In Break It Down, I will go back and analyze the Xs and Os of a notable play or performance.
The biggest play in Monday's Cowboys-Redskins game came when Dallas converted a 3rd-and-21 just prior to the fourth quarter's two-minute warning. Tony Romo rolled out to avoid a Washington blitz and connected on a 30-yard pass to Dez Bryant, who was being covered one-on-one by DeAngelo Hall.
After the game Hall slammed the play call, an all-out blitz that left Washington with zero safeties deep. The Redskins had brought the house several times against Romo on the night, including on the previous play, which resulted in an incompletion.
"Yeah, but sooner or later, somebody is going f**king figure it out," Hall said. "You don’t have to be a f**cking rocket scientist to figure it out after a while."
Here's a closer look at what went wrong for Hall and Washington:
First and foremost, the pre-snap setup: The Redskins put eight defenders at the line of scrimmage, leaving three players to cover Jason Witten, Bryant and Kevin Ogletree. Dallas also kept two guys, Tashard Choice and John Phillips, split on either side of Romo in the backfield. More on that in a moment ...
All things considered, the Cowboys really did a nice job blocking. The five-man line slows six Redskins defenders, while Choice and Phillips each slide to Romo's right to find O.J. Atogwe and Ryan Kerrigan, respectively.
"That protection gave them a little more time than I would like," Redskins linebacker London Fletcher told CSNWashington. "We have to get there, and it definitely puts the cornerback in a tough position.”
While the Redskins would break through eventually, Romo has at least a split-second to survey the field -- and even had a small pocket he could have stepped up into, had a receiver been open.
Romo's initial reaction to the blitz is to look for Bryant, who was the only option on the right. At the snap, seeing Washington's blitz, Bryant actually took a step back toward Romo, looked for the ball, then hesitated at the line of scrimmage.
Hall was dropping to give Bryant a cushion on the third-and-long play but reacted quickly to Bryant's little hitch at the line of scrimmage. Anticipating that Romo would unload the ball to avoid the blitz, Hall closed on Bryant:
The problem for Washington was that -- and what Hall's point was after the game when he said, "You ain't supposed to have to (cover for that long) -- the blitz didn't get there.
With Choice and Phillips protecting the right side and Dallas' offensive line pushing Washington's other pass rushers left, Romo was able to drop deep to buy time. When he finally went to release the ball, Romo was 15 yards into the backfield -- but didn't have a blitzing defender within five yards of him.
With the all-or-nothing nature of defensive coordinator Jim Haslett's blitz call, Romo's ability to keep the play alive was the worst-case scenario. Even if Hall had given up the short route initially (and you could argue that, on 3rd-and-21, he should have been less aggressive about closing on it), he would have found himself on an island with Bryant.
That in itself didn't doom Hall, but allowing Bryant to turn inside -- where there were no deep safeties -- did. Hall's best bet, given the lack of over-the-top help and the failure of Washington's blitz, would have been to try to use the sideline as an extra defender.
Instead, Bryant sprung free up the seam, where there was absolutely no one.
Hall made the matter worse by tacking on a 15-yard face-mask penalty -- "That was a f**king terrible call, Hall said of that flag, despite replays clearly showing him grab Bryant's mask. Once Bryant caught it, though, he had a legitimate chance to turn the 30-yard pass into a 70-yard touchdown, so Hall's tackle at least prevented that.
Essentially, this was just a total breakdown across the board for the Redskins.
Haslett's aggressiveness had paid off on several occasions Monday night, but with the Redskins up one and the Cowboys running out of time, the 3rd-and-21 situation justified a safer call. The all-out blitz was a huge gamble, and the Cowboys' ability to at least slow the rush left Washington exposed.
Hall failed to do his job too, which was to make sure Bryant didn't get deep. Give Romo, Bryant and the Cowboys' blockers credit for making the play happen. But it would not have if the Redskins had executed any part of it as planned.