The Dallas Cowboys are on their first winning streak of 2018 and host the Washington Redskins for their annual Thanksgiving Day matchup. This is also the first in a second series of divisional games. More importantly, the lead for the NFC East is on the line.
Washington lost Alex Smith for the season during Sunday’s defeat to the Texans and will be starting Colt McCoy at quarterback. The former Longhorn has been a backup for the team for more than three years and is fully capable of running Jay Gruden’s entire scheme.
Because there’s less time for both clubs to build their gameplans, chances are that many of the concepts from Week 11 will play a role on Thursday. Due to the shortened week and the fact that these two teams already met last month, this will be an abbreviated article. For additional insight into the Redskins’ offense, read my Guess the Gameplan article from Week 7.
Despite Washington missing two of their starters along the offensive line, including All-Pro left tackle Trent Williams, Adrian Peterson scored two rushing touchdowns on duo runs.
According to former lineman Geoff Schwartz, duo is a gap-scheme run without a pull blocker that relies on multiple double-teams that eventually work their way to the second level. The running back presses the A-gaps and reads the middle linebacker. He also has the option to bounce the ball outside if the defense crowds the box.
In fact, that’s what happened on both of Petersons touchdowns against Houston. Below is his first rushing score from Sunday.
Expect Gruden and offensive line coach Bill Callahan to employ a variety of gap and zone runs, including duo. Their ground attack will be a critical factor in their offensive strategy. Should the game flow Washington’s way, it’ll be because they had success controlling the line of scrimmage with the run.
Quick Passing Game and the Stick-Flat Concept
A regular feature of Gruden’s offense is the quick passing game. Don’t expect that to change with McCoy behind center. On early downs, especially if the Cowboys cornerbacks are in off-coverage, watch for quick throws on simple but effective route combinations.
One such two-man route concept is the stick-flat.
The stem of the stick route provides a rub for the flat against man coverage. Versus Cover-2 zone, the stick route should open up between the flat and curl/hook defenders. When facing a softer 2-high zone defense similar to the video below, the flat is often the target.
Double China Concept
When McCoy entered the game for a severely-injured Alex Smith, he threw a touchdown on his second play. The score came off a variation of a red zone play that’s a staple throughout the NFL.
Sometimes called Double China, this play is a kind of smash concept that combines two low routes with a high-corner route. The usual play utilizes two square-ins with a corner from the inside slot.
Against Cover-2 and Cover-1 (Man-Free) defenses, the low routes occupy the corner and slot defenders. This leaves the single-high safety in Cover-1 out-leveraged. By alignment, the safety is shaded inside the receiver’s route. Against Cover-2 zone, there’s still a wide gap outside underneath the deep safeties and above the shallow flat defenders. That’s the target alley for the corner route. This means that a well-run corner to the outside with a well-timed pass should be open.
Instead of two square-ins, McCoy’s nine-yard touchdown pass involved two pivot routes beneath Jordan Reed’s corner against man coverage.
These types of high-low concepts should make multiple appearances on gameday.
The Dallas Cowboys defense is flying high after paving the way to victories at Philadelphia and Atlanta. They now have a chance to lead their teammates to the top of the NFC East with a win on Thanksgiving.
Since the Washington Redskins are relying on a backup quarterback, some fans may think a win is inevitable. However, Rod Marinelli and Kris Richard know better than to underestimate an opponent. Colt McCoy is a better backup than most and his first start as a Redskin was an impressive victory over Dallas on Monday Night Football in 2014.
Still, the Cowboys are on the upswing in part due to changes on the roster and staff while Washington’s performance has dipped the past two weeks. Dallas is improving at the right time and in prime position to do what most critics, including myself, didn’t think likely a few weeks ago. The team should have more to be thankful for by Thanksgiving’s end as almost every sign points to a win. Whether these signs prove to be true or too good to be true will be determined Thursday.
You can follow Allan on Twitter at @AllanUy22
*Animations derived from NFL Game Pass.