The DC Times

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

By Jonathan Bales

Week 13 Cowboys Mailbag: Stopping Peyton Manning & Garrett’s 2nd Down Play-Calls

Q:  Do you think the Cowboys should use the 2006 game film of when they beat Peyton Manning as a template for their preparation this week?

Greg Ramone, East Brunswick, NJ

A: Perhaps as a confidence-booster, but nothing else.  Only five of the Cowboys’ defensive starters from that season are still on the roster.  On top of that, the only similarity between the 2006 defense and the 2010 version is that they’re both 3-4 alignments.  The philosophies of the two schemes are radically different.

You’ll hear people claim that the Colts’ offense is basically the same as it was then, but that’s not really the case.  Indy does even less running now than before, and Manning has been forced to get the ball out of his hands much quicker due to an inadequate offensive line.  The scheme is similar, but it’s actually rather simplistic.  What makes it deadly is the precision with which Manning & Co. run it.

Instead of focusing on 2006, Dallas needs to worry about how Manning can beat them now.  The Colts’ running game is basically non-existent, so the ‘Boys really need to focus on stopping Reggie Wayne first.  I’ll have more thoughts on the game plan later in the week.

Q:  It seems like Jason Garrett’s 2nd down play-calling has improved this season (in terms of predictability).  Is that the case?

Tyler Guyton via Twitter

A: You better believe it.  Garrett’s 2nd down play-calling last season was atrocious due to its predictability.  Regardless of an offensive coordinator’s run/pass ratio, we’d want to see that rate remain steady in specific situations regardless of the previous play-call.  For example, if a coordinator dials up a run on 80 percent of 2nd and 3-7 plays following a 1st down run, he would benefit most by calling runs at the same rate following a 1st down pass.

Here is a snippet of my 2009 study of Garrett’s 2nd down calls:

On 2nd and 3 to 7, for example, Garrett dialed up a run on only 23 of the 78 (29.5 percent) plays that followed a 1st down run. After 1st down passes, though, the Cowboys ran on 2nd down on 26 of 34 plays (76.5 percent). Thus, Dallas was 2.95 times more likely to run on 2nd and 3 to 7 after a 1st down pass than after a 1st down run.

On 3rd and 8 to 10, that trend, surprisingly, did not get much better. The team ran on only 10 of 50 plays (20.0 percent) in these scenarios following a 1st down run. After passes, Garrett called a run on 32 of 58 2nd down plays (55.2 percent), meaning the team was 2.76 times more likely to run on 2nd and 8 to 10 after a pass than a run.

On 2nd and 11 or more, the team was still 2.33 times more likely to run after a 1st down pass than after a run. Obviously Garrett did some things right in the past few years, but this sort of predictability is unacceptable.

In an early-season post, I described in further detail why Garrett’s play-calling was poor:

Note that I am not criticizing the overall rate of runs/passes.  Garrett could pass 95 percent of the time, but if his current play-call is dependent on the previous one, there will be a problem.  Again, the issue is not with the overall run/pass ratio, but rather the fact that it gets skewed based on previous calls.

For a play-caller to maximize his effectiveness, we’d want the run/pass ratio to be equal in comparable situations following a particular call.  Note that I am not advocating a 50/50 balance.  I am simply stating that it is in an offensive coordinator’s best interest to retain his particular run/pass ratio in specific down-and-distances regardless of the previous call.  If he passes 90 percent of the time on 2nd and 3-7 following a 1st down pass, he should pass 90 percent of the time in the same situation following a run.  Don’t let previous calls affect current ones.

As far as the graph above, we’d want to see the red and blue lines be as close together as possible.  The specific run/pass ratio is irrelevant–what’s important is that the lines match up, wherever that may be.

In 2010, Garrett has been magnificent with his play-calling on 2nd down.  He clearly noticed his prior mistakes and made the necessary adjustments.  Take a look at the new chart below.  Garrett’s 2nd down run rate following a 1st down pass is nearly identical to that following a 1st down run.  Tremendous job of identifying a weakness and acting accordingly.

