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Cowboys vs. Broncos Week 2 Final Film Observations, Player Grades | The DC Times

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Cowboys vs. Bears Week 2 Final Film Observations, Player Grades

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Jonathan Bales

I’ve already posted my initial game reactions and post-film study Cowboys-Bears game review.  Today, I will discuss my film study and stat findings in even greater depth.

  • I’ve explained this before, but fullback Chris Gronkowski’s pre-snap alignment is a strong indicator of the Cowboys’ play-calls.  When he lines up closer to the tailback, he is lead blocking on a run play (or receiving the handoff himself).  Otherwise, he runs into the flat in a pass route.  He did this a few times from “Strong” formation on Sunday.

  • In my post-game notes, I remarked that the big reception by Johnny Knox down the field was the fault of both Mike Jenkins and Alan Ball.  I mistook Ball for Gerald Sensabaugh, though.  I’ve watched the play again and again, and Dallas appeared to be in a Cover 3 with Sensabaugh manning the deep middle portion of the field.  He bit up on a crossing route and is most to blame for the 3rd and 15 completion.  Overall, though, Sensabaugh played really well.

Red Zone Play-Calling

The Cowboys ran seven plays in the red zone: three runs for four yards and four passes for 20 yards and a touchdown.  I didn’t like Jason Garrett’s red zone play-calling last season, but it has improved this year.


  • Base (TE, 2 WR, RB, FB):  11 plays
  • TE 3 WR, RB: 25 plays
  • 2 TE, WR, RB, FB: 12 plays
  • 2 TE, 2 WR, RB: 19 plays
  • 2 TE, WR, 2 RB: 1 play
  • 3 TE, RB, FB: 2 plays


After lining up in 25 different formations in Week 1, the Cowboys used 19 on Sunday.

3 Wide Strong (2), Ace (3), Double Tight I (4), Double Tight Ace (2), Double Tight Left/Right I (5), Double Tight Left Strong Left (1), Double Tight Right Weak Left (1), Full House (1), Gun 3 Wide Pro (5), Gun TE Spread (18), Gun TE Trips (4), Gun Trips (5), I-Formation (7), Strong (2), TE Spread (2), TE Trips (3), Twins (2), Weak (2), Wildcat (1)

  • The Cowboys motioned on 22 of 70 plays (31.4 percent).  They gained 111 yards on those plays (5.05 yards-per-play).  Here are last year’s motion stats.
  • After calling more draw plays than anyone in the NFL last season, the Cowboys have called just six in all of 2010.  Those plays have totaled only 13 yards.  In my Ultimate Guide to Dallas Cowboys draws, I proposed they run far fewer this season, but six may be a bit low.
  • It was obvious that Romo wasn’t himself on Sunday.  He threw 12 off-target passes.  In my 2009 study of Romo’s throws, I noted he threw just over seven off-target passes per game.
  • As you can see below, the Cowboys made an obvious attempt to run the ball inside.  Of their 19 runs, 10 were right up the gut.

Note: Romo's kneel at the end of the first half was not counted.

  • Of the 39 pass plays that Witten was in the game, he went out into a route on 29 of them (74.3 percent).  This is a little bit less than last year’s average, but the Cowboys made up for it by utilizing a lot of two-tight end sets.  Even before Witten went down with a concussion, Martellus Bennett was on the field for 39 of the Cowboys’ 58 plays.  That 67.2 percent rate is nearly double the 38.0 percent rate at which Bennett saw the field in Week One.
  • I suggested that Dallas not run playaction passes because I thought the Bears’ defenders (specifically Julius Peppers) wouldn’t bite on the run fake anyway, so it would basically be a wasted motion.  Nonetheless, the Cowboys ran 12 playaction passes for 80 yards (6.67 yards-per-attempt).

A side note: Jason Garrett loves to run playaction with exactly 10 yards-to-go (either on 1st and 10 or after an incomplete pass on first down).  On Sunday, 10 of the Cowboys’ 12 playaction passes were from this distance.  The trend dates back to last year.  Take a look at these numbers.

  • After running 10 screens against Washington, the Cowboys called only two against the Bears: one to Chris Gronkowski for six yards, and one to Felix Jones that fell incomplete.
  • The Cowboys were in a true no-huddle offense on four plays–all passes for a total of 44 yards.


Player Grades


  • LT Doug Free: A-

Although he received some help from Martellus Bennett, Free quietly had a really good game.

  • LG Kyle Kosier: C-

Kosier got called for holding once and was generally overmatched at the point-of-attack.

