Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan made some fantastic defensive play calls during his team’s 20-19 win over the St. Louis Rams in Saturday’s exhibition. Although it’s always important to remember never to take too much from the NFL preseason, Cowboys fans should be thrilled with Ryan’s play-calling, the play of Dallas’ defense in general and the chemistry between all the new players.
The Cowboys’ first-team defense has only given up six points this preseason and all six came on two field goals by the Rams on Saturday night. However, Dallas’ defense looked its best against St. Louis, sacking Rams quarterback Sam Bradford three times. The first one came on the Rams’ third play from scrimmage, a third-and-seven at their own 35-yard line.
On this play, Ryan sent in his dollar set, which includes three cornerbacks and three safeties. Danny McCray and Orlando Scandrick joined the usual secondary of Barry Church, Gerald Sensabaugh, Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne. During the play, the three cornerbacks and McCray covered the Rams’ three receivers and tight end while Church and Sensabaugh played Cover 2 and the five guys in the box all rushed the passer. The secondary confuses Bradford and he gets sacked.
Longtime Cowboys film guru Bryan Broaddus breaks this dollar defense down in more depth, but the formula for the Cowboys should be simple: utilize this scheme on most obvious third-down passing situations. Church and Sensabaugh have proven they won’t let anyone get past them down the field, Carr is developing his own island on the left side and Claiborne is improving every day, so bringing in McCray and Scandrick on the field at the same time should work a majority of the time.
The key here is that this unique defensive set forces opposing quarterbacks to take a closer look before the snap and wait longer to make their reads after it. That extra split second is all the time in the world for the Dallas pass rush, which looked like a different team against the Rams than the one seen constantly reeling in Cowboys Stadium the past two years. The result was at least one sack on all three St. Louis quarterbacks, but most importantly, three on Bradford and the ones on third down plays.
That’s not to say the Cowboys should expect a sack or a stop on every play in which the team employs Ryan’s dollar defense. No defensive play or set is foolproof. However, it at least appears Dallas will no longer give up so many big plays on third down, especially if Ryan continues to use his play-calling wisely and particularly when it comes to the dollar set.