Adaptation is sincerest form of flattening offense’s pulse for Cowboys’ Dan Quinn

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·7 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Speed Kills.

It’s a time honored football maxim. In today’s game, speed of adaptation kills. Those clubs whose coordinators can quickly decipher what their opposition is doing to nullify their own game plan, then make changes, often wins.

We’ve analyzed the speed with which Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore can act, game to game and even series to series. Today, we’re going to look at a small change that defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and his line coach Aden Durde made in the second half of Sunday Night’s win against the Vikings, and how it collared a Vikings offense that was threatening to pull away from the Cooper Rush-led Dallas attack.

Beaten By the Boot

Quinn’s defense was put in a hole early, by a Vikings attack that wanted to score in lightning fashion and put maximum pressure on the inexperienced Rush.

Minnesota larded its first series with special plays, designed to catch Quinn’s secondary flat-footed. The Vikings threw a flanker screen early and gained good yardage behind it. They then tried a double pass off flanker screen action; quarterback Kirk Cousins tossed a lateral to a receiver, seemingly repeating the screen. That receiver then looked downfield for one of his fellow wideouts, who was attempting to get behind the Cowboys’ secondary.

That play failed, but Dallas was tuned to defending the wide screens and were set up for the Vikings’ touchdown play, a third flanker faked screen that drew the short side of Dallas secondary towards the cluster of receivers on the near side of the field. One of them Adam Thielen, then darted into the middle of the field uncovered. He caught Cousins’ pass and loped into the end zone for an easy score.

The Cowboys shut this game down for the remainder of the first half, but early in the third quarter, the Vikings turned Dallas’ aggression against it. The Vikings started working the weak side of the field, first with counter runs by Dalvin Cook, and then with bootleg passes by Cousins to his tight ends off of fake tosses to Cousins.

Here’s one effective pass from this look that frustrated left end Dorance Armstrong and middle linebacker Micah Parsons.

The Vikings will attempt a fake toss left to Cook, which their F-back —who is flanking the tight end — will come underneath the formation left to right and break for the right flat. If the fake works, he should get away from Parsons, the linebacker with responsibility to this side of the field.

You can see in the second still that the end Armstrong (92) and Parsons (11) are keying Cook and want to hunt him down from the backside of the play.

When Cousins keeps the ball, however, they are both badly out of position, having lost contain to their side.

When Armstrong realizes this is a pass, the tight end is crossing past him and Cousins have ample space and time to let his primary target get outside of the end:

Parsons is gamely pursuing, but he too is out of position. The pass goes for seven yards and gives Minnesota new downs inside the Dallas 30. The drive stalls shortly thereafter but misdirection gave the Vikings a 13-10 lead.

Cooper and the offense failed to move the ball on their subsequent possession. The Cowboys could not afford to let Minnesota use misdirection to get another score and pull away.

Stomping the Boot

Having seen success with misdirection passes, the Vikings went immediately to a bootleg call to start their next series. Here, however, Dallas made two important adjustments to combat the play.

First, Randy Gregory flopped from his normal right end spot to left end. Gregory had already stopped a Vikings drive near halftime, cutting in from right end to sack Cousins. Here, he again kept all focus on the quarterback.

Notice, Gregory’s rush is directly up field. He has paid no attention to Cook. He’s going to rush directly into Cousins’ face. Also, note how disciplined Parsons and fellow linebacker Leighton Vander Esch are. They also detect pass and are sitting on the two Vikings targets coming to the near side, tight end Luke Stocker (35) and fellow tight end Chris Herndon (85) who is again circling under the formation:

Gregory has kept position outside of Cousins, forcing him to stop his roll out and pass sooner than he hoped. Herndon is not outside the hash mark in this still. Compare this to his position on the previous bootleg, where Cousins led him far towards the sideline and away from Parsons.

Note that Parsons is tracking Herndon and is even with him in lateral space. He’s accelerating and using his superior speed to make up the minimal edge Herndon had at the snap. Parsons runs Herndon down for a three yard loss. The long down and distance took Minnesota out of their short passing plan and forced another punt two plays later.

Grinding the Boot, Grounding the Boot

That immediate bootleg discipline was again needed early in the fourth quarter. The Vikings had forced a takeaway at midfield, sacking and stripping Rush off a corner blitz. With the score tied at 13-13 a touchdown off a short field could prove decisive.

The Vikings again called a rollout pass on their first play after the turnover, going for a deep gain.

The Vikings were in flank right, the formation the Cowboys have used so effectively this year, with both tight ends on the right side of the formation the receivers Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson in a slot set on the Vikings’ left. The call is a bootleg right by Cousins. He’s going to fake a hand-off left to Cook, roll to his right behind sevenman protection and throw deep to either Thielen, who’s running a go up the right sideline, or to Jefferson, who will run a post corner towards the deep left sideline underneath Thielen.

The initial run fake draws Armstrong, who is back at left end, inside, but he quickly diagnoses pass and turns directly upfield, to keep Cousins between the tackles.

The Cowboys secondary players are also wise to the two man pattern the Vikings are running. Jourdan Lewis is trailing Jefferson closely and Anthony Brown (30) is positioned to pick him up should Jefferson continue across field.

Armstrong’s quick recognition of pass foils the play. He’s used a rip move to get free of fullback C.J. Ham (30) and he’s getting depth on his rush, cutting off Cousins’ path towards the sideline.

Cousins planned to roll deep and wide to that side and then look to throw back towards his left. This is a slow developing play, given the length and depth of both receivers’ routes, and Armstrong denies all of them the time they require.

Armstrong forces Cousins to attempt a bail out pass towards the Cowboys’ sideline. Since no Vikings were running routes to that side, and because Cousins was unable to get beyond the “tackle box” he was flagged for intentional grounding.

The Vikings lost 13 yards, the down and the promise of the turnover was lost in one play.

One play where Armstrong maintained the discipline he had surrendered on the earlier scoring drive, a series after Gregory and Parsons had stopped the bootleg’s effectiveness with better recognition and contain.

This is not last year’s defense. It’s not even September’s defense. This unit is showing the ability to adapt game to game, and as this sequence shows, series to series.

It played a big hand in Dallas’ comeback win and it’s playing a bigger role, as the season progresses, in the team’s playoff run.

1

1