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Dallas Cowboys vs. Tennessee Titans Week 5 Review: What We Learned About Dallas

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Jonathan Bales

If you haven’t already read my initial post-game observations, check those out.  I have had time to break down the film, and below I have answered the questions I posed in my pre-game Cowboys-Titans Manifesto.

I will post my final film study notes and player grades tomorrow.

What to Watch for Dallas vs. Tennessee

How will the Cowboys’ defense attack a rather one-dimensional Titans offense?

Well, obviously the Cowboys also thought the Titans are one-dimensional, because they did everything possible to stop the run early.  Tennessee took advantage by coming out of the gates passing, exploiting Dallas’ mindset to find early success through the air.  I still don’t think the Titans’ offense is extremely well-balanced, but I must give them respect for a tremendous game plan and execution that I didn’t foresee.

Will the Cowboys approach this game as if their backs are against the wall?

No.  The Cowboys looked like the team that came out flat in the first two weeks of the season.  They showed no sense of urgency and look ill-prepared.

Will Kyle Kosier, Jason Witten, and Dez Bryant all be ready to roll?

All three played, but none had a major impact.  Kosier was the best of the Cowboys’ offensive linemen, but that was more due to the horrid play of the other guys than his own play.  Witten’s role in the passing game was limited due to Chris Gronkowski being out.  Witten was forced to play a lot of snaps at fullback.  Bryant looked good when he was given opportunities, but he has yet to become a major cog of this offensive unit.

Can DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer dominate what is perhaps the league’s top offensive tackle duo in Michael Roos and David Stewart?

No.  Both players played well (as usual), but neither dominated.  I actually thought Spencer outplayed Ware for the majority of the game.  Both players likely played with a “run-first” defensive mentality, which may have limited their pass rush production against an already extraordinary Titans offensive line.

Will Dallas spy Vince Young?

Not much.  There were a few snaps where it appeared as though the ‘Boys designated a player to shadow Young, including one with Ware, but overall they did a good job of containing him.  Actually, Young didn’t need to run much since he was successfully throwing the ball downfield at will.

DOs and DON’Ts vs. Tennessee

DO blitz up the middle.

The Cowboys didn’t blitz often, but when they did, the majority of the pressure came up the middle.  However, for whatever reason, the Cowboys’ inside linebackers have been unable to get to the passer.

In my opinion, this has more to do with the scheme than the players.  Wade Phillips is an awesome defensive coordinator, but it is painfully obvious which defenders will be rushing on any given play.  The Cowboys do not disguise their blitzes (or feign blitzes) at all, meaning it is rather easy for the opposition to call out the proper protection pre-snap.  I really think that Dallas needs to become more innovative with their blitz packages for the defense to take its game to the next level.

Result: Pass

DON’T worry about anyone other than Chris Johnson and Vince Young (running).

The Cowboys did this early, and it backfired.  I was wrong.  They were wrong.  Kenny Britt & Co. torched Dallas deep again and again (including drawing a few pass interference penalties).  While Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrink looked awful, a lot of the Titans’ success through the air likely came as a result of Dallas’ emphasis on stopping CJ2K.

Result: Pass

DO run quite a few playaction passes.

The Cowboys ran a modest amount of playaction passes (nine), and they went for 64 yards.  Three of the playaction passes were screens.

Result: Pass

DON’T run the ball inside often–get it outside with tosses, counters, and powers.

As you can see, the Cowboys’ runs were spread out pretty equally, although they didn’t run often behind Marc Colombo.  The Cowboys ran five counters for 66 yards (after running only four counters all season).  I’ve been calling for them to run more counters for awhile, and it seems they’ve finally utilized what I consider to be Felix Jones’ strongest run play.

Still, the Cowboys ran the ball inside the tackles 11 times.  That’s too many against the Titans’ stout interior defenders.  Those 11 plays went for a total of 39 yards (3.55 yards-per-rush).  Meanwhile, all of the other designed run plays went for 93 total yards (9.3 yards-per-rush).

Result: Fail

DO disguise blitzes more effectively.

As I stated above, the Cowboys didn’t do this at all.  Until they disguise their intentions more effectively, they will continue to give up 20+ points to below-average offenses.

Result: Fail

DON’T attack Cortland Finnegan as much as Ryan Mouton and Alterraun Verner.

The Cowboys went after both guys and found a lot of success.  Romo threw for a career-high 406 yards and also added three touchdowns.  Again, the execution is there, but the drive-killing penalties need to end.

Result: Pass

DO run a lot of three-receiver sets until the Titans prove they can put heavy pressure on Tony Romo.

The Titans proved they could put heavy pressure on Romo (without blitzing) almost immediately.  By the Cowboys’ 22nd offensive snap, the Titans had sacked Romo six times.  Dallas ran just six plays with three receivers on the field in those first 22 plays, gaining 47 yards.

When the Cowboys committed to three-receiver sets by the end of the first half, they found some success (and after benching Leonard Davis).  When the Cowboys were in hurry-up mode at the end of the half, they ran 10 consecutive plays with three receivers on the field, gaining 81 yards and scoring a touchdown.

