Cowboys vs. Giants Post-Film Study Review: What We Learned About Dallas
This week’s game review isn’t going to be the same as those prior. The Cowboys managed all of 13 offensive plays on Monday night before Tony Romo broke his collarbone. The entire landscape of the game changed at that point, including a drastic shift in both offensive and defensive philosophy.
I normally review my pre-game Manifesto after watching the film, but there aren’t many insights to be gained from that task this week. Does it really matter how many counters Dallas ran, for example, if the entire mindset of the offense was flipped upside-down after Romo’s injury?
Instead, I will answer a few of my pre-game “DOs and DON’Ts” (the ones that aren’t just specific to the Giants game but relate to the ‘Boys moving forward). I’ve also read each and every one of your comments and spent the majority of my film study time looking at players/scenarios for which many of you asked. The majority of these reader requests came in comments in my initial Cowboys-Giants post-game notes.
Let me first start by breaking down “The Play.”
The Cowboys came out in “3 Wide Strong Left” with Jason Witten in the slot and Chris Gronkowski at fullback. The Giants were in a fairly straightforward defense–they rushed their four defensive linemen and also came with a “Sam blitz.” This meant strong side linebacker Michael Boley was coming through the “B-gap”–the area between Doug Free and Montrae Holland.
Boley obviously got through clean to pummel Romo. As the MNF announcers pointed out, Gronkowski was at fault. He had a “check-flat” responsibility, which means he was to pick up any blitzers on the left side of the offensive formation, and if none came he could leak out into the flat. The confusion for Gronkowski came because Boley did not show blitz pre-snap. He actually had his head turned out toward Witten as the ball was snapped.
The offensive line had tremendous protection on the play, and Gronkowski felt he didn’t need to help. As he made his way past the line of scrimmage, though, he noticed Boley rushing and turned around. It was obviously too late.
Analyzing (Some) DOs and DON’Ts
DO blitz a little more this week–but disguise them PLEASE!
Wade Phillips actually did this quite well to start the game. The Cowboys showed blitz when they weren’t coming and lined up in “regular” looks before blitzing. It worked wonders to start the game, as Eli Manning threw two off-target passes that resulted in Cowboys interceptions.
Phillips got away from this after the first quarter, though. Romo’s injury may have forced Phillips to become more conservative in his play-calling to try to speed up the game (less possessions means less chance of the Giants taking a big lead).
Moving forward, I think the Cowboys need to continue to disguise their intentions defensively. The silver lining of this nightmare season is that Dallas is now free to try unique things in all phases of the game. They can give backups more playing time and experiment with different schemes. Will Coach Phillips and the rest of the staff play “vanilla” to maximize wins so the season “looks” better than it was, or will they concede defeat (which isn’t always a bad thing) and experiment with innovative scenarios/lineups/schemes–a task that may not be conducive to winning this season, but would surely aid the Cowboys in 2011?
DON’T screw up on kick coverage.
To me, kick coverage is all about heart. You have to want to fly down the field and make a tackle. The Cowboys were excited to play special teams on Monday night (at least early) and it showed. Sam Hurd and Danny McCray were all over the place.
So why couldn’t this team have that same mentality all season? Had that been the case, they may not be in this position.
DO call some designed rollouts OR throw some back-shoulder fades.
The reason I bring this up is because, despite attempting both rollouts and back-shoulder throws all preseason, Jason Garrett seemed reluctant to dial them up during the season. Instead, he stuck with the status quo. The only problem? The status quo isn’t working.
For the Cowboys to go to the next level in 2011, they need coaches who aren’t afraid to try new, even “dangerous” things. Look at Sean Payton in New Orleans. He goes for it on fourth down, attempts onside kicks in the Super Bowl, and calls “trick” plays at the most crucial of moments. His players love it.
The Cowboys seem to have adopted the attitude that they will do everything to not lose football games. Next year, they need to do everything possible to win football games, and that starts with the coaches believing in the players enough to let them stray from the norm. What has worked in the past won’t necessarily work in the future, and what hasn’t worked in the past, well, that probably won’t work either.
DON’T worry about offensive balance–simply stick with what is working.