By Jonathan Bales

Week 13 NFL Power Rankings: Texans Not Out Yet

Biggest Riser: Houston Texans (Seven spots)

Biggest Faller: Washington Redskins (Six spots)

———————————————–

1. New York Jets (9-2); Last Week- 1

If you don’t watch the Jets take on New England this Monday night, you aren’t a football fan.

2. Atlanta Falcons (9-2); Last Week- 2

Matt Ryan is now 19-1 at home, and the Falcons looks poised to win home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

3. New England Patriots (9-2); Last Week- 3

The Patriots are so good because they win the “easy” games and play tough in the difficult ones.

4. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-3); Last Week- 5

Big Ben never got it going against the Bills, but Pittsburgh still hung on for the win.

5. New Orleans Saints (8-3); Last Week- 6

I love to watch the Saints play–just not when it’s in a win over Dallas.

6. Green Bay Packers (7-4); Last Week- 4

The Packers are Falcons are evenly matched to me, but Green Bay is going to have to win on the road in the postseason.

7. Baltimore Ravens (8-3); Last Week- 8

The Ravens are really tough in January, but they want to make sure they win the AFC North first.

8. Philadelphia Eagles (7-4); Last Week- 7

The Eagles’ loss in Chicago was a bit surprising to me, and now they need to make sure they get back on track with so many 7+ win teams in the NFC.

9. San Diego Chargers (6-5); Last Week- 9

You know the NFL has changed when people are seriously talking about a 6-5 team as perhaps the best in its conference.

10. New York Giants (7-4); Last Week- 11

With Philly’s loss, the Giants are still in the driver’s seat for the NFC East.

11. Chicago Bears (8-3); Last Week- 13

I officially give up on the Bears.  I still think this team should be .500 at best.

12. Kansas City Chiefs (7-4); Last Week- 14

San Diego is charging, but none of that matters to K.C. if they just keep on winning.  They should be favored in every game except one (against the Chargers) from here on out.

13. Indianapolis Colts (6-5); Last Week- 10

The good news for Dallas as they head to Indy this week is that Peyton is struggling.   The bad news is he always rebounds.

14. Tampa Bay Bucs (7-4); Last Week- 12

Tampa is playing tough against some of the league’s top teams.  It’s amazing what a solid quarterback can do for you.

15. Houston Texans (5-6); Last Week- 22

Can the Texans turn this thing around?  They’re shockingly just a game out of first place.

16. Miami Dolphins (6-5); Last Week- 17

I can’t stand watching the Dolphins play.  Run, run, short pass, punt.

17. Jacksonville Jaguars (6-5); Last Week- 15

The Jags are not a legitimate contender, but have you checked out David Garrard’s passer rating lately?

18. Oakland Raiders (5-6); Last Week- 16

The Raiders still have a glimmer of hope because they play in the AFC West, but they’re making me look bad.

19. Tennessee Titans (5-6); Last Week- 18

How do you get shutout by the Texans?  Start Rusty Smith at quarterback, I guess.

20. San Francisco 49ers (4-7); Last Week- 23

One game out of first place.  Wow.

21. Minnesota Vikings (4-7); Last Week- 24

I really have nothing to say about the Vikings.

22. St. Louis Rams (5-6); Last Week- 25

I actually think St. Louis might be headed for the playoffs.  If they aren’t at least .500, that will be tragic.

23. Cleveland Browns (4-7); Last Week- 26

Why is Peyton Hillis allowed to purposely go to the ground to celebrate touchdowns but Marc Colombo gets flagged for accidentally falling down?

24. Dallas Cowboys (3-8); Last Week- 20

My thoughts on the Cowboys’ loss are all over the place, so not much more to say.

25. Washington Redskins (5-6); Last Week- 19

It’s sad to watch Washington play and know that Dallas 1) lost to them and 2) has a worse record.

26. Seattle Seahawks (5-6); Last Week- 21

You’re looking at a team that it STILL tied for first in the NFC West5

27. Arizona Cardinals (3-8); Last Week- 27

28. Cincinnati Bengals (2-9); Last Week- 28

T.O. got a taste of Revis Island and came out empty-handed.

