Cowboys vs. Jaguars, Week 8 Preview: DOs and DON’Ts for Dallas
With a change in expectations comes an alteration in objectives. The chances of Dallas making the playoffs is almost zero. While the goal going into every game is always to win, the Cowboys must take into account their current record and how their decisions this season will affect their fortunes in 2011 and beyond.
In my opinion, the balance between present and future in decision-making has shifted. If the Cowboys were 5-1, they may be more willing to slightly sacrifice the future if it means a higher probability of winning now. At 1-5, however, the future cannot be sacrificed. The Cowboys always need to have winning in mind, but at this point, choices should be made according to how they’ll affect the team’s ability to win in 2011, not 2010.
DO call plays that mesh with Jon Kitna’s skill set.
Kitna is a serviceable quarterback and, despite the opinions of most fans, an above average backup. Having said that, he isn’t Tony Romo. He has a completely different skill set, and Jason Garrett needs to alter the playbook a bit to fit those skills. Each week’s game plan should be about accommodating Kitna first, and exposing weaknesses in the opponent’s defense second.
Kitna can make most NFL throws, but he seems to excel with in-breaking routes–slants, posts, digs, etc. He’s also very good at throwing back-shoulder fades. He is going to have trouble throwing deep outs, comebacks, and so on.
If you notice, that skill set meshes exactly with what Roy Williams does well. There are reasons Kitna and Williams were so productive during their time together in Detroit, and offensive coordinator Mike Martz isn’t the only one. Williams has regained his confidence and Kitna is actually a better quarterback for him than Romo.
I also think getting the running game on track will really help Kitna. If the Cowboys can do that, it will set up playaction passes on which Kitna, if properly protected, can make easier throws. The key is that “properly protected” part.
DON’T respect the Jags’ passing game until they force it.
The Jaguars’ offense basically revolves around Maurice Jones-Drew. He’s much like Ahmad Bradshaw of the Giants in that he can beat you a variety of ways–on the ground and in the passing game. He’s the sort of running back with which the Cowboys generally struggle, meaning they really need to focus on stopping him first and foremost.
DO keep an eye on Marcedes Lewis, though.
The key to halting the Jaguars is limiting MJD’s production, but tight end Marcedes Lewis is a threat as well. 2010 has been a breakout season for him. I think the Cowboys should place Bradie James on him during early downs and either Gerald Sensabaugh or Barry Church during nickel situations. Lewis is still a mismatch on James, but Keith Brooking isn’t even an option and Dallas should do the following with Sensabaugh. . .
DO put Gerald Sensabaugh on Maurice Jones-Drew.
MJD is a bigger threat in the passing game than any Jaguars receiver or tight end, so I think Sensabaugh should stick with him during early downs. He’ll have much more success than either James or Brooking, and he can go back to covering Lewis during nickel situations with rookie safety Barry Church manning Jones-Drew.
DO play a lot of Cover 1 (again).
The Cowboys can go into this game with a defensive game plan very similar to that which they used versus the Vikings. In that game, they played Cover 1 (below) nearly every play, stacking the box to stop Adrian Peterson and doubling Randy Moss outside.
Against the Jags, there’s really no extraordinary receiving threat outside, meaning Alan Ball doesn’t have to shade one side of the field so heavily. He can stay toward the middle of the field more frequently to help James/Church on Marcedes Lewis. Take out MJD and Lewis and you win this football game.
Cover 1 also allows flexibility with pre-snap alignments. The Cowboys implemented some unique blitz packages early on against the Giants and they worked well. Keep that up, please. Now is the time to try unique things on both sides of the ball, even if they are risky.
DO run the ball early and often.
Unless the running game is getting completely stuffed, the Cowboys need to stick with it this week. Not only will it set up the playaction game, but this offensive line cannot be asked to properly protect an immobile quarterback on a consistent basis. The Jaguars aren’t the Giants on defense, but they will still get to Kitna if the Cowboys continually run seven-step drops.
DON’T be afraid to air it out from time to time.
Kitna isn’t John Elway back there, but he can make most throws. An efficient running game will aid in Dallas’ ability to get the ball down the field. Plus, with the offensive line’s probable inability to provide consistent protection and the high likelihood of a boatload of runs, the Cowboys could really benefit from a quick score.
DO run the ball behind Phil Costa to see what he’s made of.
I hate to say the season is “over” because it isn’t. There are 10 games remaining and the Cowboys need to play solid football. Losing is never acceptable.
However, that doesn’t mean the team’s objectives should remain stagnant. The ‘Boys should try lots of new things in an attempt to discover where they stand in relation to the 2011 season. Is Phil Costa a legitimate option at guard? Can AOA start at free safety? Can Sam Young eventually replace Marc Colombo? These are the sort of questions the Cowboys need to answer by season’s end.
DO take advantage of Kitna’s experience with Roy Williams.
Like I said above, Williams has been Kitna’s “go-to-guy” in the past. He’ll likely be that to begin Kitna’s stint as Dallas’ starting quarterback as well. Routes like slants and back-shoulder fades suit both players well and are quick-hitting enough that the offensive line shouldn’t have too much trouble (hopefully) providing protection.
DON’T play for anyone but each other.
I firmly believe character is revealed during times of adversity. Will this team continue to fight for one another knowing that the opportunity for a trip to the playoffs is all but non-existent?
DO get the ball to Dez Bryant as often as possible.
He’s simply incredible. Even if the Cowboys were 5-1 at this point, getting the ball to Bryant would be a priority. He’s a true playmaker and the future for the Cowboys in the passing game. At 1-5, the future is now.
DON’T run so much Shotgun.
Eight of the 10 sacks the ‘Boys have yielded have come from Shotgun. I think a major reason for that is the fact that they haven’t run the ball much out of passing formations. If defensive ends know a pass is on the way, it is awfully hard to protect the quarterback. The ‘Boys need to run the ball more frequently from Shotgun and on 3rd down to keep defenses honest.
Kitna is also more comfortable from under center than in Shotgun. The last time he started he played in Mike Martz’s seven-step drop offense, not a spread.
DON’T play so conservatively–go for it on 4th down and play ultra-aggressively.
Why not? I think Dallas should do this anyway, but now is a particularly good time. Call “trick” plays, blitz often, try new coverages, attempt onside kicks, and so on. There’s really nothing to lose.