FanPost

Know Your Enemy: What can be expected of Dallas, and which Ravens will excel?

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Offense:

This offense has some talented players. But watching the Week 3 game against TB and their abysmal Week 4 showing on Monday Night Football versus the Bears, there are a few notable things that keeps this offense from excelling. There is no hiding the fact that their offensive line has played very poorly. And there is little to be optimistic about moving forward as their depth is poor as well. UMD alumn Phil Costa is their backup center and he has been out with a back injury since the first quarter of Week 1 vs. the Giants. Their only other backups are two journeymen and a second year player. Their starters are having problems in pass protection which won’t necessarily show up in the stat book since Romo has only been sacked 5 times in the last 2 games with only 1 against the Bears vaunted pass rush. However, Romo has been hurried, sacked, or hit 32 times in the last 2 games. That equates to 36% of his dropbacks (!). Needless to say this O-Line has been struggling. Specific lineman for the Ravens to target should be RT Doug Free and RG Mackenzy Bernadeau. This right side collapses with minimal pass rushers and Doug Free is especially susceptible to edge pressure.

Schematically the Cowboys would love to get their run game going. They mainly rely on outside (stretch) zone runs out of 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE) or 21 personnel (2 RBs, 1 TE). There is no discernible difference in run success when FB Vickers leads the run play and his role has been slowly diminished. Their run plays though, have been largely unsuccessful: 23 attempts for 38y vs. TB and 14 attempts for 37y vs. CHI. Understandably they abandoned the run after Chicago started to bully them but they could get very little going on the ground even when the game’s outcome was still in doubt. This is a reflection of the run blocking in front of Demarco Murray but Murray himself has not lived up to expectations this year. Murray excels with a defined space in front of him. He struggles when moving laterally at times and resorts to "dancing" without much forward progress. He is explosive through the hole as we saw last season when he broke off several huge runs. But whether it is a product of a decreased workload, poor blocking, or personal agility, Murray will not likely be a huge threat to a historically stout Ravens front 7. It is unclear why the Cowboys are sticking to a zone run scheme since Murray would likely have more success in a power/counter based run game. This all said, Murray’s big play ability shouldn’t be ignored.

Much has been made about Tony Romo and where he stands among the league’s top QBs. The answer to this debate is not straightforward because Romo is constantly being bombarded with pressure. It appears that Romo has begun to expect pressure as his 3 step and 5 step dropbacks are rarely smooth. Whether it is due to the experience he has against the rush or sheer athleticism (or likely both) he actually does amazingly well when hurried. He steps up in the pocket and often gets hit during or after a throw. When pressured up the middle he tends to duck out of the pocket and scrambles to find a freelancing receiver down field a la Roethelisburger. Romo does not actually shrug defenders off like Big Ben but does an admirable job completing passes under duress. This is not with exception though. Romo does tend to short-arm and/or lob throws when the rush is in his face. Without an extremely accurate throw, this is a recipe for an interception. Given ample time and space, Romo can make strong arm throws and rarely makes poor decisions. Romo did have 5 INTs against Chicago but really only the last 2 were entirely his fault and the Bears secondary is exceptional. Romo has receivers that have difficulty recognizing hot reads (Romo’s first pick against Chicago) and catching the ball (6 drops in the last 2 games).

Dallas was relegated to sticking with pass plays for the majority of the second half against Chicago. It appeared Dallas gameplanned to throw slow developing deep routes (3 and 4 verticals) against Chicago’s Cover 2 but the O-line had difficulty holding pass blocks for that long. They eventually started to rely on underneath routes especially shallow crosses, stick routes, and slant/flat combo plays designed to "pick" defensive backs (much like KC did last week against BAL) and the stats bear this out (30 of 42 pass attempts were >10 yards downfield vs. CHI). Dallas does not do anything exotic on offense. Their offense is mostly 3 WR sets with a RB releasing for a checkdown option. Dez Bryant is clearly a great athlete. Bryant though has trouble breaking routes short in response to blitz and really appears to avoid contact if possible. He can be shifty when he does have the ball in his hands and he has big play ability. Ogletree and Austin are average NFL receivers with some upside and Witten has been surprisingly consistent after his early injury issues.