  • C Andre Gurode: C-

Gurode was fine in pass protection but didn’t get much of a push otherwise.  He also had a premature snap.

  • RG Leonard Davis:  B-

Davis had a rare false start, but he wasn’t bad on the day.

  • RT Marc Colombo: C-

Colombo is obviously a huge upgrade from Alex Barron, but that doesn’t mean he’s a Pro Bowl-caliber player.

  • WR Miles Austin: A

He’s simply sensational.  Incredible leg drive and ability to come out of breaks, particularly on comebacks, curls, and so on.

  • WR Roy Williams: B

Williams and Romo had their weekly miscommunication, but Williams has played much better than last year.

  • WR Dez Bryant: B+

He didn’t get on the field much due to the abundance of two-tight end formations, but he is electric once the ball is in his hands.

  • TE Jason Witten: B

Watching Witten caged up by the trainers on the sideline was excruciating, but he should be fine this week.

  • TE Martellus Bennett: A

Bennett had one hell of a game.  He pancaked defenders multiple times, provided ample protection for Romo, and performed well as a receiver when Witten went down.

  • RB Marion Barber: C

I’m just not seeing it yet.  He’s still great in pass pro though.

  • RB Felix Jones: C-

Jones has been hesitant to hit the hole, dancing too much in the backfield.  For all the hype about him as a receiver, he really isn’t much of a natural pass-catcher.

  • QB Tony Romo: C-

There’s no doubt about it. . .Romo played poorly.  He threw 12 off-target passes and made some poor audibles as well.


I didn’t study the defense as in-depth as normal, but here are the grades for the players on which I focused.

  • NT Jay Ratliff: B
  • OLB DeMarcus Ware: A-
  • OLB Anthony Spencer: B-
  • ILB Keith Brooking: C-
  • CB Mike Jenkins: C-
  • CB Terence Newman: B-
  • S Alan Ball: C-
  • S Gerald Sensabaugh: A-
  • K David Buehler: D+

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9 Responses to Cowboys vs. Bears Week 2 Final Film Observations, Player Grades

  1. john coleman says:

    Seems to be on the mark overall. I have a few things that I’ve stumbled onto. I reading comments on brand x I am finding a lot of people wanting to give Barber the ball more and feeling like he is justly the starter. I disagree totally. I went back to 2008 and researched Choice’s starts. His numbers were insane, 5.5 per carry and 9.7 per reception. His starting numbers are slightly higher than his career stats. I said all of that to say this, Why is he not the starter? I know you agree at least to some point. He didn’t do enough to even get a grade. Those number were against Pittsburgh who was #1 defensively, the Giants, and the Ravens. Sadly we have seen basically nothing from him since. People are even wanting to trade him over there. If it is me I’m starting him Sunday and making sure he gets 15 carries, with Felix backing him up. What’s your take. I might also do something radical like starting Bennett and using Witten a little less. Defenses would have no clue what we were up to with Witten out of the game. I would use some three wides when he was out. I have nothing against Witten, so don’t read anything into this other than a different look. I still saying play him and get him in route. I do think Bennett played a great game and I don’t think he has a drop this year. Also in those three wides I have no problem with Roy sitting. I again agree he has looked better, but to me he still is no threat running after the catch. One last thing regarding Romo being off target. Who is the QB coach?

  2. You’re right–the reason I didn’t give Choice a grade was he simply didn’t get enough reps. Obviously we could expect a decrease in efficiency if he was the starter, but I do think his numbers would still be better than Barber’s. Detractors claim there’s simply nothing “special” about him. . .but I think they’re looking for the wrong characteristics. To me, solid pass protection, incredible vision, and uncanny balance are just as special (if not more so) as game-breaking speed.

    As far as the Witten/Bennett situation–Bennett was really great on Sunday. The two-tight ends sets Dallas ran to pass worked, but they need to be careful not to ALWAYS leave Bennett in on pass pro or defenses will adjust.

    The other issue (which I am discussing now in my Manifesto to be published later today) is Bennett’s presence almost necessitates Bryant’s absence. Bryant’s skill set is useless with proper protection though.

    Wade Wilson is the QB coach.

