3 ways the Dallas Cowboys can hide their O-line problems

(Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images)
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How the Dallas Cowboys hide their O-line: Solution 2


It’s probably safe to say the Atlanta pass-rushers are licking their chops watching Dallas’ Week 1 game film. Most will agree, with the exception of Aaron Donald, Atlanta is a much more talented D-line than LA and those fellas are ready to tee off against a pair of inexperienced undrafted free agents Dallas may be rolling out.

But there are some plays and schemes the Dallas Cowboys can run that don’t require elite pass protection. I’m referring primarily to the run-pass option (RPO).

RPO has been around a while yet people still mistake it for read option and zone read so let me explain the difference first:

  1. Zone Read: The QB has the option to either run the ball himself or hand the ball off. The decision is made based on how the defensive end plays it. It’s 100% a running play.
  2. Run-Pass Option: The QB has the option to either hand off to his RB or pass the ball. The QB rarely runs the ball himself in an RPO.
  3. Play Action: The QB fakes a hand-off but pulls up to pass. It looks like an RPO but there is no actual option to run the ball. It’s 100% a passing play.

For more on the run-pass option please check out: Explaining the RPO in the NFL

The important thing to keep in mind is the RPO is the only play with an actual passing option. Zone read is a running play and the play-action is a passing play with no “option” at all. When we see option plays where Dak Prescott runs the ball, nine out of ten times it’s from a zone read – not an RPO.

The reason the RPO is so effective in disguising pass protection deficiencies is because it’s a quick strike attack. It doesn’t involve the QB standing in the pocket because frankly, there’s not enough time for that.

As a blocking scheme, RPOs generally ask their linemen to run block. At the snap of the ball, they don’t know whether it’s going to be a RB run or a QB pass. The QB typically decides that after the ball is snapped and he’s read the defender in conflict. If that defender moves up to play the run, then the QB pulls up and passes. If the conflict defender stays back to defend the pass, then the QB will hand the ball off. Each RPO is different but generally it’s about reading the defense and taking what’s given.

The quick strike nature means blocks don’t need to be sustained long, and the fact that linemen are typically run-blocking means the pass needs to be delivered before they get more than a yard downfield or else they’ll get flagged.

As you can see above, Mike McCarthy is no stranger to the RPO and ran it heavily in Green Bay. Dak’s strong decision making ability and Dallas’ fast and physical receiving corps are a perfect fit the RPO. Frankly, there’s no reason to not do it.

Screen Passes

Another thing we saw from the Rams last week was a steady diet of screen passes. Sean McVay used the Dallas Cowboys aggressiveness against them and baited them with a sitting duck (Goff) only to dink it over them.

Screens can be traditional dumps to running backs or they can be to receivers. Whether it’s a bubble screen at the snap or a misdirection play on a rollout, the common trait is it gets blockers out in front of the ball carrier.

It doesn’t just have immediate direct benefits, but lingering effects on the D-line. After getting burned a couple times, pass-rushers adjust their play and pause to read and diagnose. No longer rushing with reckless abandon, their pass rush loses some of its effectiveness. And that’s kinda the goal, right?