Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins: What We Learned
Last week, I published my Week 1 Gameday Manifesto–a combination of “What to Watch” and DOs and DON’Ts” for Dallas in last night’s game. Let’s review. . .
What to Watch
How will Dallas use Dez Bryant and what sort of impact will he have?
The Cowboys didn’t phase Bryant into the offense at all, and that was a good thing. He was targeted 13 times last night–the most of any player on the team. While that won’t continue, it’s good to see the Cowboys aren’t afraid to use the rookie early in his career. He’s NFL-ready right now.
Who will return kicks and punts?
The Cowboys used both Bryant and Akwasi Owusu-Ansah on punt returns, although I think they should choose one guy and stick with him, which I talked about in my initial post-game notes.
The same thing is true on kick returns, with AOA and Kevin Ogletree lining up back deep. AOA is undoubtedly a better return man.
Will Redskins offensive tackles Jamaal Brown and Trent Williams be able to slow down DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer at all? Will Washington leave Chris Cooley or Fred Davis in on some passes to help them in protection?
Brown and Williams actually did a decent job on Ware and Spencer, considering the circumstances. Ware had a sack and was all over the field all night, but Spencer was effectively contained most of the game.
I was surprised by how little the Redskins helped their tackles in pass protection. Fred Davis stayed in to help a few plays and the running backs’ first read seemed to be outside (which is “backwards”), but the ‘Skins didn’t overdo it in protection.
Will Doug Free be able to contain Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo?
Sort of. Free had an up and down night, as expected. Orakpo bull-rushed him on a few plays and he’ll certainly be susceptible to that throughout the year. The Cowboys really didn’t call any pass plays down the field until the second half, though, so Free’s job in pass protection wasn’t that difficult until then.
It isn’t going to get easier for Free in the next two weeks, as he’ll square off against Julius Peppers and Mario Williams. Yikes.
Will Albert Haynesworth play?
He played, but not that well. Andre Gurode really dominated him much of the night. Let’s see how Gurode plays next week to determine if his solid play last night was due more to him or Haynesworth’s possible lack of effort.
How much will we see the dreaded “Double Tight Strong“?
Great news Cowboys fans. The Cowboys lined up in the formation three times, but didn’t run a strong side dive once (after doing so nearly three-fourths of plays last season). In fact, the first play they called from “Double Tight Strong” appeared to be a strong side dive, but Marion Barber ended up attempting a pass. The play was unsuccessful, but I really like unique play-call. It shows Garrett is aware of his tendencies from last season and trying to fix them.
The other two plays from the formation were a weak side power and a strong side toss. The Cowboys also ran another weak side counter from “Double Tight Strong” but it got called back due to penalty.
How will Jason Garrett distribute touches among the running backs?
According to my numbers, Barber was on the field for 28 snaps and had eight carries for 39 yards. Jones played 22 snaps and had eight carries for 38 yards, and Choice played 11 snaps and had five carries for 18 yards. All three backs had two receptions.
The coolest play Garrett called all night was the option look with all three backs in the game at the same time. The Cowboys motioned Jones into the backfield into a Power I. They handed the ball off to Choice on the weak side with Barber lead blocking. Meanwhile, Jones was trailing Choice as a pitch man. Choice ended up hanging onto the ball for a six-yard gain, but the ‘Boys could come back to that play down the road. I will examine it more in my final film observations.
With either Marc Colombo or Kyle Kosier suit up?
No, and it obviously hurt the Cowboys. Enough said.
Will Andre Gurode be okay at guard if Dallas needs him?
They didn’t. Other than one play, Gurode played really well.
DOs and DON’Ts for Dallas
DO run right at linebacker London Fletcher.
Surprisingly, the Cowboys didn’t run up the middle very often. I have posted a graph below detailing how many times the Cowboys ran in each hole.
Obviously the Cowboys made it a priority to run outside against Washington. I think you’ll see that trend continue against other teams as well, although I thought Dallas could have been slightly more effective last night running up the middle. They averaged 4.68 yards-per-carry.
DON’T blitz too frequently.
The Cowboys’ defense played well, but I was quite surprised at how often they brought pressure. It wasn’t as much as Washington, but Dallas blitzed often on third down. I still need to finish the defensive film, but a lot of the Redskins’ big plays in the first three quarters came against the blitz.
Now, the Cowboys didn’t get as much pressure with four rushers as I thought they might, so blitzing became a necessity at one point. Coach Phillips came out blitzing, though, meaning it was part of the game plan.
DON’T game-plan at all for any quarterback other than Donovan McNabb.
McNabb was declared near-1oo percent in the beginning of the week, so the ‘Boys surely didn’t game plan for anyone other than him. They likely wouldn’t have done so even if McNabb’s status was more iffy.
DO throw the ball early and often.
The Cowboys threw the ball on 47 of their 69 plays (68.1 percent). They also came out of the gate throwing, attempting a pass on 12 of their first 14 plays. I thought this was a really good strategy that, for whatever reason, simply didn’t work out.
The “whatever reason” may have been the variety of passes the Cowboys attempted–screens, rollouts, and other quick-hitting passes. Actually, the Cowboys attempted eight screen passes on the night, including six of the first 13 plays.
This was obviously an attempt to compensate for a porous offensive line, but it severely limited the upside of the passing game. Dallas obviously drifted away from this plan as the game proceeded.
DON’T phase Dez Bryant into the game.
As I mentioned above, Bryant’s 13 targets led the team. He will be a major factor this season.
DO spell DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer with Victor Butler.
I still need to tally Butler’s total snap count, but it wasn’t very high. When he was in, he got overpowered in the run game–something that didn’t happen much in the preseason. It is still imperative for the Cowboys to find a way to get Ware and Spencer some rest.
DON’T try anything too risky.
Attempting a pass play from your own 36-yard line with four seconds remaining in the first half isn’t exactly the most conservative of calls. There’s nearly zero upside in running a play, while the downside is monumental. The worst-case scenario for Dallas came to fruition, and it was the primary reason the Cowboys deserved to lose last night’s football game.
Conclusions: Although the Cowboys obviously played very sloppily, they did some good things. Garrett’s play-calling was actually pretty solid. At the very least, it was less predictable.
They were only three-for-seven in my “DOs and DON’Ts,” though, and ended up losing the game because of it. They say you can’t lose a game because of one play, but that’s simply untrue. I would go as far as to say that most games are decided by one play.
For the Cowboys, that “one” play was actually quite a few plays, but that list is headlined by the Cowboys’ decision to pass the ball in their own territory with just four seconds remaining in the first half. Kneel the ball, and you win the game.
I will finish reviewing the tape ASAP and provide my final film study observations by tomorrow, so check back then.