Dallas Cowboys vs. Washington Redskins: Why First One to 35 Wins
When the Dallas Cowboys start their opening drive versus the Washington Redskins this Sunday, many fans and pundits will be looking for a heavy dose of DeMarco Murray runs to dominate time of possession and keep the ball away from Robert Griffin III and company.
For those who actually want the Cowboys to win this game, however, a game plan based upon reality rather than old-school football theory would be far more welcome. You see, the reality is that the Cowboys are not a good running team, and Washington actually has a very stout run defense. Furthermore, Dallas' defense is currently about as bad as any in the league.
So, insistence on establishing the run will only waste downs that could have been used to hit quick slant routes, dump-offs to backs coming out of the backfield and screen passes. All of which would protect Tony Romo just as much, create manageable downs and distances and make it possible to control the clock.
Don't get me wrong. I still want Murray to have 20-25 touches Sunday. But Murray can catch a little dink pass and make something of it as well as any back in the league. And when you pump-fake a dink to Murray before throwing a deeper pass, guess what? It freezes the linebackers just like a play-action pass.
In fact, you can do a traditional play-action pass, then pump-fake to the back and then go over the top to Miles Austin or Dez Bryant.
The point is, Romo is the guy who is going to win this game for Dallas. If Jason Garrett invests too many downs in the first half attempting to establish the run, he will be removing Romo, Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and Miles Austin from the equation and Dallas will fall behind.
The Cowboys will fall behind because their offensive line can't consistently run block—at least not well enough to win against a solid run defense. And Dallas' own defense is a skeleton crew compared to what it could have been had injuries not ravished their starting line-up.
But that's the way it is, so you deal with the reality. You set old-school theory aside and you try and be the first team to 35 points. That is how the Saints beat Dallas, and that is how the Patriots beat almost everyone.
Remember that, in their first meeting with Washington, Dallas fell behind 28-3 before storming back in the second half and ultimately loosing 31-38.
In this meeting, Dallas needs to take the mentality that they are already down two touchdowns at the opening kick. They simply don't have the personnel to get many stops against Washington's offense.
If Dallas can manage to get a two-score lead, they can limit the effectiveness of the Redskin running attack, making things a little more manageable for their rag-tag defense.
Murray can play a big role in this game plan, provided that Garrett can finally start to think a little more "West Coast" in his play-calling. West Coast coaches call the short passes to backs "extended handoffs," and they view those passes as part of their run game. This is how Garrett must finally start to think.
Dallas offensive line coach Bill Callahan is a West Coast guy. Years ago, he guided the Raiders to a Super Bowl with his system and his running back broke records for pass receptions.
But Dallas doesn't run his system. Nor has Garrett allowed Callahan to have much influence in this regard. It's unfortunate, because Dallas has proven all year that its not an effective running team, yet both Murray and Jones are dangerous as receivers.
When New Orleans defeated Dallas last week, they dominated time of possession, 41:59 to 22:28. They threw 15 passes to running backs to Dallas' four passes to Murray. Oh sure, the Saints also threw plenty of passes to wide receivers and Jimmy Graham. And they ran the ball effectively as well.
But their knack for keeping their offense rolling, keeping possession of the ball and scoring is the reason they are third in the league in scoring.
Of the top 12 scoring teams in the league this year, all but one of them is either assured of a playoff birth or in the mix for a spot. And that one team not in contention, the Saints, endured one of the worst off-seasons in NFL history.
It should be noted that the top three scoring teams—the Patriots, the Broncos and the Saints—are quarterback-driven teams that never waste so much as a series stubbornly trying to establish the run. They are teams known for scoring early and often. New Orleans and New England are one and two in first-half scoring. That's because their goal is always to score as much as possible.
They long ago shelved the idea that establishing the run was essential in the first half. They believe establishing a lead is essential in the first half. Running the ball effectively is important throughout the game, but it's most important in the second half, when you have a lead and are closing out the game.
Cowboy fans should hope for lots of touches for Murray, but they should also hope that they are primarily receptions in the first half and carries at the end of the second half. With a sizable lead and an exhausted opponent.
But for that, Garrett will have to go west before he goes east.
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