The Cowboys' decision to run a fake punt on fourth-and-10 from their own 24-yard line against the Washington Football Team was a poor and head-scratching play call. Yet what made the decision even worse was the fact that Washington sniffed it out quickly and eliminated any potential for success.
Washington special teams coach Nate Kaczor is the man responsible for making that happen, and he recently explained to NBC Sports Washington what went into that moment.
The ability to keep Dallas contained on the trick play started long before the units took the field on that fourth down. It was something Kaczor and his group had been prepping for all week.
“The process of watching for fakes starts with the preparation," Kaczor said.
As Ron Rivera and safety Jeremy Reaves said following the contest, that preparation included studying Dallas' special team's tendencies throughout the season, as well as how their coordinator John Fassel called plays in his years prior with the Rams.
In doing that, Kaczor and Washington knew that a fake punt was on the table for the Thanksgiving matchup. So as soon as Dallas sent a player in motion on fourth down, the unit had a sense of what was coming next and adjusted to more secure coverage.
“Anytime there’s a motion, we have mechanics where we can play zone within man," Kaczor said. "And that’s what happened there.”
Then, as the ball was snapped, all that was left was for Washington's players to all do their job. All 11 men did just that, with two specific players standing out.
Kaczor pointed out that defensive back Danny Johnson and linebacker Khaleke Hudson were instrumental in causing the play to break down for the Cowboys. As Dallas ran the reverse, both did exactly what was needed of them.
Khaleke, the position he plays, he can’t let anything outside of him. When you see flow going away when you’re Khaleke, then your job is to look for anything that’s a cutback or a reverse," Kaczor said. "So that’s why Khaleke was there in the flat once the reverse action came back."
“Danny was deep enough to discourage the throw, so once the throw was taken away, he had to run it," Kaczor said.
At that point, Dallas was out of options. There was no room to scramble and the intended receiver was blanketed and taken out of the play. The tackle was made, the Cowboys turned the ball over on downs, and Washington quickly rode the momentum and took a 20-16 games to a 41-16 victory.