  3. john coleman says:

    Vision! Throw in a little understanding of how to use and set up blocks and exceptional change of direction in the hole. He also maintains good pad level most of the time. He reminds me more of Emmitt Smith than anyone I have seen period. His skill set is very similar as well. It’s hard for me to believe in guys who can’t seem to see when players have “IT”. Miles Austin is the perfect example of what I’m talking about. For four years he labors in obscurity with mediocre players playing in front of him. As far as speed goes the aforementioned all time rushing leader was not fast. People say the oline was great in front of Emmitt and they were probably better than the current edition. However, I remember a 2 game stretch during a holdout that the other guy was crap behind that line. I’ve seen Choice on short yardage plays almost ease into the line and pick a crease and ease on for the 1st down. Sorry for the off point rant, but it is a real thorn in my side. I fully expect Barber to be Barber all year and probably end up getting injured. I also expect this to be his last year in Dallas. People dog Romo, Choice and other good players who if they left would be good if not great elsewhere. Truthfully I would not be worried at all with the 0-2 start if our schedule wasn’t what it is. Now we have to beat better teams than we have lost to.

  4. Not off point at all. Opinions on Choice seem to be extreme…either very positive like our own, or the “nothing special” argument.

  5. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    Good breakdown but I don’t understand a few things:

    How are your grades determined? You give Roy Williams a B when he had 4 catches for 53 yards and a lost fumble. Dez Bryant has 2 catches for 52 yards on the only 2 passes thrown to him and a punt return TD. His 2 catches were the two longest plays the Cowboys had. He gets a B plus?

    I think it’s time that we Dallas fans get a little more realistic about the level of “talent” on our team.

    Tony Romo, for the 2nd game in a row, has consistenly thrown behind receivers. If you look at the Washington game, the pass made to Austin over the middle for the 1st down could’ve been a TD if he’d hit him in stride. Instead, the pass was behind him so Austin almost came to a stop to catch it.
    This past week, he threw the ball behind people as well. He did show good touch on other throws (one to Austin down the sideline over an outstreched defender’s hand was one of those) but still lacks ELITE QB passing skills.

    Roy Williams had a 44 percent catch rate for on target throws in 2009 according to Football Outsiders and nothing during the pre-season or in the 1st two games is indicating that he will be much better. He also isn’t the greatest at creating separation. Dez was a good pickup, certainly, but WR was not a position the Boys needed. Opportunities for Hurd, Crayton and Olgetree will now not happen as Dez slides into the slot.

    Alan Ball has been non-existent – the only highlight I can remember seeing him in is the one where he is run over by Foster (for a TD) in the preseason game vs. Houston. Wade said the TD pass to Olsen wasn’t his fault, but all 4 LBs were blitzing and I don’t know where Sensabaugh was. I can’t think of the last time I’ve heard of a Dallas safety doing anything except for Sensabaugh’s 1 interception last year (he dropped 3 others but, in his defense, had a broken hand). Nate Allen was drafted by the Eagles in the 2nd round and already has 2 INTs this year.

    The offensive line averaged 1 false start per quarter during the Bears game. That’s not including the holding penalties and QB pressures allowed. Getting beat (and subsequently holding someone) shows lack of talent. Commiting FOUR false starts in one game (some teams don’t commit one in 4 games) shows a lack of discipline and is indicative of poor coaching. When you think of elite tackles around the league, does either Cowboys tackle come to mind? How about just good tackles? Columbo can’t stay healthy and Free is adequate (not really good but not really bad either). You mention he quitely had a good game but he didn’t do anything but block the guy in front of him for the most part and get called for a penalty. No big down field blocks, no pancakes and no real superb effort. He was adequate.

    For both games, there’s been a roughing the passer call on some defensive member. You want guys to be aggressive but 15 yd penalties are extremely costly. Again, lack of discipline.

    The starting CBs are actually playing fairly well if you subtract the deep ball on Jenkins. Scandrick just isn’t quick enough to cover slot receivers though. He has the more tackles than Jenkins (due to being QBs throwing to open receiver) but is in on less plays.

    Witten shortarmed a possible catch that led to an interception. I think him and many of the other receivers are somewhat scared to extend and lay themselves out in fear of getting hit. Romo’s lack of accuracy isn’t helping.

    The play calling is iffy at best. The Texans had 98 yards passing vs. the Colts in the 1st game of the season but had 257 yards rushing. They actually had less total yards than the Colts but their commitment to the run was successful in keeping Peyton Manning off the field. They did what they needed to do to win. Last week, they passed for more yards than running – again, doing what was necessary to win.

    The Cowboys seem intent on ensuring Romo gets over 250 yds passing a game. The run was working early on vs. Washington but we stopped. The run was working w/ MB for the 1st couple of plays vs. the Bears but we stopped. Jason Garrett no longer seems to be as “talented” as once thought.

