While the Cowboys season opener did not yield the results we had expected in the run game, the Washington Redskins showing on Monday night gave fans a reason for optimism for week two.
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Deangelo Williams rushed for 143 yards and 2 touchdowns in Washington, en route to being named the AFC Offensive Player of the Week (and single-handedly winning me my first fantasy game of the season).
Watching what Williams and the Steelers did to Washington Monday night sent visions of touchdowns and victories to Cowboys fans across the globe. But, what did the Steelers specifically do to exploit the Redskins last week, and what do the Cowboys need to do to follow suit?
Let's take a look.
Where the Steelers seemed to have their most success on the ground was in their gap scheme. Whether it was counter or power, pulling guards and lead blocking tight ends led the way for Williams all night, and allowed him opportunities to beat defensive backs in one on one situations.
The center even whiffs on his back block here, and it is still a 9 yard gain. Pretty impressive for the Steelers, and pretty bad for the Redskins, to say the least.
We all know the Cowboys are primarily a zone scheme rushing team, and they don't tend to use gap scheme plays too often.
That being said, we have seen them run some variations of gap scheme plays, and even tradition gap plays at times. This might be the week to break those plays out once again.
But if history tells us anything, they won't want nor need to do so.
When the Steelers went with the zone scheme, they usually brought the tight end around to the backside to “stab” back and protect against the end man on the line of scrimmage crashing down. This also allows for the back to read for a cut back as well, giving him a two way go on every zone run.
Not the perfect play whatsoever, but the Steelers get a body on a body and Williams makes a nice individual play. Look for Elliott to do the same this Sunday when the Cowboys run their similar inside zone plays.
Last year, the Cowboys ran inside and outside zone rather effectively against the Redskins. In their Monday night match-up from week 13 of the 2015 season, we see the offensive line open up a really nice running lane for Darren McFadden.
They do exactly what is asked of them, and get McFadden a chance to be an athlete and make a play to break free. He is unable to do so, and the play is stopped after a five yard gain. I am willing to bet that Ezekiel Elliott and Alfred Morris will make those plays this week, and find that extra yardage which was lost last season.
I fully expect the Cowboys running game to return to form, and even excel the level which we had all hoped for this week.