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Dallas Must Contain The Hurry-Up Offense To Win The NFC East

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Keeping the hurry-up offense in check is the key to winning the NFC East for Dallas. Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images.
Keeping the hurry-up offense in check is the key to winning the NFC East for Dallas. Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images.

After two weeks of looking like it couldn’t stop a high school offense, the Dallas Cowboys sprung to life and competence on defense in Week 6, contributing mightily to a 31-16 win over the Washington Redskins. Limiting Robert Griffin III to 246 passing yards, the ragtag defensive line controlled the ditches and, more importantly, defended the element that drives Chip Kelly’s offense in Philadelphia: the hurry-up style and tempo.

The Week 7 winner gets an outright lead and unsolicited bragging rights in the NFC East, unimpressive as those accolades may be.

The latest report indicates that Michael Vick may not start even if he’s healthy. But the Eagles will still be rocking their high-speed, drain-the-defense style, and in their latest victory, the Cowboys proved their personnel have the athleticism to run-and-gun with that kind of attack.

According to this story, prior to the Dallas game, the Redskins were averaging 6.2 yards per play with the no-huddle, scoring 17 point on drives run predominantly out of it. Against the Cowboys, they ran it for much of the first half and managed just six points. The Cowboys’ defensive line — Cinderella players now likely without anchoring playmaker DeMarcus Ware — bulled and twisted their way to Griffin with veritable ease, while the secondary displayed tighter downfield coverage that routinely left the second-year phenom nowhere to throw.

While Washington did slow things down — enough to win the possession battle by more than nine minutes — the hurry-up offense granted Dallas a number of careless passes, holding penalties and takeaway scenarios. It illustrated the problems that can surface with an inexperienced quarterback — like Griffin or Nick Foles — rushing the tempo.

Pre-snap, the no-huddle reduces a quarterback’s room for error with regard to reading coverages and calling audibles. It tests his smarts and speed of information processing; it forces him to find the immediate soft spot or mismatch before the defense can adjust. It’s a style retrofitted for the proven passer and seasoned signal-caller. Depending on the quarterback, the experience factor is either leveraged or exploited; against the Redskins, the latter prevailed.

After its showings against San Diego and Denver, the Cowboy defense had only one direction to go in terms of quarterback pressure and secondary coverage. Still, it had to ease fans’ worries to see these scrappy, backup D-linemen penetrating the backfield, reacting to the run with impeccable timing and their athleticism trumping the offensive line. Equally reassuring was the downfield coverage on extended plays and scrambles.

Philly, however, is different beast. Kelly has written and perfected the book on high-octane offenses and fatigued defenses. His players are exceptionally fit, and his scheme simply packs in too many plays for defenses to dictate the flow.

Though the O-line is suspect, Philly’s offense revolves around making snap decisions with the football — fast pitches, swing passes and screens to skill players who need but a sliver of daylight to make a big play. If nothing else, the Eagles’ game will reveal how well the Cowboys’ defense can really think and react on its feet.

Sure, without Vick, the good ole’ read-option loses a third of its potency. But LeSean McCoy is, for all intents and purposes, the league’s most dynamic and productive running back. He’s averaging 105 yards per game — more than 15 more than the closest competitor. Philly won’t shy from riding him, and that certainly includes the passing game.

Can the Cowboys’ defense once again handle the hurry-up offense? Or will the win over Washington — and the defensive positives evinced within it — become yet another transient bright spot in the 2013 campaign?

Either way, the woeful NFC East is about to have a clear favorite.