Let’s take a look at tomorrow’s NFC Divisional matchup in Minnesota between the Cowboys and the Vikings from a scheme perspective with help from the Coaching Player’s 3D Chalkboard.
Yes, Scheme Session is back, and with the use of this new software, I hope to break down schemes, playbooks and game plans that you won’t see anywhere else except here at the National Football Post.
Today, I want to talk about the Cowboys from an offensive perspective, and how they can exploit the Vikings Tampa 2 defense tomorrow in the Dome with TE Jason Witten finding a hole in the scheme.
Before we get to the diagram, let’s break down the Tampa 2 defense at the NFL level. Cover 2 is your basic two deep, five under. But, the difference is that the Tampa 2 eventually turns into a three deep, four under coverage with the Mike, or Middle Linebacker, dropping to the deep middle-third of the field and running with any inside vertical route.
Let’s check out the diagram below.
As we can see, I have drawn in all of the responsibilities of the back seven of the Vikings defense with the highlighted red squares showing you where their zone drops are. The Mike LB is highlighted in red—as he is the focal point of the Dallas attack.
On offense, the Cowboys are in their Zebra personnel (3 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB), and a running a classic Cover 2 beater. Let’s start on the open (away from the TE) or the weak side. The No.1 WR, which will be Roy Williams, is running a “7” or flag route. The inside slot receiver, which will be Patrick Crayton, is running a classic option route. He will play off of the leverage of the Nickel Corner and break his route to the sidelines to draw the open side corner up to the flat—leaving Williams one-on-one with the deep half safety. Nothing special, and a route combination (Flat/7) we see against all Tampa 2 teams in the NFL.
But, QB Tony Romo of the Cowboys is going to look to the closed side (TE side) or strong side with his first read. The Cowboys have made a living this season running this exact route combination, the China/ Dig which converts to the China/Seam vs. Tampa 2 teams.
The No.1 WR to the closed side, Miles Austin, will release with a vertical stem to draw the corner and then break hard inside—essentially running a 7-yard in-route, which is called the “China Route.” Romo will read the drop of the Sam or Strong Side linebacker and deliver the ball quickly to Austin if he is open in the hole between the Sam and the Corner. But, the big play in this scheme is all about TE Jason Witten.
I highlighted Witten is yellow to drive home this point. He will release vertically down the field and stem his route away from the deep half safety and over the top of the dropping Mike Backer. The window for Romo to throw the ball will be small, and it should be delivered on or near the hash marks. The ball will be placed on the up field shoulder—away from the closing safety’s leverage.
Witten’s route is designed to split the two deep safeties and find a void in the defense.
Can it be stopped? Of course, but it is up to Vikings Mike Backer to run with Witten once he reads pass. Essentially, this turns into a one-on-one matchup with Witten trying to beat the Mike Backer down the middle of the field, providing a throwing lane for Romo and the possibility of the big play. But, he can’t force the ball if the window is small, and will have to check it down to Felix Jones, who will release out of the backfield and settle in the vacated hole from the Mike Backer.
This is the weakness of the Tampa 2 defense, and Romo and the Cowboys will look to exploit it tomorrow in Minneapolis. Big plays win playoff games, and there will be opportunities for the Cowboys to beat this scheme.
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