Final Thoughts: Coping With "Zero" Coverage; Shifting The Defensive Front

IRVING, Texas – It's hard to believe it's already the 16th time I've previewed the Cowboys' upcoming game this season. It's even harder to know exactly what to expect from this team on Sunday, given the circumstances surrounding this game.

Much like the team, I'm approaching Week 17 as if it will be played like any other game, even if the Cowboys have already clinched the NFC East. Here are four big things to keep in mind as we get ready for the last week of the regular season.

  • I don't know if plans will change when game time arrives in Washington, but in talking with people that watched practice all week, it was business as usual for the team. There were no extra reps for guys that are backups in order to get them ready to face the Redskins -- so at least from that standpoint Jason Garrett has remained consistent with his approach to this game. I believe Garrett is taking this approach in order to maintain the rhythm which they have developed these previous three weeks, and also to carry that momentum into the playoffs. So look for Tony Romo and Company to play this game on Sunday with both those thoughts in mind.
  • As much as the Redskins like to spread defenses out with their scheme, I expect that we will see plenty of nickel defense from Rod Marinelli and his guys this week -- but I would also expect to see more of Tyler Patmon on the field playing in a dime package. By playing more defensive backs on the field, this should allow him to play more man coverage, which gives his guys the best chance for success. They need to limit those throwing windows for Robert Griffin III, much like they did for Mark Sanchez and Andrew Luck. Make sure to also keep an eye on Orlando Scandrick going with DeSean Jackson on certain packages. Marinelli has been matching speed with speed.
  • I am going to be interested to see who is inactive between Josh Brent and Henry Melton this week. Earlier on Friday, Garrett was asked what he needed to see from Brent and his reply was "more snaps." With the way the Redskins like to run the ball with Alfred Morris, the idea might be to have a bigger body at the point of attack instead of the lighter Melton. There were some whispers even before Brent was ready for action that it was Melton's spot that could be in question. With Terrell McClain, the coaches have to flexibility to play him at either the under-tackle or nose, so that will protect them in case they want to sit Melton.

In watching the Redskins on defense this week, there are ways for the Cowboys to take advantage of some of the coverage they play -- especially when they blitz. The Redskins play a lot of snaps in man coverage, and while doing this there are looks where they don't have a safety in the middle of the field.  Teams call this "Zero" coverage, and if Tony Romo sees this he has a chance for a knockout play.  In "Zero" coverage there is a large void in the middle of the field, because the safeties are either on the blitz or to the outside in coverage. There are some really nice options when Romo gets this look. He can attack it with his tight ends working the middle of the field. They could go to Dez Bryant on a slant to beat coverage one-on-one, or I have even seen teams pop a back through the line like on a short yardage throw when the defense sells out. The idea is to get a receiver in that void as quickly as possible to get a huge play. The first time around Haslett won the battle with his blitz packages, so now it is up to Scott Linehan to turn the tables on them to make them pay for leaving voids in their defense.

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