As much as St. Louis Rams fans have been clamoring for Sam Bradford to start taking more shots down the field, today isn't the right matchup for him to start winging it all over the field. The Dallas Cowboys defense, under new coordinator Monte Kiffin, the perfecter of the "Tampa 2" scheme, is designed to limit big play opportunities and take advantage of impatient quarterbacks.
If the Rams can stick to their patient offensive game plan of the previous two weeks (read: don't get behind by multiple scores) then they have just the personnel to defeat Dallas' constricting Cover 2 defense.
A variety of underneath threats. With Dallas scheming to take away the deep throws, that opens up underneath routes. Dallas also has very athletic linebackers who are good in space and sure tacklers. That means opposing offenses have to be able to attack them at several points.
Sam Bradford has backs in Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead who can keep linebackers honest. Both backs present enough of a threat running and catching the ball that the Dallas linebackers won't be able to key on just one aspect of their game. Drop too deep in coverage, and Richardson and Pead can get the ball underneath and run after the catch. Sneak up to defend the run and you make yourself vulnerable to dump offs, screens and swing passes.
Bradford also has receivers who can run the underneath routes. Tavon Austin, Chris Givens and Austin Pettis have already shown their ability to find soft spots in zone coverage and settle down. Bradford certainly has the accuracy to find them. The key today will be to hold on to the football. The Rams receivers have been guilty of too many drops. Those plays end up putting the offense behind the chains. Third and long isn't where you want to live against Dallas.
Of course the most significant underneath threat is tight end Jared Cook. Having a tight end who can catch underneath and run the seam takes the top off the Cover 2 like a can opener. Highlighting Cook early and often will force the Dallas safeties to make some choices. That's when Sam Bradford will have the chance to…
Pick their spots to strike deep. The Rams aren't just a dink and dunk offense any more. With Givens and Austin, they have two receivers who can get behind any corners. Jared Cook is the perfect target down the seam. By being patient early, the Rams can get the Dallas safeties cheating up. That means single coverage on their wide outs and quite possibly Cook running with a linebacker down the field. Those are extremely positive matchups for the Rams.
Two things that we haven't seen much of so far, however, need to happen for the Rams to execute this game plan. First, Bradford has to be given more leeway to change plays at the line. Kiffin is a master at disguising blitzes and underneath coverages. Bradford has to be able to check out of plays that go into the teeth of the defense and take advantage of mismatches.
Second, this is a defense where the no-huddle can be helpful. Kiffin may be the godfather of the Cover 2, but he likes to show other looks with different personnel groups. The no-huddle can keep Dallas in their base personnel and greatly simplify the reads Bradford has to make.
Bottom line: The Rams have to stay patient, avoid turning over the football and keep Tony Romo and the Dallas offense from striking on their own big plays. If the Rams can play smart, disciplined football today and stay on schedule with their offense, they have a good chance of coming out of Dallas with a big victory.
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