What coverages did the Dallas Cowboys face most (what to expect in ’22)?

(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

Much has been written about the different defenses the Dallas Cowboys faced last season. From the blitz-heavy looks early in the season, to the coverage-heavy looks late, the Cowboys faced a diverse assortment of looks throughout the year.

Cover-2 shells defense has dominated most of the discussion this offseason – and for good reason. The Brandon Staley philosophy has been the NFL’s latest defensive trend these days. Teams have realized it’s better to rush four and pack the secondary, than it is to play aggressively and possibly give up the big play.  It’s that philosophy that ultimately doomed the Cowboys (and a number of other top offenses).

But how much Cover 2 did the Cowboys really see last year? What coverages did they see and in what volume? The answer will tell us what to expect in 2022.

We look at which coverages were used the most against the Cowboys and determine what to expect in 2022

Offseason football articles have a way of oversimplifying things. In the name of digestibility, we tend to focus on the keys and incidentally lose sight of the big picture. This is especially true with the coverages Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys offense faced last year.

Contrary to most implications, opponents didn’t make a clean break from the middle of the field closed (aka single high safety) looks and flip to middle of the field open looks. They transitioned, altered, and combined.

Heavy 2-high safety teams still ran heavy doses of single high looks (and vice versa) and the successful teams mixed and matched on the same down and disguised intentions pre-snap frequently. The Dallas Cowboys saw this (and struggled with this) firsthand.

Looking at the chart above we can see what kinds of coverages Dak Prescott and the Cowboys faced last year and in what volume they were used. Listening to much of the offseason conversation one would think Cover-2 and Cover-6 would dominate the chart. As we can see, the Cowboys saw a whole lot more than just the latest trend.

In fact, Cover-3 once again ruled the day in 2021. To be fair (said in LetterKenney-ese) some defenses looked one way pre-snap, but were applied a completely different way post-snap. As I noted last week, Staley’s shells concepts of daring a defense to run and taking away the deep ball wasn’t just used in traditional Cover-2 looks, it was used in a variety of looks. Heck, even Staley leaned on single high safety looks heavily.

Last season wasn’t an anomaly either. Cover-3 has been one of the top coverages Dallas has faced for years. It was the most used coverage against Dak in 2020 and the second most used coverage used against Dak in 2019 (Cover 1 was the most used in 2019). Even in 2018 it was in virtual deadlock with Cover-1 as the most popular defense Dak Prescott faced.

So it’s safe to say, even with the rise of Cover-2 and the shells defense, Cover-3 will be the key coverage to overcome.

We also need to keep in mind all Cover-1 and Cover-3 looks are not clones of the Seattle single-high. Teams have applied Cover-2 concepts to single high-safety formations as of late, and what the Dallas Cowboys think they see before the snap, isn’t always what they actually see develop after the snap.

While the application of Cover-3 has changed considerably, it’s still one of the most common looks NFL defenses are rolling out against the Dallas Cowboys and most other NFL teams.

On Monday we’ll break down how Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys did against each of these coverages. We’ll talk trends and why Cowboys Nation should be optimistic heading into the 2022 season.

Must Read. Why the Cowboys running game has been failing. light

The main takeaway today is that teams aren’t throwing out brand new stuff at the Cowboys. This isn’t a daunting riddle to work out but rather much of what they’ve seen before. Sure, there are new strategies being deployed but it’s nothing they haven’t faced before in some regard.