The Dallas Cowboys travel eastward to take on the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday Night Football. Although both teams have underwhelmed this season, Dallas is at a clear disadvantage as they’ve been horrible on the road in 2018.
After being gashed repeatedly by the Titans Monday night, the Eagles are sure to emulate a number of concepts Tennessee used to take advantage of an aggressive defense. Here are some plays to expect in Week 10.
In recent years, the use of sift motion has increased throughout the NFL. Sift motion is when a tight end, or sometimes a wide receiver, moves against the grain at the snap. These players typically cut off a backside defender who’s been left unblocked.
One of the most common uses of sift motion is on the split zone run.
Most of the time, this play is an inside zone blocking scheme. The misdirection draws the second-level defenders in one direction to create a cutback lane.
The split zone is a staple of Philadelphia’s ground game. Expect to see this play called multiple times Sunday night.
Multi-misdirection and Throwback Concepts
One of the ways head coach Doug Pederson will attack Dallas is by using split zone action to fake a run. The former Chiefs assistant and his staff do an excellent job of marrying their run and pass concepts so that they look the same to opposing defenses. This creates confusion and indecision in defenders.
Like Kansas City, the Eagles will utilize additional layers of misdirection to fool opponents. A frequent way they do this is with throwback passes. Against the Giants in Week 6, Philadelphia showed split zone action before Carson Wentz rolled out for a bootleg pass. However, instead of targeting a receiver on his side of the field, he turned back and hit Corey Clement on a screen for 20 yards.
Variations of throwback passes are a regular part of Pederson’s weekly gameplan. Versus the Panthers in Week 7, the Eagles faked a swing screen to one side before turning around and throwing a tight end screen to the other.
Earlier that quarter, they used orbit motion to fake two different runs before passing to Clement for an 11-yard gain.
The above play should be familiar to a lot of Cowboys fans. The running back screen with either orbit or jet motion has been highly successful for Dallas, as they’ve slashed through opponents on numerous occasions. But the blade cuts both ways.
Rod Marinelli and Kris Richard’s defense was on the receiving end of this pass as recently as Monday night. Dion Lewis and the Titans ran this play twice and tore through the defense both times. The first was for an 18-yard touchdown late in the second quarter. The next was midway through the fourth. The 37-yard gain helped set up the final go-ahead score.
Watch how the linebackers turn their backs to the line of scrimmage once they realize it’s a pass. They do this so they can quickly identify and defend crossing routes. However, it also helps the offense take advantage on plays like the one above.
Lastly, the TE throwback wheel route is another concept that could make an appearance Sunday night. Dallas has seen this concept before. Fortunately for them, they sacked Eli Manning before he could hit his tight end.
But that doesn’t mean they can’t be hurt by this design in the future. From the Week 8 matchup in London, Wentz finds rookie tight end Dallas Goedert for a 32-yard touchdown against the Jaguars.
Given the Cowboys’ recent track record for defending multi-misdirection and throwback concepts, they must be ready for plays like these.
All of the above passing plays shared something else in common; each was called on first down. So, keep an eye out for them as drive openers or after Pederson’s offense converts a down.
Run-pass options have been featured in the NFL for years, but they gained widespread attention because of Philadelphia’s success with them in 2017. The Eagles use a multitude of RPOs. One of their most common is with a slant route.
They’ll run inside or outside zone with a single slant or double slants. Wentz reads a specific defender, often a linebacker, and will hand off if the defender hesitates or is slow to defend the run. He’ll keep the ball and throw if the defender vacates his part of the field and crashes to the line of scrimmage. Unlike the diagram above, the play below against the Giants is a Power-slant RPO.
Philadelphia deploys multi-tight end groupings a significant amount of the time. The Cowboys should expect to see a healthy dose of 12 personnel, especially if the Eagles are dictating the flow of the game.
Watch for Pederson to involve Zach Ertz and Goedert in the game on seam routes.
Against Cover 3 zone, one of Dallas’s base coverages, the stick routes occupy the hook/curl defenders while the tight end heads up the seam. The play is designed to hit the tight end before the deep third defender can move over from outside the numbers.
Expect both tight ends to see a steady stream of targets on game night.
Dallas has yet to show they can perform on the road. After their horrendous showing against the Titans, there’s no reason to expect that to change.
This team, despite its talent on both sides of the ball, lacks the ability to dominate on defense or execute with any consistency on offense. As a result, a win at Philadelphia would be equally as surprising this week as a loss would’ve been last week.
You can follow Allan on Twitter at @AllanUy22
*Animations derived from NFL Game Pass.