Prior to the Cowboys’ Week 6 win over the Redskins, I published an article detailing why quarterback Robert Griffin III wasn’t running like he did in his rookie season. Coming into the game with no more than 37 rushing yards in any contest, RGIII compiled 77 rushing yards on nine carries against Dallas.
Griffin certainly looked closer to his 2012 rookie form, but still, something was a little off. There were times when it appeared as though RGIII could have either rushed for more yards (such as on the play linebacker Sean Lee made a diving tackle on Griffin near the goal line) or bought time in the pocket to make things happen downfield. On a night during which Griffin rushed for 77 yards, he perhaps could have had well over 100.
One such play came on a huge second-and-19 in the fourth quarter. Backed up to their own 11-yard line, the Redskins were down by one score and needed to make something happen. They lined up in a “Gun Trips Left” formation.
Defensive end Kyle Wilber (circled) was in for the injured DeMarcus Ware. Wilber looked good in his limited action, and he got off of the ball in a hurry on this particular play.
Working against left tackle Trent Williams, Wilber was initially pushed past the pocket. The Cowboys rushed only four defenders, though, so they had seven in coverage to deal with five players in routes—three receivers, a tight end, and a back out of the backfield.
Griffin had nowhere to go with the football, and Wilber eventually blindsided him, forcing and recovering a fumble.
This play was a huge one for Dallas because it cut the Redskins’ win probability down to 40 percent of what it was before the snap. Take a look at the game’s win probability chart provided by Advanced NFL Stats.
That small dip represents the Cowboys’ chances of winning before the sack (90 percent) and after it (96 percent). That might sound like a small difference, but that jump of six percentage points is far more important than, say, the difference between a 50 percent and 56 percent chance to win.
Prior to the play, the ‘Boys could be expected to win around nine out of every 10 times, given the situation. That’s a positive, but it’s far from a sure thing. If the Cowboys were to start all 16 games in a similar situation (up by eight with the opponent facing a second-and-19 at their own 11-yard line near the start of the fourth quarter), their most likely record would actually be 14-2.
After the sack and fumble recovery, though, the ‘Boys could be expected to win 24 out of every 25 times. That’s a much different ratio, displaying how the jump in win probability is exponential; each percentage-point increase is more important, and more challenging to obtain, than the one before it.
As a final note on the play, take a look at the end zone view.
Could Griffin have scooted out to his left for a big gain? It’s certainly possible, but he at least would have been able to buy time to make a play with his arm—something Tony Romo was able to do earlier in the game.
The Terrance Williams Touchdown
Facing a second-and-10 at the Redskins’ 15-yard line with just under 10 minutes to play in the third quarter, the Cowboys held a five-point lead. They lined up in “Gun Trips”—a formation I’ve discussed in the past because the Cowboys simply don’t run out of it. Despite using it in situations like this when they could run, the ‘Boys have done so on less than one percent of their hundreds of snaps from the formation since 2009.
On this particular play, Williams was lined up at the bottom of the screen. The Redskins blitzed, rushing six defenders—everyone who was lined up in the box other than the middle linebacker, as well as the slot cornerback.
That slot defender—Josh Wilson—got in clean in Romo, who didn’t have a hot read on the play.
Romo’s only option was to either throw the ball away or try to avoid Wilson. He chose the latter, just barely eluding Wilson without going down to the ground.
Romo wasn’t done, though, gathering himself before firing to Williams in the back of the end zone. Williams wasn’t open, but Romo threw an absolutely perfect ball over top of cornerback E.J. Biggers. It was the quarterback’s best throw of the night, by far.
Romo didn’t play an outstanding game, primarily because he was under constant pressure from Washington, but this particular play changed the course of the contest. It gave the Cowboys a two-score lead—a lead they never relinquished—and set them up to head into Philadelphia tied with the Eagles atop the NFC East.