You can see above the Titans didn’t blitz very often.  They did, however, disguise their blitzes quite well.  10 of their 18 blitzes came on plays when they did not show blitz pre-snap.  Meanwhile, they showed blitz three times without actually coming.  Dallas could benefit by taking a page from Tennessee’s book.

Result: Fail

DON’T overdo it on draw plays.

The Cowboys ran only one draw all game and it went for one yard.  Actually, Romo checked into the play, so it wasn’t even Garrett’s first call.  Good job.

Result: Pass

Game Plan

Throw the kitchen sink at Tennessee immediately.

It’s of course difficult to determine how many of the “money” plays Dallas used in the start of the game because we don’t know their exact game plan.  They did come out with three pre-snap shifts in the first eight plays, though, after running only three combined all season.  Those three plays were all runs and went for 26 total yards.

Dallas also motioned on 12 of their first 21 offensive plays (57.1 percent)–much higher than their usual motion rate.  Nonetheless, the ‘Boys actually did fairly well in the first half considering their defense only allowed for them to have four possessions.  Dallas scored 10 points in the first half, and that 2.5 points-per-drive average is solid.

Result: Pass

Keep running it to the weak side.

The Cowboys ran to the weak side seven times (33.3 percent of all runs) for 54 yards (7.71 yards-per-rush).  Like it or not, Garrett’s play-calling has been solid this season.  Now, the question is how much information he is taking from DC Times :)

Result: Pass

Mix up personnel-based play-calling.

Take a look at the Cowboys’ 2010 play-calling trends based on personnel.  The percentages in red and blue are the change from 2009.

Now want to see something crazy?  Check out the chart below.

That’s right.  The Cowboys lined up in three-receiver sets on 32 plays. . .and threw the ball all 32 times!

Result: Fail

Don’t blitz too often, but try to zone blitz when possible.

I still have to study the Cowboys defense in the second half, but their first half play was atrocious.  They got very little pressure even when they sent extra rushers.  I noticed only one true zone blitz in the first half, and that was with DeMarcus Ware in the middle of the field.

Result: Fail

Be really creative with motions and shifts to create favorable matchups on offense.

As I stated above, the Cowboys motioned and shifted a lot in the first half, and it seemed to work pretty well.  The early counter play to Felix Jones was particularly well-designed, as the Cowboys shifted pre-snap into Twins Right Strong Left, giving the defense no indication as to where a run might go.  Jones was also originally lined up at wide receiver before moving to his normal tailback spot.

Romo then quick-snapped the ball before Tennessee could make the proper adjustments.  Leonard Davis pulled and had a tremendous block, springing Jones for a gain of 20.

Result: Pass

Conclusions

This was obviously a horrible game for the Cowboys.  Not only did they drop to 1-3, but every other NFC East team won.  This week’s game in Minnesota is for the season: win, and they have a shot to rebound, but lose, and the year is (basically) over.  No pressure or anything.

In terms of the Cowboys’ play, they passed eight of my 13 “DOs and DON’Ts” and Game Plan tips.  The points on which they failed, however, were killers.  They didn’t disguise blitzes and the play-calling was predictable at times.  Until this team finds a way for both the offense and defense to play well on the same day (and that means limiting penalties and turnovers), the Cowboys will not be winning many football games.

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3 Responses to Dallas Cowboys vs. Tennessee Titans Week 5 Review: What We Learned About Dallas

  1. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    Jonathan,

    Can you discuss the undisciplined nature of the team – not only from this game but from all year. I think that is an area that needs to be addressed in and of itself.

    For instance, this game the Boys were in Titans territory (arguably, field goal range) w/ 1st and 10 and ended up 3 and 30+ to go in Dallas territory due to penalties/sacks/poor play.

    The Boys simply seem to not care about penalties. Now, I know there are other teams that are just as bad penalty-wise (Jets) but they seem to make less of them and other mistakes (read that as fumbles and interceptions) at the wrong times. All year, there have been drive killing penalties (false starts, holdings, etc.) on the offense and drive sustaining penalties (facemask, roughing the passer, etc.) on defense. Mental mistakes abound.

    On top of that, the execution errors are probably more prevalent than most of the NFL. Romo was intercepted 3 times in just this game: 1 in the end zone to cap off a long drive and up until that point rewarding drive, one deep within Dallas territory which almost resulted in a pick 6 and the last coming on one of the last drives of the game when execution was needed the most. Not to put it squarely on Romo, there have been quite a few fumbles at inopportune moments all season.

    The reason for the bad play is lack of discipline. The players have the ability but it hasn’t been stressed to them that they must play within parameters. The next time someone commits a penalty in practice, they should stop practice and make everybody run windsprints. Start practice again until the next penalty occurs and repeat. Get the message across that holding, pass interference, false starts, etc. are NOT acceptable.

  2. I love your idea about sprints during practice. The players would hate it, but I don’t think there could be a more effective way of letting the players know that certain penalties are unacceptable (false starts, personal fouls, etc). While I do like the fact that Wade treats the players like men, he needs to find a way to balance that task with effectively punishing them for mindless mistakes.

  3. john coleman says:

    one thing I continue to see is that we consistently snap the ball with just a second or two on the play clock. We give the defense too much time to get settled. Where the heck are Choice and Ogletree?

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