    With all the so called talent (and what I consider a genuine desire to win), there should be more wins. But there’s not. The only explanation is –

    The Cowboys are just NOT as taleneted as everyone (including them) think.

  6. I’m going to disagree with your assessment. Are the Cowboys overrated? Maybe, but I don’t think it is because of a lack of talent (at least not if you describe “talent” as pure, un-coached football ability).

    Now, are they ready to play football games? Nope. Are they executing? Nope. Do they look motivated and hungry? Nope. I don’t think the lack of success has stemmed from a lack of talent, but rather a lack of motivation.

    I think Wade Phillips is an excellent X’s and O’s coach and a tremendous defensive coordinator. I think Jason Garrett is good from a “coach ’em up” standpoint. But both seem to be unadaptable. They don’t morph their game plans and play-calling in reaction to unpredicted events, and in a league that is survival of the fittest, a team that doesn’t evolve will lose.

    In short, it’s more mental than physical. They’re ready to play from an X’s and O’s standpoint, but not from a mental or emotional one. If you consider the former to be what makes up a player’s talent, then the Cowboys are not short on it. If you think a team’s mental toughness and ability to be self-motivated are part of talent, then I would agree with you that the Cowboys are not as talented as everyone thinks.

    The whole can often be greater than the sum of the parts, but in the case of the Cowboys, it seems to be just the opposite.

  7. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    I don’t think the Cowboys lack motivation – they ALL want to win. They all want to go to the playoffs and to the Superbowl.

    There real issue is two-fold: mental (for all) and physical (for some). So, the mental part, I agree w/ you on as they just aren’t mentally prepared to do what is necessary to win (that includes the coaches).

    But I will note that we differ on the talent part. First of all, my definition of talent differs from yours. Mine stems not from pure, uncoached football ability (if so, the Raiders would be talented) but from the application of whatever talent a team has on the field. D Ware is talented and, for the most part, is able to dominate whomever he plays against regularly. There is talent in other positions as well so the team isn’t completely void of it.

    But you can’t discount the fact that some of the players aren’t physically gifted enough to compete at this level just yet (and may never will be). Alex Barron was a 1st rd pick and has been in the league a number of years. At this point, there’s no other reason for not being able to block the guy across from you other than just not having the physical skills to do so. No matter how hard he practices, he may get better but he probably won’t be any better than average.

    Same thing with Romo making passes to the receivers in stride. Romo has been in the leauge for some time now and has had ample time to work on throws. He just recently is noted for making “back-shoulder” throws. His decision making has improved as well as his scrambling. But, for the last 3-5 years, his passing has always been not as sharp as the elite QBs. He does have some talent and can get the job done for the most part, but just not elite.

    Same with several other players: Scandrick being a step behind the slot receiver consistently; Sean Lee getting blown out of the hole by the Oline (there’s still time for him and he was injured); Jason Williams being able to read and tackle (he’s probably the most gifted LB we have); and so on.

    If anyone were to take the entire roster and place a value on them (100 being the highest and 1 being the lowest) like in a video games such as Madden, what score would each person get. How many guys would be above 90? Maybe 4 or 5. And most of those are on the defense (Ratliff, Ware, Jenkins, Newman and maybe Romo). When it comes down to it, you’ve just got to admit that there are more than a few players on the team that just aren’t good enough to compete w/ other teams. Both safeties are marginally OK. O line is a weak spot. Kicker is a certainly weak spot.

    And, when you combine that with a non-intense type of coaching style and stoic and non-adaptive playcalling, you get a not very good team.

    Looking at the Cowboys’ schedule, they’ve got to make large improvements (ie. the need to improve at a faster rate than all the other teams improve) or they’ll end up 6-10 or 8-8 at best. They’r already 0-2 and playing like they are now, they’ll lose the rest of the remaining NFC East away games, probably lose the home game vs. the Eagles and Giants, and lose to the Saints at home, Houston away, Vikings away and Green Bay away. That’s possibly 8 more losses! And that’s beating the Redskins at home (which is iffy).

    Maybe that’ll be good as Cowher wants to coach again and that’ll mean a high enough draft pick to select a O line member worth something.

  8. Every team has players who are below-average, and I’d actually say the Cowboys have less of them than just about anyone. There’s certainly room for improvement in areas, but I do think this is a good football team. They certainly aren’t playing like it, but remember that even a team who wins 70 percent of their games (a legit Super Bowl team) would start off 0-2 in about 10 percent of seasons.

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