The Washington Football Team will make their appearance in the home of the Dallas Cowboys this Sunday. In the first matchup between these teams this season, Dallas won a game that played with most fans’ emotions. What started as a defensive shutdown for the first three quarters ended up seeing Washington score 20 unanswered points before the Dallas defense officially called it a night.
That game reversed the momentum of both teams as Washington had been on a 4-game win streak whereas the Cowboys were able to consecutive wins for the first time in more than a month. With all the pre-game fanfare from both head coaches and fanbases, the game ended like how most likely expected it to at the beginning of the season.
In preparation for the first Washington game, I wrote about three matchups to highlight. All three matchups were important in deciding that game. In two weeks’ time, the Cowboys decided to revert to their original left guard Connor Williams and their rookie defensive tackle is on the reserve/COVID-19 list. The Cowboys will need to generate interior pressure and prevent it on the offensive side, but different matchups weren’t going to be enough for me to copy the same idea.
Instead, I present you with the player the Dallas Cowboys offense should attack the opposite side of the ball.
Landon Collins, SAF/LB
I don’t think this name should be a surprise at this point. Collins has played in the NFC East pretty much his entire career so teams are familiar with strengths and weaknesses as a player. When the Washington Football Team signed him to a lucrative deal, I’m sure they were hoping for him to be a better defender when roaming outside the box.
I’m not even sure he’s that good of a defender in the box…
Washington realized fairly early on in the year that Collins was a liability as one of the two deep defenders in their split safety looks even with him being reduced to the curl zone defender in Cover 3 Thief coverages. What head coach Ron Rivera then decided was to move him into the box employing Big Nickel as his base defense.
Lined up in such a way does give the Washington Football Team versatility with their zone drops, but for the most part, he lines up as a curl zone defender.
While the Football Team does disguise their coverage shells a decent amount, they often run Cover 2 or Cover 4 with some Cover 3 mixed in. Their cornerbacks don’t usually press, and because they are playing traditional spot-drop zone, the outside cornerbacks are willing to bail from off coverage looks. With players like Michael Gallup and Amari who can take the top off the defense from the outside, the forces these defenders to drop deeper down the field freezing the curl and hook zone defenders when running backs run out of the backfield or when quarterbacks scramble.
Landon Collins has allowed a 70 percent completion percentage when targeted this year allowing 11.8 yards per completion and eight touchdowns. In coverage, his mental processing doesn’t trigger quick enough to match with the faster running backs. In run defense, not only does he not possess quick play recognition, but also he doesn’t possess the physical toughness to engage at the point of attack, especially as the play side defender.
In the example above, Collins is lined up in the C gap, which we eventually learn is the play side. When the ball is snapped, Collins over pursues one direction following the down blocking linemen and when he realizes the direction of the run was in his hole, he’s already cut off by Lane Johnson.
Collins as a backside defender and as a defender vs the outside run isn’t slow to react, but much like Jaylon Smith, when runs are directed at him he will be out of position for one reason or another.
Last game, the Cowboys tried running play action off of stretch runs on several occassions hoping to take advantage of an open middle of field. Unfortunately, Washington’s middle linebacker, Cole Holcomb, is incredibly athletic and has learned to quickly match with receivers running through the hook zone. Collins isn’t as fast and lines up out wider. If the Cowboys want to take advantage of a player like Collins, running play action out of shotgun or off Gap run looks likely puts the shallow defenders in a bind. This gives the Cowboys the ability to exploit the defenders who can’t recover as well.
In preparation for a weekly game plan, offensive coaches always try targeting the second level of the field. Cole Holcomb is a solid player, Landon Collins is an exploitable matchup. The matchups are specifically why the Cowboys ran many screen passes tied in with in breaking routes in the middle of the field. The Football Team doesn’t play press and their spot drop zones give holes in the middle of the field.
Hopefully better protection from the offensive line helps with the execution of the passing game this week!