The Dallas Cowboys have both the personnel and a strategical reason to employ more three linebacker sets in 2019 so here’s how
With Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, and Sean Lee, the Dallas Cowboys are stacked at linebacker. But since the nickel defense (4-2-5) has replaced the tradition three linebacker sets (4-3-4) as the go-to base defense, one of those players is going to be stuck on the sideline more often than not. Unless…
Since the Philadelphia Eagles shocked the world and out-schemed the New England Patriots to win Super Bowl LII, RPOs have been a staple for most successful offenses. Designed to put defensive players in “conflict”, RPOs (run-pass-options) are a quick-read offense that gives quarterbacks the ability to hand off, or pass the ball based on the actions of one or more defenders.
This highly effective attack which utilizes the decision-making of the signal-caller is almost unstoppable if a defense doesn’t have the right players who are able to adapt. And adapting is what the Dallas Cowboys need to do in order to stop high RPO teams AND get all of their best players on the field at the same time.
Before we can effectively discuss stopping ROPs, we must first understand what an RPO is. Fans everywhere get confused on this and even our favorite television commentators confidently misinform and mislead fans into thinking it’s something it is not.
Read options, zone reads, and play-action passes are often mistaken for run-pass options. These are not interchangeable names and each offers a very different attack. To get the full breakdown, check out the article below:
Importance of linebackers
Right when the value of off-ball linebackers reached an all-time low, along came the RPO to boost to the LB position up to its proper place in the positional hierarchy. That’s because the defensive player most often placed in conflict by the RPO is the linebacker.
As described in the related article linked above, the QB reads the actions of specific player(s) to dictate what he ultimately does with the ball. If the conflict defender steps forward to play the run, the option becomes the pass. If the defender sinks to play pass, a handoff is the preferred play.
Pedestrian linebackers are particularly easy to exploit because they don’t have the extra intangibles to make up for the impossible position the RPO places them in. Having the length and closing speed to correct the momentum of their first steps is key.
The Dallas Cowboys’ third linebacker, Sean Lee, may not have the length and closing speed his counterparts do, but his preparation and ability to immediately diagnose allows him to be just as effective.
All three of Dallas’ starting linebackers are elite on multiple fronts. They have the skills to stop the run, cover the pass, and even rush the passer.
The 3-3 stack isn’t a base defense you want to rely on in all situations. But for a team like the Dallas Cowboys who happen to be particularly strong at linebacker, it’s a great way to stop RPO attacks in certain situations.
At face value, it seems as though it is vulnerable to the run. And in a way, it is. But large linebackers like Jaylon and LVE can be every bit as effective at LB playing a LB/DE up on the line. They can even rush the passer.
Additionally, games are won and lost in the passing portion of the game considerably more often than in the running portion. Having extra defensive backs (typically a third safety) is a smart way to slow down opposing offenses without conceding the running game completely.
Three linebackers sets don’t have to be a purely run-stopping defensive package. You can have three linebackers on the field and still lean coverage. You can also pack the box with the same personal to dissuade runs.
The 3-3-5 is a versatile front that doesn’t lean one way over the other as long as the team has enough elite linebackers to make it work. The Dallas Cowboys have that.
Will Sean Lee be a part time player now that he’s slotted to play the SAM spot? Probably, but the Cowboys experimented with a 3-3 stack last season with success, and based on its historical success vs the RPO and Dallas’ new found depth at LB, there’s reason to believe more three linebacker sets are in the Dallas Cowboys future in 2019.
- Published on 07/12/2019 at 12:56 PM
- Last updated at 07/12/2019 at 12:56 PM