Friday, October 11, 2013
Double Coverage: Redskins at Cowboys
By Todd Archer and John Keim
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins will meet for the 107th time in their historic rivalry, but neither team has gotten off to the kind of start to the season they envisioned.
At 2-3, the Cowboys are tied for the NFC East lead, and the Redskins are 1-3 coming off their bye weekend.
ESPN.com Redskins reporter John Keim and ESPN.com Cowboys reporter Todd Archer break down Sunday's matchup at AT&T Stadium with this week's Double Coverage.
Archer: The last time Robert Griffin III was at AT&T Stadium he threw four touchdown passes and was dynamic. Are we starting to see Griffin look like the Griffin from last season?
Keim: Todd, we are starting to see more of the old Griffin, though the offense was rolling a lot better at that time last season than it is now. But in the last game before the bye at Oakland, Griffin used his legs more -- mostly to escape trouble -- and big plays resulted. That's his game; even if the zone-read option isn't a huge factor, his legs still can be. But the difference was this time there were a couple plays on which, last season, he would have taken off running. Instead, he kept his eyes downfield and threw for a solid completion. I think it'll help him to have a more balanced attack; his play-action passes were lethal last season, as the Cowboys discovered. Because of how the games have unfolded, they haven't been as balanced as they'd like.
I'll stick with quarterbacks: Tony Romo's stats are fantastic. Is this his best start? If so, why?
Archer: It's definitely his best start. I know people won't get the interception at the end of the Denver game out of their heads, but his decision-making has been great. He's seeing the field. I think with his involvement in the offense, he's taken it upon himself to be more careful, but against the Broncos he was smartly aggressive with his throws down the field. He is more accurate than he has ever been as well, completing better than 70 percent of his passes. I think the Denver game could be the start of something for this offense in terms of how they attack defenses. Romo loves the empty package because he can get the ball out of his hands quickly and he's got some quarterback friendly targets.
The last time the Redskins saw Romo, they hurt him with pressure. Safe to say that with 15 sacks they're still pressure happy?
Keim: Yeah, they want to pressure, but they had to send extra guys last season against him because, without Brian Orakpo, their four-man rushes applied little pressure. Six of their seven sacks against Oakland earlier this season came with four-man rushes, allowing them to focus on coverage. That would be their ideal. However, those rushes take a little time to develop and Romo is much better than Matt Flynn was for the Raiders. So I would definitely expect some blitzes; they can't let Romo get comfortable in the pocket. They had success with blitzes through the A-gaps and sending linebackers off the edge. They also sent several slot-corner blitzes. I think they'll still do some of that Sunday, but if they don't get there, big plays will follow.
While we're on the topic of blitzes, aside from one play last season, Romo did not handle the extra rushers well. However, last week against Denver he did. Has he improved in this area?
Archer: He has done better in that area. So far, he has four touchdowns and no interceptions against the blitz this season and has been sacked only three times. The offensive line is playing as well as it has played in three or four seasons, and I think, as Romo's confidence in it has grown, the ability to attack the blitz has grown. Part of it is experience. Part of it is getting rid of it quicker. Part of it his better protection. Having offensive line coach Bill Callahan as the playcaller might mean he's more willing to give his guys some help with extra blockers, but it's not like the Cowboys go into a shell when they see a blitz.
From afar, Alfred Morris is off to a good start. He hurt the Cowboys last December, too. How's his health?
Keim: His health is fine. The ribs are a little bit sore, but he's practiced fully Monday and Wednesday, and, barring a setback, he'll play Sunday. Morris' total rushing yards are down, but he's averaging 5.3 per carry and 2.30 yards after contact, both better than in 2012. Morris is taking better angles and does an excellent job setting up blockers because he's so patient. Teams have keyed on him in the zone-read but he's still effective in the outside zone game. There have been some blocking issues from all over, but the Redskins want to run the ball more, so look for that Sunday.
