On the first play from scrimmage for both teams, a defensive lineman intercepted a pass. Nose tackle Cam Thomas corralled a ball batted by outside linebacker Jarrett Johnson for the Chargers, and former outside linebacker and current Cowboy defensive end DeMarcus Ware stepped in front of Eli Manning’s attempted screen pass.
Dallas (2-1) is coming off a dominating performance against the Rams, while the Chargers (1-2) again played a close game that came down to the final seconds but ultimately ended up losing in Tennessee.
Monte Kiffin, who basically invented the Tampa 2 defense, is in his first year orchestrating the Cowboys' defense. Only the Denver Broncos (130 yards) have allowed less than the Cowboys’ 199 rushing yards this season. Dallas ranks ninth in points against (55) and 13th in total defense but are 22nd against the pass (824 passing yards allowed).
That Tampa 2 does have holes. Teams have been able to throw against Dallas. If his offensive line protects well, San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers could have a monster day. In particular, Rivers hitting receivers and tight ends between the safeties and linebackers in the middle of the field could be a winning strategy.
Safety Barry Church (42) blitzed from the weak side, and linebackers Bruce Carter (54), Sean Lee (50) and Justin Durant (52) got frozen on the run fake.
That play action and blitz put eight Dallas defenders near the line of scrimmage and left three defensive backs alone in coverage.
Nicks ran a 12-yard post, but cornerback Morris Claiborne (24) was in man-to-man and was protecting the outside of the field knowing a single-deep safety was helping in the middle of the field. That safety, Will Allen (26), was in no position to contest the catch as the middle of the field was wide open. Nicks was able to outrun the defense for a 57-yard gain.
The middle of the field was opened up because the Cowboys respected and were counting on New York running the football. San Diego has failed to adequately show it can establish a meaningful ground game, so Rivers and Co. might have to do it on their own.
Luckily, Manning and the Giants showed the middle of the field can be exploited without play action.
On 3rd and 8 and out of the shotgun, it was apparent the Giants were passing the football. With three receivers in a bunch formation to one side, the inside receiver ran to the flats, the middle receiver ran a curl route to the outside and Rueben Randle ran a hook route to the middle of the field.
Church has to be in a position to provide help over the top to the single receiver side of the field, which allowed Randle to sit in the open pocket for the first down.
The Chargers ran a similar play in the opener against Houston.
The Chargers had three receivers to one side. The outside receiver ran a drag route across the field, the middle receiver ran a corner route to the sideline and the inside receiver ran a post to the middle of the field.
The corner route by Antonio Gates actually resulted in two defenders bumping in to each other, freeing Eddie Royal just enough to get an advantage on Kareem Jackson on the slant route over the middle to give Rivers a window to throw through.
The safeties were in Cover 2 and needed to help the corners to the outside in case the receivers went deep, which opens up the middle of the field for the slant route and the first down.
If and when the Cowboys close the middle of the field to receivers, the outside can be targeted by running backs out of the backfield, as evidenced by what Jamal Charles and the Kansas City Chiefs did in their victory over Dallas in Week 2.
In shotgun formation on first down, the Chiefs sent two wide receivers directly at the two safeties while also putting the inside wide receiver and tight end toward the same sideline. The safeties had to stop and defend the threats coming straight at them, and the linebackers had to defender the threats dragging in front of them.
Everyone was covered...except the running back.
Charles was 15 yards away from the nearest defender and gained 18 on the play to move the chains.
It is very easy to see Danny Woodhead doing the exact same thing, if not actually gaining more yards, Sunday against Dallas.
Greg Rosenthal of NFL.com rated Rivers as the third-best quarterback in the NFL so far after three games, trailing only Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers. If Rivers can continue his hot hand and his O-line is able to give him a little bit of time, San Diego has the personnel and plays to exploit the Cowboys’ weaknesses.