The Dallas Cowboys Secret Weapon: The LEO Pass Rush

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Dec 2, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware (94) rushes the passer during the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Cowboys Stadium. The Cowboys beat the Eagles 38-33. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

While the Dallas Cowboys defense has already looked pretty sharp this preseason there is reason to believe it will get even better in the regular season. For one thing, many stunts, blitzes, and formations have purposely been held back in preseason games. This is nothing new.  The Cowboys, like most NFL teams, hold back quite a bit in the preseason games. One of the new wrinkles of the defense ,The LEO, is certainly no exception.

The Leo

The LEO isn’t a scheme or coverage but rather it refers to a player. Specifically a defensive player with a certain positioning (technique) on the field. It’s a position that has been used sparingly this preseason. It’s the cure to any pass-rush problems the Cowboys may have (or could have) and therefore a possible key element to the defense in 2013. The LEO stands out on film because he is a defensive lineman who lines up in a wide technique to rush the passer. On the Cowboys the LEO is clearly DeMarcus Ware and when Anthony Spencer returns he could also spend time as a LEO (only from the Strong Side in his case).

Dec 16, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware (94) in action against Pittsburgh Steelers tackle Max Starks (78) at Cowboys Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 16, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware (94) in action against Pittsburgh Steelers tackle Max Starks (78) at Cowboys Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The primary LEO typically lines up wide on the weakside of the formation. He lines up in a very wide technique far outside the shoulder of the Left Tackle. When I first discussed the LEO earlier in the offseason, I asked you to think of DE Jason Babin when he was with the Eagles. He lined up in what Philadelphia called, The Wide Nine. Babin lined up far beyond the outside of the tackle box and rushed from a very wide angle.

By taking that extremely wide technique, the pass-rusher gains an advantage in angles and spacing to better apply pass rush moves. Unless the tackle is very fleet-of-foot, it is exceedingly difficult for him to effectively pass protect. An athletic tackle who is able to stay in front of a wide technique pass-rusher, is now susceptible to a full speed bull rush, an inside move, or even a double move. It is very clear pass-rushing from a wide-techniqued (or Leo) position allows a huge advantage in the pass rush.

When I first introduced the LEO concept, many asked, “If lining up wide is such an advantage why did Philadelphia struggle so much in their wide 9?”

So I asked you to think back. If you can remember 2011, Philly did great in the wide 9 from a pass rushing perspective. Babin alone finished with 18 sacks – by far a career best. The problem is when you line up wide you are very vulnerable against the run. Philly was absolutely gashed in 2011 as a result. Monte Kiffin’s defense has a solution for this: Use safety help for run support on the weakside.

Safety Support

In the Cowboys’ Over and Under formations only one player will line up as the LEO. The remaining 3 defensive linemen will line up more traditionally and hold varying assignments. The Over and Under formations are stacked more towards the strong side, making running to that side very difficult. The vulnerability is designed to be only on the LEO (weak) side. And that plays right into this formations hand.

If teams attempt to exploit this weakness they will be met by the Strong Safety.  Because in the single high safety defense the Free Safety plays back in centerfield while the strong safety plays in the box and has specific gap responsibilities to cover the vulnerably left by the attacking LEO.

Nov 20, 2011; Landover, MD, USA; Dallas Cowboys defensive back Barry Church (42) gestures on the field prior to the game against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 20, 2011; Landover, MD, USA; Dallas Cowboys defensive back Barry Church (42) gestures on the field prior to the game against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Instead of playing with 2 deep safeties, like some of Monte Kiffin’s coverage packages call for, the Cowboys will employ the Single High Safety when lining Ware up from a LEO position. That SS plays in the box serving as an extra LB. You may remember me talking about the Single High Safety before. It happens to be a key coverage used in stopping the read-option offense that RGIII abused Dallas with last season. Read about the Single High here and find out how it can be effective against he Read-Option (Pistol) Offense.

The in-the-box safety presence allows the SS and the 3 LB’s to each be responsible for only one gap. Without having 2-gap responsibility the LB’s only need to read run or pass before fully committing. 1 gap responsibility improves reaction time and makes a huge difference in run support. Without the additional safety in the box this would not be possible and the Cowboys would be vulnerable to the run on the Leo side of the formation.

Follow on Page 2 for more on the Rushmen and the LEO defense.

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Tags: "Leo" Defense Anthony Spencer Dallas Cowboys Demarcus Ware Jason Babin Monte Kiffin Single High Safety Wide 9