’s are not making reads at the line of scrimmage and catching what touches their hand

    We need to be a more complete team