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A New Way to Look at the Cowboys, NFL, and Fantasy Football

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys vs. Giants Post-Film Study Review: What We Learned About Dallas

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Jonathan Bales

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.

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9 Responses to Cowboys vs. Giants Post-Film Study Review: What We Learned About Dallas

  1. JJ says:

    Thanks for the review Jonathan. It will be interesting to see how everything plays out.

  2. bW says:

    reading your thoughts on Igor’s game makes his celebration for stopping a run even worse to me…and I already hated it.

  3. No problem JJ.

    bW–Yeah, I re-watched the celebrations. I love being excited about playing, but you don’t celebrate down 18. And he got manhandled the entire game. If you watch the plays he celebrated on, only one was even close to a good play. The other he was barely even in on the tackle.

  4. bW says:

    Hey Jonathan…what were your thoughts on the Boys going for the TD down 18 instead of kicking a FG. I know lots of fans and the media were all over it. But I personally wouldn’t have wanted them to kick a FG. They are down 18 and are going to need 2 TD’s regardless. I’d rather they go for broke.
    I’m sure fans that complain bout not kicking the FG would be the same people complaining that the Boys had no guts and quit by kicking a FG instead of going for a TD had they did kick it. Same way fans boo when teams kneel the ball to end the 1st half.

  5. bW…I couldn’t agree more. I said at the time they needed to go for the TD. The math of the situation is very close both ways…kicking a FG is the SLIGHTLY better mathematical play.

    But remember those numbers are for “regular” game scenarios. In that particular situation, a TD makes more sense to me. Let’s not forget the Giants were moving the ball up and down the field. I know you basically have to stop New York each time out to win anyway, but what happens if NY had kicked a FG? You’d be right back where you started, but with less time.

    I hated to hear Tirico & Co. bitch about how “horrible” of a decision it was. I know for a fact they don’t know the numbers of the situation and are simply regurgitating preconceived notions about what is “right” in football coaching theory.

    Later, Tirico went on a tirade about how awful it was for the Cowboys to go for 2 (down 12). He was wrong again. At some point you’re going to need to try a 2-point conversion. If you do it early and fail, you KNOW you need two TDs later. If you go for 1, you’re down 11. Then if you kick a FG to go down eight, score another TD and FAIL on that 2-pt try, you’re down two points and the FG you kicked was close to meaningless. You go for two as early as possible to determine whether a FG later is worth your time.

    I also can’t stand when announcers say it is “too early” to go for two. This is another idiotic axiom that has zero mathematical backing. What does it even mean? It is never “too early” to go for two points. If you’re down eight points in the second quarter, you should go for two points. Two-point conversions convert roughly half of the time, meaning they are basically the “same” (in terms of expected points) as extra points. Thus, it isn’t even “too early” to go for two after your first score in the first quarter. Any minor difference in EP between a 2-pt try and an XP is negated by the fact that you’re either tying up the score, getting in position to tie up the score, or (if you fail) giving yourself time to determine whether a FG in a later situation is worth an attempt.

    You’ve actually worked me up a bit on this issue because the announcers were just flat out wrong, so I am going to do a post about it tomorrow. Thanks bW!

  6. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    Very good words Jonathan. Thanks for your work.

  7. chris stallcup says:

    hey jonathan, if you rewatch jon gruden liked the going for two and the going for a td. and he loved the onside kick looks the cowboys gave, so one smart announcer hahahaha

  8. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    Listening to Mike and Mike this morning and hearing Mark “Stink” Schlereth talk about adapting your system to the personnel you have. He mentioned specifically that Dallas Cowboys have the mentality of the coach who wants to run a 4-3 defense but has 3-4 personnel and doesn’t understand why his defense is unsuccessful.

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – the Cowboys have running game personnel: three running backs that each could probably start on just about any NFL team, run blocking O linemen, an immobile QB with little staring experience with this team (for the next 6-8 weeks), a quality punter and good defense.

  9. Chris–That’s true. Sometimes I tune out all three of them just so I don’t have to listen to Jaws.

    Tyrone–With Kitna at QB, I think you’re about to see this team run a wholeee lot more. Their primary objective now is to just stay in ballgames.

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