A look at the Cowboys play action scheme

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I want to talk play action today and focus on a targeting the safety in the deep half playing Cover 2 or as a Cover 4 (quarters) defender. Cowboys vs. 49ers from the 2011 season. Tony Romo and the Cowboys go up top off of play action vs. the Niners’ Cover 2 shell to set up the winning FG in OT.

Take a look at the replay and then we will break down some coaching points…

Cowboys vs. 49ers
Personnel: Ace (2 WR-2 TE-1 RB)
Formation: Unit
Route: Play Action 8 (post)

False run keys: Focus on the pre-snap look the Cowboys give to the Niners—because it is full of false run keys. Check out the depth of the back (7-yards) and the split of the No.1 WR (Z) to the closed (strong) side of the formation (reduced split inside of the numbers). Based on those two keys, this is a “run alert” for the defense when they break the huddle.

WR release: I call this a “slow-play” release. Take a hard inside release (and stem to the safety). This can look like a crack block or a WR taking an angle to block the SS so he can’t enter the run front. And vs. an aggressive safety like Donte Whitner, this is the ideal call to test his run/pass keys (read No.1 to TE). Nice sell on the release from WR Jesse Holley.

Run action: With Ace personnel on the field, this is “stretch” action from the Cowboys. And one thing to take note of here: Dallas runs the 8 (post) route to the play action side. Put some bait out there for the safety and sneak the post in behind him while his eyes are in the backfield.

“High” Hat vs. “Low” Hat: If you want to read the TE to the play side, this is a “High” Hat read (pass). On the stretch play, the TE will fire out and “hook” the OLB in the 3-4 front (“Low” Hat). Here, we see the TE set “high” and pass block. Always read your run/pass keys—they will tell you what to play for.

Game situation: I like the call from Dallas. Whitner is a very good football player, but he does want to get involved in the run front. Use the pre-snap look (plus the release from Holley) to show run and then break to the post. Easy throw for Romo that sets up the Cowboys to steal this one in San Fran.

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