Eagles to Use Single High Safety to Stop Cowboys’ Run Game


Nov 23, 2014; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray (29) during the fourth quarter against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium. Dallas Cowboys defeat the New York Giants 31-28. Mandatory Credit: Jim O

If you’ve watched the Philadelphia Eagles play this season, you’ll notice that they employ a frequent amount of Single High Safety (SHS). Like most defenses, they will alternate from play to play and from game to game, but the Single High appears to be a fixture and is probably the best way to get the Cowboys away from their game-plan.

Here’s a brief description…

The Single High Safety

The single high safety is an aptly named defense that employs one deep safety in a ballhawk/centerfielder role. It can be played in both man or zone coverage.

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If a zone coverage is called, then the single high formation becomes essentially a Cover 3. The corners will back off, giving up the short ball and protecting the deep portion of their field.

If it’s a man defense the corners will play up in man (usually press-chase) and the deep safety will provide the Cover 1 element. The other safety plays in the box in both situations, serving almost as an extra LB in run and short pass support.

The in-the-box safety presence allows the 3 LBs and the safety to each be responsible for only one gap. Without having 2 gap responsibilities, the LBs only need to read “run” or “pass” before fully committing. Without the additional safety in the box this would not be possible and the Eagles would be vulnerable to the run on the weakside of the formation.

1 gap responsibility improves reaction time and makes a significant difference in run support. Weakness are comeback routes and crossing patterns. With only 1 deep safety, go-routes down the sidelines are almost in-defensible as well.

 The Game Plan

The SHS is a defense Cowboys’ fans should be familiar with. Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli are both some early developers of the aggressive defense that notoriously offers a high risk and high reward. Perfected by Gus Bradley in Seattle (Bradley now in Jacksonville), the SHS requires top end talent at cornerback and at safety.

Philadelphia isn’t known for having very talented corners or a free safety. So why would the Eagle want to use such a risky defense that often gives up big plays if not executed perfectly?

Nov 23, 2014; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) throws a pass during the first half against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Because it stops the run, encourages the pass, and speeds up the tempo.

Chip Kelly’s offense is built to move fast and wear you down. They thrive by getting as many possessions as possible. The theory is that in the 4th quarter, the opposition will be more tired and broke down, while Chip Kelly’s team is still operating at peak performance.

The Cowboys’ run-heavy offense that controls the clock and slows the game, is absolute kryptonite to Chip Kelly. He would rather stack the line and give up passing yards than allow the Cowboys to slowly move the ball down the field.

This game will be the greatest temptation the Cowboys have faced. The Eagles will single cover Cowboys’ receivers begging Romo to throw the ball. They would prefer giving up a quick 6 yards on a pass, than 3 yards on the ground.

The Cowboys must resist the temptation early and pound the ball. They can occasionally pepper in play-action passing, but the run game needs to be forced early. Even if the Cowboys find limited success at first, a heavy run game will benefit them in the end.

Both teams are playing for the 4th quarter. The Cowboys have control and must decide how this game plays out.