The Panthers loss has produced a week of teeth-gnashing and angst among many Cowboys faithful. Much of the dismay has focused on the sputtering offense. With the Giants game a mere day away, let’s look at something that worked, a new-old defensive wrinkle that’s likely to be tried again, given Dallas’ strength and New York’s foibles.
Layer your blitz. Early in the 2nd quarter, the Cowboys put Carolina in a 3rd and 10 situation and deployed a layered blitz from the nickel package. This isn’t exactly a novel concept. Dave Campo was using rushes like this in the mid-’90s with attackers like Broderick Crawford, but it's a new wrinkle that Rod Marinelli has not employed in recent years.
The Cowboys are set up in a 4-2-5 nickel scheme, with Jaylon Smith (54) and Sean Lee (50) as the two linebackers. The concept it to slant both defensive tackles towards left end Demarcus Lawrence’s (90) side, creating an overload to Cam Newton’s right. The movement wants to incite Carolina to slide its interior line protection right, creating a cavity in the B-gap to the left of the Carolina left guard (73).
The Cowboys will then blitz both Smith and Lee into that gap, creating a dilemma for RB Christian McCaffrey (22). There’s only one of him to block two Cowboys.
It’s not enough for Smith and Lee to overload McCaffrey. If they miss-time their rush, they’ll allow him to undercut both of them. The blitz works when they stagger their rush; Lee follows Smith into the hole, and that makes all the difference:
McCaffrey protects his quarterback by taking on the most immediate threat. The RB cuts Smith, hoping this will buy enough time for Cam Newton to find a target. Because he’s delayed his rush, Lee has the space to leap over Smith and continue on a clear line to the quarterback.
Lee is in Newton’s chest when he releases the throw. The big QB was nonetheless able to make a fairly accurate throw to WR Jarius Wright, but Lee’s pressure prevented a full Newton follow- through. The throw lacked zip and Cowboys CB Anthony Brown broke up the pass:
This layered rush will likely reappear Sunday night, should Dallas put the Giants offense in a 3rd-and-long, because it plays to weaknesses in the Giants’ attack. New York’s right tackle Erick Flowers was a protection liability last week. He was flagged twice on New York’s first three offensive plays, once for tripping and a second time for holding.
Demarcus Lawrence missed practice time with a groin injury he suffered against the Panthers, but if he’s anywhere close to full health he presents a decided mismatch in the Cowboys’ favor.
New York gave Flowers significant help the remainder of the game, flanking a tight end outside him and sliding help his way when possible. If the Cowboys see Flowers uncovered at any time, he’ll likely see protection sliding his way, as the Panthers did on this play.
What’s more, Cowboys fans know that Eli Manning sprays his passes when he faces pressure in his face. He’s thrown many interceptions late in games trying to avoid an interior rush. Inside pressure is a priority, in any permutation, whenever he’s the rival QB.
The Cowboys nickel linebackers are skilled at adding a rush to their rush line. With the Cowboys offense struggling, any help the defense can provide, with this blitz and others, will be welcome.