A Triple-Wide Dilemma

of yardage because of pass interference penalties, evidenced by last Sunday's 48-yard pinching that set up Washington's tying touchdown. 

Now they got to face a suddenly healthy Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Bryant Johnson. For the record, the duo of Fitzgerald and Boldin has totaled 89 catches for 1,284 yards (14.4 a catch) and seven touchdowns. And to think Fitzgerald, in just his third season, has missed the past three games. 

Let's see, this Fitzgerald set the franchise record last year with 103 receptions; has eight career 100-yard receiving games; and became the youngest receiver in NFL history to record (22 years, 123 days) a 100-yard game. 

And Boldin, shoot. He's already amassed more than 4,000 yards receiving, and only Lance Alworth (42 games) and Randy Moss (47) did so faster than Boldin (48) in the NFL. Since 2003, he's averaged 83.5 receiving yards a game, and only Torry Holt and Steve Smith have averaged more. And his 17 career 100-yard games ranks fourth in franchise history, just one behind Bob Moore, three behind Roy Green and five behind Jackie Smith. 

No wonder Parcells was saying, " This Bolden is a special player, he really is . . . he really is. 

"They have very good quality receivers, probably the best tandem we've played so far. They are not only a good pass-receiving group, they are a good run after the catch group." 

Thus, the Cowboys' dilemma: What to do when the Cardinals go three wide. Now on third down, that's easy. You bring in your nickel defense, just as always. Get a corner on all three receivers, two safeties over the top and a faster linebacker (Kevin Burnett) to play inside next to Bradie James to track either the tight end or running back. 

But the problem occurs on first and second down when the run threat with Edgerrin James still is prevalent. What offenses would love you to do is always match your nickel defense against three wides. That way they can then run the ball against your 4-2 front, thus dealing with one less linebacker because of the extra DB. That usually takes a good 65 pounds out of your seven-man front. 

OK, fine, don't do it, but if the Cowboys then stubbornly stay in the 3-4 defense, that means either outside linebacker, Greg Ellis or DeMarcus Ware, is erased from the rush, having to widen out into the slot to reroute that receiver and sink into a zone. That also leaves a safety in coverage over the top of the slot receiver, which has been a problem for the Cowboys no matter if that safety has been rookie Pat Watkins, Pro Bowler Roy Williams, veteran Marcus Coleman or last year's starter Keith Davis. 

"I think people are spreading us a little bit to try to get, particularly Greg, out of the rush," Parcells said of Ellis. "And you know, if you want to play zone defense, you can't just let a detached receiver run into the zone freely." 

Or as nickel corner Aaron Glenn says, "If you don't put the extra DB in there then there is more stress on the linebacker (in coverage)." 

Now the Cowboys have tried to get the best of both worlds against three wides: They go to what they call their penny defense. In comes Aaron Glenn, but instead of taking out one of their linebackers so they stay strong against the potential run, they remove the free safety. That leaves the three corners - Glenn, Terence Newman and Anthony Henry - in man coverage, with Williams playing single-safety centerfield. 

Not bad, except if one of your corners gets beat deep, that leaves only Williams accounting for the entire field, sideline to sideline, for help. Though Williams does lead the team with three interceptions, most notably the one against Washington the first time around to change the course of that game, he has been a liability, too, in coverage, struggling to track deep passes when he's running away from the line of scrimmage. 

That's what happened this past Sunday when the Redskins caught the Cowboys in their single-safety defense. Wide receiver Antwaan Randle El threw a pass off what looked like another end-around, causing Newman to bite on the end-around part and leaving Williams scrambling so hard to provide help over the top he ran over the streaking Brandon Lloyd for the 48-yard interference penalty. 

"The Redskins

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