The Dallas Cowboys travel to CenturyLink Field to face the 0-2 Seattle Seahawks this Sunday. Despite the Washington state team’s winless record, recent history favors Seattle, as they’ve beaten the Cowboys three of their last four games.
Quarterback Russell Wilson was constantly under siege Monday night, but he and his offense still managed to score 24 points in a close game at Denver in Week 1. Dallas only managed a meager 17 points in a blowout loss last year in that same stadium.
Every year is different and the Broncos’ defense traded away pro-bowl corner Aqib Talib in March. Still, this Week 3 contest will not be easy to win, even though the Cowboys’ defensive line has a favorable matchup.
The Seahawks hired Brian Schottenheimer as offensive coordinator in the offseason. Although he has a lot of critics, his gameplan in the season opener helped generate 306 yards of total offense and five explosive plays (one negated due to penalty). Two of those plays were touchdown passes of 20 and 51 yards.
Let’s take a look at a couple of plays Schottenheimer may call to attack Dallas, as well as a possible tendency in his offense:
During the first two games of the 2018 season, there were eight snaps when Seattle came out in a dual tight end formation with Wilson under center. That means two tight ends, side-by-side, attached to the formation.
From this alignment, they threw the ball five of eight times (62.5 percent). Of those five passes, Schottenheimer called in a throwback on three occasions (60 percent).
This means that Seattle likes to pass out of this particular run set. And when they do pass, they often utilize some form of throwback.
The two examples that best illustrate this concept are a screen to the running back in Week 1, and a throwback to the tight end on a wheel route in Week 2. Both plays work off bootleg action.
Scanning film for these tendencies is a major aspect of the game that fans don’t normally see. The advance scouts, along with defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli and secondary coach Kris Richard, have likely noticed this.
Whether it’s a true tendency is difficult to say after only two games. Regardless, expect the coaches to tell Sean Lee and the rest of the defense to be mindful of throwback concepts when they see dual tight ends on the line of scrimmage with Wilson under center.
Throwback TE Wheel
The Cowboys’ defense was almost exploited by a similar concept Sunday night against New York. For many, the Throwback TE Wheel is best remembered from a 42-yard touchdown pass to Austin Hooper in Week 4 of 2016.
The offense executes play-action, often a bootleg. As the quarterback rolls away from the initial fake, the defense flows back towards him. However, in doing so, the defenders lose sight of the second tight end. He pretends to block before sneaking his way to the sideline on what can be loosely described as a wheel route.
The defense is fooled by this second piece of misdirection and exposed for a big gain. The running back who receives the fake handoff also runs a wheel route as a second option. The rest of the receivers, from top to bottom, execute corner, over, and flat routes to the bootleg side.
Against the Giants on Sunday Night Football, Dallas’s defense found itself in a similar jam. The Cowboys were in a fire zone blitz — that’s a five-man pressure with essentially Cover-3 zone behind it. This is a coverage the team uses frequently every week.
Fortunately for the Cowboys, Kavon Frazier’s blitz beats the fullback and he sacks Eli Manning before the 15-year veteran can make the throw. However, Wilson is more athletic than Manning and harder to tackle. He’s well-known for scrambling out of pressure and still making a play either inside or outside of structure.
To adjust for this, the coaches may tell Jaylon Smith to watch for the tight end and carry him down the field like Danny Trevathan does in the Bears video. They could also tell Byron Jones to pass off the over route to one of the other deep defenders or linebackers in anticipation of the throwback. But doing so could allow for a big play in the middle of the field.
Although Seattle’s offense struggled behind its beleaguered offensive line Monday night, there were a number of instances in which they were one block, or a better running back read, short of a successful play. The trap run was one such play.
The trap/wham has been a part of the game for generations and saw a noticeable increase in usage in 2017. Offensive coaches have designed the play with numerous variations through the years. The diagram below illustrates the Cowboys’ trap run at San Francisco last year.
Essentially, the intent behind this blocking scheme is to get offensive linemen to bypass the first level of the defense and jump to the second-level defenders immediately. The linemen confront the smaller linebackers before they can read and react. This is typically a physical mismatch.
To account for the initially unblocked first-level defender(s), another blocker — the left guard in the case of the graphic above — trap blocks the defensive tackle. Less strength is needed to seal that man from the play when the blocker engages from the side as opposed to colliding with him head-on.
When an offensive lineman blocks a defensive lineman in this manner, it’s called a trap block. If a tight end or fullback does this, then it’s called a wham block.
An unsuspecting defense can often find itself out-leveraged and surrender big gains when this play is executed properly.
— Allan Uy (@AllanUy22) September 20, 2018
For the Seahawks in 2018, Schottenheimer has dialed up the trap-wham approximately three times in two games. In the season opener, tight end Will Dissly motioned in from out wide, and the offense executed both trap and wham blocks. Chris Carson was able to burst from his own goal line for a 24-yard gain.
Last week, Schottenheimer tweaked the play by sending Tyler Lockett in jet sweep motion to misdirect the defense. The blocking scheme broke down as center Justin Britt couldn’t maintain his block on Roquan Smith, while Carson failed to change direction in time and drove right into the linebacker.
In Week 1, the Seahawks ran the play with the tight end motioning. In Week 2, Schottenheimer used the jet sweep as an integral part of the design. Don’t be surprised if in Week 3 they combine the trap-wham with orbit motion — that’s sending a wide receiver into the backfield as if he were running a reverse.
Last week, Dallas defended the trap run well; they’ve been gashed by it in years past. If the linebackers and defensive linemen are as alert for this play as they were in Week 2, they shouldn’t be caught off-guard.
This was probably Sean Lee's best play of the game. Look at him sort through the trash to make the tackle. pic.twitter.com/mRT6opPoxx
— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) September 18, 2018
Almost every single time Schottenheimer called the above plays, it was first down, so watch for these designs at the start of drives or after Seattle converts for a first.
Only one matchup between these teams in the last five years scored more than 33 points. This season, defense has led the way for both of them. That wasn’t always the case when referring to Dallas.
Both offenses could struggle to move the ball in this game. Cowboys fans should expect another low-scoring affair Sunday afternoon. This also means that the game might be a closely-fought contest until the end.
For the Cowboys to fly out of Seattle with a win, Marinelli and Richard’s defense may need to score or force a turnover deep in opposing territory.
The good news for Dallas is that their “Hot Boyz” match up well to the Seahawks’ leaky offensive line. As long as the defense plays assignment-sound football and limits Wilson’s improvisational game, they’ll reduce the chances of being burned by one of the plays detailed above.
You can follow Allan on Twitter at @AllanUy22
*Animations derived from NFL Game Pass.