Ravens defense will be a logical Fantasy start. Ravens will likely have >2-3 sacks due to their complex blitz tendencies and the porous Dallas O-line. If the Ravens front 7 can consistently stop the run and get pressure with 4, Dallas will have difficulty scoring. That said, Baltimore has had a propensity toward allowing big plays and Dallas does have receivers that can hurt them.

Defense:

There is no question that this is a solid defense. As many predicted after acquiring free agent CB Brandon Carr and drafting CB Morris Claiborne, this defense has greatly improved against the pass. Based on Rob Ryan’s lineage, it is not surprising that his defense is predicated on playing press-man coverage on the outside receivers and showing a lot of pressure with the front 7. This mindset shows as Dallas racked up 12 sacks/hurries/hits on Josh Freeman and 11 on Jay Cutler. The pass rush side of this equation has been solid with well-known rusher DeMarcus Ware but relative unknowns have been strong as well. Some of these standouts have been NT Josh Price-Brent (filling in for injured Jay Ratliff) and ILB Bruce Carter. The coverage on the back end has been as advertised on the outside with Claiborne and Carr playing well. The safety play has left a bit to be desired. SS McCray and FS Gerald Sensabaugh have struggled a bit in coverage but this may be due to the sporadic movement of the safeties presnap. Rob Ryan seems hellbent on disguising whether his coverage is man-free (Cover 1) or 2-man (Cover 2 shell, man coverage underneath). They will play some zone coverage as well but they prefer man.

Where the Cowboys get in trouble is when they get caught blitzing. There were several instances in the Chicago game where Dallas stacked the box with 8 defenders (including a creeping safety) and brought the house. Two big plays came from this including a 4th quarter touchdown. This may be a gamble worth taking for this defense though because they like to show blitz and LBs will often bail into coverages at the snap. One could say that bringing an 8 man blitz periodically will keep the offense "honest."

Against the run the Cowboys are a force. They play a 3-4 which shows up as a 5-2 with two stand-up OLBs who rarely drop in coverage. The OLBs do a good job filtering outside runs inside and when they face middle runs, ILB Sean Lee is sure to be involved in the play (10 tackles against Chicago, 7 of which are considered run failure tackles). Josh Price-Brent pushed back Chicago C Roberto Garza several times on run plays. It seems that Price-Brent was born to "two-gap" in this defensive scheme. He will certainly maintain a role on this line once Ratliff returns. This entire defense tackles very well. They have only missed 2 tackles as a team each of the last two games.

For the X’s and O’s lovers:

- Dallas almost always uses Man-Free or 2-Man in the back end. I saw one instance of a Cover 1 "Robber."

- On pass plays, linebackers responsible for covering backs or TEs will "green dog blitz" if their man does not release into a pattern. This provides extra pressure but a few times the LBs took too long to blitz and were caught in no-man’s-land between coverage and pressure.

- Morris Claiborne beat for a TD on a "Dino" route (vertical release, fake an outside route, and run a post) off of play action.

Wrap Up:

The Ravens will try to establish a run (like every other game plan). Running in the middle will be a struggle and pressure up front may cause disruption. Baltimore does like screens and draws to relieve a bit of this pressure. TB or Chicago didn’t show much screen play so it is difficult to know how successful Rice can be on these plays. Checkdowns to Rice will certainly be there all day since very few NFL LBs can play successful man coverage on Rice. This may be a week to consider starting Pitta. Cowboys love man coverage and will use safeties on TEs. Pitta’s role has been somewhat diminished as of late though. This also may be a game for Torrey Smith. Smith’s speed will be tough to match the entire day and knowing how Baltimore likes to run its O, there is no doubt that Flacco will take some deep shots downfield.

Writers:

Chris Worthington (Follow on Twitter @C_Dubs87)

Dan Bryden (Follow on Twitter @PlainMilksFine)


The opinions posted here are those of the administrator of this blog and his loyal readers. They are in no way official comments from the team, and should not be misconstued as such, even though he thinks he could do just as well or even a better job!

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