We hear a lot about the Dallas passing game, but DeMarco Murray is off to a strong start. How good has he been, and what sort of problems could he cause the Redskins?
Archer: I don't feel as good about Murray as you do about Morris, even though the numbers tell a different story. He has been OK, but he has left yards on the table. I guess every running back does, but his just seem more noticeable. He's not been able to run it much, with just two 20-carry games, which -- oh, by the way -- have come in the Cowboys' two wins. I hate the stat, but the Cowboys are 10-0 when he gets 20 carries. Why not just hand it to him 20 straight times to open the game? I kid. Anyway, I think the Cowboys have found out they run best when they are in a three-wide set, which spreads the field and gives Murray some options. The Cowboys will need him Sunday, especially if the Redskins decide to play coverage, but the coaches need to call on him when the running game isn't doing that well. He's also a decent receiver out of the backfield, and the third-down back, Lance Dunbar is battling a hamstring injury.
I want to go back to the Redskins' defense. I've thought a few times DeAngelo Hall was done in recent seasons, but he was great versus Dez Bryant in last season's finale. Do you think the Redskins will have him follow Bryant on Sunday?
Keim: I do expect them to do that a decent amount Sunday. He did the same thing against Calvin Johnson a couple weeks ago. They used Josh Wilson against Bryant a lot in the first game, but Wilson is playing more in the slot in the three-corner set. And rookie David Amerson is not ready to cover Bryant more than a little bit, though he does have the size. So that leaves Hall, at least when they're in man coverage. If they play him like they did last season, then they will mix in a lot of zone coverage in an effort to give Romo pause. I'm with you: Every time I think Hall has slipped a bit, he'll have a big game. Hall will get beat and often gives up too much cushion, but he's a smart player who competes hard. It serves him well.
This is a pretty basic question, but how has the transition been to the 4-3?
Archer: To be kind, I'll just say not as well as the Cowboys had hoped. They have been lit up the past two games by Philip Rivers and Peyton Manning. I guess there's no shame in having either of them do that, but it's been historically bad around here. The problem is they cannot generate pressure with four rushers. They miss Anthony Spencer, who's out for the season. They miss Jay Ratliff, who is on the physically unable to perform list. They miss Tyrone Crawford, who tore his Achilles the first day of camp. As well as George Selvie and Nick Hayden have played, you like them more as rotation guys and not starters. DeMarcus Ware has been banged up for three straight games, and Jason Hatcher has been put in check the past two games. They don't blitz often, but I'm not sure they have faith in their coverage to try to do it more.
One area that has killed the Cowboys in this 4-3 is passes to runners and tight ends, but those doesn't look to be featured parts of the Washington offense. Could that change Sunday?
Keim: I think it could change, at least to a degree. They do like to get the ball to the receivers, but one reason running back Roy Helu hasn't been a bigger factor in the pass game is because of their inability to convert third downs, which prevent more plays. But Helu has shown the past two games just how dangerous he can be in the open field. I saw some of the issues Dallas had covering backs; Helu would hurt them. At tight end, their top two pass-catchers, Fred Davis and rookie Jordan Reed, are both healthy. Reed is an up-and-comer, an athletic kid who makes tough catches. He's a threat after the catch, so there's a chance the Cowboys' troubles here will continue.
The Cowboys allow only 3.8 yards per rush. Is that a function of them stopping it well or teams not testing them more on the ground?
Archer: The easy answer is a little of both. They did a nice job on Kansas City's Jamaal Charles, but late in the game, he converted a crucial third down. San Diego and Denver were able to grind them a little. Knowshon Moreno had 93 yards on 19 carries and a lot of his work was done between the tackles. I'm not sure if they're better suited to handle Washington's running game this season compared to last season. They were just guessing on some zone-read stuff at FedEx Field and were mostly wrong. And it's not like Monte Kiffin slowed it down when he was at USC. They've done OK when teams have tried to pound it on them, but San Diego and Denver were able to run out of a stretch look.