Dallas Cowboys built their defense for the Baltimore Ravens

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

The Dallas Cowboys seemingly built their defense based on attacks similar to the Baltimore Ravens

When the Dallas Cowboys invested two top-40 picks in off ball linebackers Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith, people said they were crazy. Investing such premium picks in such a replaceable position is like using a top-5 pick on a running back (shots fired) – it’s a bad allocation of resources.

But the Dallas Cowboys had an objective in mind. And that objective was handling offensive systems who leaned on Run-Pass Option and Zone Read attacks. It might not have been the Ravens themselves the Cowboys built their defense for, but it was for teams like the Ravens.

For the sake of clarity, let’s break down the RPO and Zone Read really quickly. Every week we hear professional sportscasters get it wrong so it’s clear they are something that needs to be clarified relentlessly:

  • An RPO is a play that the QB can either hand the ball off or pass. He’s reading the defense and basing his decision on what the “conflict defender” does post-snap. What it’s not is a play that designed for the QB to run the ball. Those are typically zone reads.
  • A Zone Read is a play where the QB reads the “conflict player (usually the EDGE)” and either hands the ball off or runs it himself.

The difference between the two is obvious. The aptly named Run-Pass Option has an actual passing option. The Zone Read (and Read Option) is a run all the way. For a more thorough breakdown check out this article below:

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The purpose of these attacks is to stress the defense and take advantage of their decisions and/or personnel and their specific limitations. And the best way to beat this attack (besides playing smart football with gap discipline) is to field long and versatile linebackers who can effectively play the run and the pass.

Dallas, seeing a rise in the RPO and zone read, invested in just that – long and fast linebackers who can close passing windows as good as they can fight through blocks.

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Now, I don’t have to tell you, faithful fans, how disappointing Jaylon Smith has been for the Dallas Cowboys the past two seasons. He can’t cover, makes terrible reads, makes tackles much further downfield than he should, and shows inconsistent effort. So if ever there was a time to show his value, this is the week. This is basically why he was brought here, after all.

Same goes for LVE. While Vander Esch has been a much better player this season than Jaylon, his value on this roster is questionable to say the least. He’s been injured far too often and hasn’t been the difference-maker the team needed him to be after spending a top-20 pick on the former Boise State product.

The Dallas Cowboys defense is disappointing and much of that disappointment steams from their linebacker play. If the Cowboys get embarrassed by the Ravens tonight it tells you all you need to know about their defensive roster-building. It also tells you Jaylon and maybe even Leighton, aren’t long for this team.

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The Dallas Cowboys saw a rise in RPO and zone reads and built their defense accordingly. Today they get tested on that plan and the results should tell us a lot about how this team changes it’s personnel the next couple seasons.

  • Published on 12/08/2020 at 12:01 PM
  • Last updated at 12/08/2020 at 09:13 AM