Dallas Cowboys

How Sean McVay Attacked Cowboys’ Run Defense

When watching the Cowboys on film this season, we’ve been incredibly impressed with their run defense. They are a disciplined group that plays to their responsibilities. They are also a fast defense that stops the run using great team pursuit of the ball carrier. On Saturday in Los Angeles, Sean McVay attacked them relentlessly with misdirection, and the Rams racked up a staggering 273 yards on the ground as a result.

The Rams utilized outside zones, inside zones, and gap-scheme runs to get after the Cowboys defense, and most of these came with some sort of misdirection element (Jet-sweep action, fake end-arounds, etc.). This left the Cowboys’ second level defenders, who normally play with great gap integrity and fly around the field, hesitant and out of their gaps.

On the below run, for instance, the Rams called an outside zone to the right.

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Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

In addition to the zone blocking, the Rams had tight end Tyler Higbee cross the formation and seal off the backside, while wide receiver Josh Reynolds faked an end-around away from the direction of the play. Keep an eye on how this action held Cowboys safety Jeff Heath, delaying his pursuit of the ball carrier.

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Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

Rams motion holding defenders on run.gif

Take another look and watch the work of center John Sullivan (#65), left guard Rodger Saffold (#76) and left tackle Andrew Whitworth (#77). Whitworth got across the face of the defensive end to seal off the backside. Saffold helped Sullivan double-team defensive tackle Maliek Collins before quickly getting up to the second level to block Sean Lee. Sullivan did a great job of driving Collins to the outside, creating the cutback lane for Todd Gurley.

Rams motion holding defenders on run.gif

This was the same play the Rams called on Todd Gurley’s 35-yard touchdown run that gave the Rams a 20-7 lead in the 2nd quarter. Again, this was an outside zone to the right.

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Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

The Rams again had tight end Tyler Higbee cross the formation to seal off the backside and wide receiver Josh Reynolds fake an end-around away from the direction of the play. This, again, held safety Jeff Heath backside.

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Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

Gurley TD.gif

Take another look at L.A.’s tremendous line play. Center John Sullivan (#65) again did a great job blocking the defensive tackle over him. Watch Left Guard Saffold (#76) again quickly get to the second level and block Leighton Vander Esch (#55) well past the point of attack.

But notice how Heath being held on the backside by the misdirection helped Andrew Whitworth (#77) get the angle and seal him off, creating the huge cutback lane for Todd Gurley.

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This is what makes the outside zone run go – cutting off the backside. The misdirection helped get the Rams the blocking angles they needed, on this run and on many others throughout the night.

The Rams were content to mostly use Jared Goff and the passing game as a complement to the run. Given the success they were having on the ground, this isn’t much of a surprise. Also not a surprise was the fact that the Rams used a ton of play-action with misdirection. This helped influence the Cowboys’ underneath defenders.

On the below play, watch linebacker Sean Lee (#50) initially move to the right in response to the play-action to that side, then drop left in reaction to the fake end-around. This created a nice window for Goff’s throw.

Rams PA, getting LB going with fake end around.gif

Sean McVay’s gameplan had the Cowboys on their heels all night.

After a bit of a late-season malaise, the Rams look to be peaking as they head into the NFC Championship Game for a rematch of their Week 9 45-35 loss to the Saints.

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