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Cowboys aim to shore up weakness as plays are developing

Coach Mike McCarthy would like to see the Dallas Cowboys improve as plays are in progress
Credit: AP
Denver Broncos line of scrimmage during an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys, Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Matt Patterson)

DALLAS — Coach Mike McCarthy breaks down a football play into three categories: the pre-snap, the 2.3 seconds following the snap, and anything after those 2.3 seconds.

Pre-snap seems like a concept football fans can ascertain. What exactly is the 2.3 seconds and why is that number so important?

"If you watch a football player, put a stopwatch on it," McCarthy explained on Monday to reporters. "At 2.3 [seconds], see where the play is at. That’s where we were not very good: 2.3 and above. That’s where the big plays come: broken tackles, long runs."

According to McCarthy, it was in those 2.3 seconds, and the breakdowns on defense that followed, where the Dallas Cowboys failed the most in their 30-16 loss to the Denver Broncos.

Typically, the 2.3 refers to a quarterback's ability to extend plays, according to defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.

"If you’re a defensive player, you’re playing two separate plays," Quinn said. "The first one happens and the quarterback is in the pocket. The second one begins when he breaks contain, gets outside because the receivers then are taught they have a certain route that they start with. Now it gets on the move and that’s when the second play begins. So we’ve worked hard at that all the way back through the spring."

However, the 2.3 was more applicable to the run game where the Broncos were able to churn 190 yards and two touchdowns off of 41 carries — most of that yardage due to the Cowboys' 14 missed tackles.

"These particular ones in the run game, especially on the six explosive [plays], too many one man tackle [attempts]," Quinn said.

McCarthy says that the 2.3 seconds is a concept that he has used for years as a coach.

Said McCarthy: "When you talk about your defense and your coverage teams need to pursue and finish, well, define that. How do you train and finish?  If you put a stopwatch to it, you’ll see what I'm talking about. It's no different on the other side of it: when you’re carrying the football on the offense or return game, one guy is carrying it and the other 10 are covering the ball. It’s all about the football."

Dallas has been exceptional at wrapping up ball carriers with just 47 missed tackles coming into Week 9, the seventh-fewest in the NFL.

"If you’re in the single digits [in missed tackles for a game], that’s a normal one," said Quinn. "But some of [those] also turn into explosive plays."

If the Cowboys can get back on schedule playing better football in the 2.3, they should avoid future double-digit missed tackle performances.

Are the Cowboys due for a bounceback performance on defense? Share your thoughts with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.

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