When Romo was in the game on Monday, the Cowboys ran the ball six times for 10 yards. A huge reason for the team’s struggles on offense this season is their inability to run the ball effectively. But fans get efficient running confused with frequent running. The Cowboys do not need to run the ball 50 percent of the time (or even 40 percent) to be effective on offense. They need to run it well to keep defenses honest and to set up the passing game.
I bring this up because it seems as though Garrett & Co. sometimes listen to the fans a bit too much (and listening at all is too much). For things to change in 2011, the coaches, whoever they may be, need to coach. . .not succumb to the demands of ill-informed fans.
DON’T be afraid to run the ball more often out of “passing personnel.”
I just spoke about the importance of an efficient running game. The best way to find success on offense is to surprise the defense. It’s tough to do that when passes tend to come out of different personnel packages/formations than runs. Predictability will kill an offense. The 2011 version of this team needs a complete overhaul in play-calling philosophy.
DO give Tashard Choice some work.
I know a lot of you like Marion Barber, and I do too. As a person. As a football player, he doesn’t deserve to be starting. Wade Phillips’ assertion that Barber provides something special as a starter is ridiculous. If he’s that good, why does he start and then get immediately replaced by Felix Jones?
The coaches seem afraid to make changes, but a team that doesn’t adapt is one that will ultimately lose. Like evolution, the NFL is survival of the fittest (sorry creationists), and the Cowboys aren’t putting their “fittest” players on the field at all times.
DO target Dez Bryant at least five times.
You saw what this kid can do. Bryant needs to become a focal point of the offense effective immediately.
Player Observations (at the request of DC Times readers)
- Phil Costa: I watched Costa quite intently and saw from him about what I expected. He got overpowered at times, but didn’t do a bad job at all. He looked good in space, particularly on screen passes. He was late on a couple blitz pick-ups and missed one Giants twist, but that is to be expected from an undrafted rookie. I thought he held his own when matched up on Chris Canty.
- Doug Free: It was a strange night for Free in that he struggled a bit in pass protection but excelled in the running game. I think the qualms about him being sub-par in run blocking are unjustified. He’s the Cowboys’ best offensive lineman.
- Andre Gurode: I’ve seen a rather steep decline from Gurode since the beginning of last season. Most concerning is that he doesn’t play intelligently. He misses stunts and, after all of the concerns over “dumb” penalties, he got flagged for a late hit against New York (although it was a bogus call).
- Leonard Davis: I had Davis marked for just three “really bad” plays, but it was far from a solid game for him. He gets beat with speed rushers inside, and that’s just what Chris Canty is for the Giants. I still think he can be effective in the running game, but it’s difficult when the Cowboys run behind him out of the same formations again and again.
- Marc Colombo: Really awful game for Colombo. He looked horrendous in pass protection and really bad in the run game as well. People criticize Free’s run blocking ability, but he has been far superior to Colombo all season. At this point, I think Colombo is Dallas’ worst lineman on either side of the ball.
- Jon Kitna: Kitna started off poorly but rebounded to lead the Cowboys to within a score. Some of that had to do with the Giants’ conservative defense in the second half, but Kitna also showed that he’s still a serviceable quarterback. He got way too many balls batted down and needs to put the ball in positions where receivers can catch and run, though. The Cowboys are going to have serious trouble keeping Kitna on his feet all season.
- Igor Olshansky: This was one of Olshansky’s worst games as a Cowboy in my opinion. He looked like he didn’t want to be on the field. He freelanced way, way too much, which shouldn’t really happen since his only objective is to stop the run. He got zero penetration and took himself out of plays again and again in an effort to get around defenders.
- Marcus Spears: Spears was one of the lone bright spots for the Cowboys’ defense on Monday. I didn’t mark him with any “really bad” plays and had him down for two “really good” plays. He was able to get solid penetration most of the night.
- Stephen Bowen: It wasn’t a good night for Bowen at all. He looked incredibly slow off of the line of scrimmage, particularly when at his normal defensive end position (as opposed to defensive tackle, which he plays in nickel situations). He looks too eager to get upfield. I know he only plays on 2nd and 3rd downs, but many of the 2nd down plays are still running situations.
Stay tuned for my upcoming post detailing the positives of this horrendous 1-5 start and how the Cowboys should move forward in 2010.