29. Buffalo Bills (2-9); Last Week 29

The Bills have now played well for about a month, which is surprising considering they may have the league’s worst personnel.

30. Denver Broncos (3-8); Last Week- 30

Josh McDaniels is just an a**hole. . .still true from last week, and the week before.

31. Detroit Lions (2-9); Last Week- 31

Suh should win Defensive Rookie of the Year, hands down.

32. Carolina Panthers (1-10); Last Week- 32

And John Fox is the coach some Cowboys fans want?

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys vs. New Orleans Saints Film Study Observations: What We Learned About Dallas

Jonathan Bales

If you haven’t read my initial post-game notes/observations, please do.  I uncovered a lot of interesting information after reviewing the Cowboys-Saints film this week, so enjoy. . .

  • Marion Barber is out for at least a week or two.  I never want players to get injured, but this is one of the best things that could happen to the Cowboys.  Barber looked awful again on Thanksgiving, stumbling on an incredible three handoffs before even getting touched.  He tries to run around defenders now instead of through them, but he doesn’t possess the agility to do that effectively.  His only above-average quality is his pass protection ability.
  • Tashard Choice will be the recipient of an increased workload during Barber’s absence.  I can say with full confidence that you’ll observe a noticeable difference between Choice’s explosion, balance, and vision and that of Barber.  Choice may not be “incredible” at anything, but he’s really solid at everything. This is his chance to prove he deserves a larger role in 2011, and I expect him to perform well.
  • The Cowboys lined up with an unbalanced offensive line on three plays against the Saints.

  • As you can see, the “Unbalanced Right Strong Right” formation above employs Martellus Bennett as the left tackle and Doug Free as the tight end.  Bennett is obviously not an eligible receiver on the play, but I still love the look.  For one, Bennett is one of the team’s best blockers, regardless of position.  Any drop in blocking ability from Free to Bennett is made up for by the fact that the look is confusing to the defense.  It can cause alignment problems and just gives a defense more to think about pre-snap.
  • One knock on this formation is that it gives away too much information before the snap.  Bennett must stay in to block, and it’s unlikely the Cowboys would ask him to protect Jon Kitna’s blind side by himself.  Thus, whatever play the ‘Boys call will almost certainly be a run.  Secondly, do you think the team is more likely to run behind Bennett and Kyle Kosier, or Leonard Davis, Marc Colombo, Doug Free, and Jason Witten?
  • So how did the Cowboys overcome these issues?  Jason Garrett did an excellent job of using the first two plays from the formation as “set up plays” early in the game.  On these plays, the Cowboys ran just where you’d think they would–in the “4 hole” behind all of the big boys.  On the third and final play, however, the Cowboys faked the lead to Felix Jones and handed the ball off to Miles Austin on an end-around.  The result?  A 60-yard touchdown run.  Tremendous design and execution.
  • The illegal shift penalty called on Dez Bryant (the one over which he was fuming) was the correct call.  He mistakenly lined up off of the line of scrimmage, leaving the right tackle uncovered.  When he noticed it and moved up, Sam Hurd was already in motion and never came to a stop (if he had, Bryant’s movement would have been a legal shift).
  • The Cowboys ran a season-high 74 offensive plays on Thanksgiving.
  • Dallas had 14 plays in the red zone–five passes for 26 yards and nine runs for 12 yards and two touchdowns.
  • 33 of the Cowboys’ plays came out of Shotgun, although many of those were out of necessity (the team’s final 11 plays were from Shotgun).
  • Garrett obviously tried to confuse the Saints before the snap.  The Cowboys motioned on exactly half (37) of their offensive plays–a rate much higher than the 30.3 percent clip at which they came into the game.  That included 21 of the first 31 plays.
  • Kitna again showed he can recognize a defense’s weaknesses and check into the proper play.  He did so four times–two runs for eight yards and two passes for 27 yards.
  • The Cowboys got lucky with Reggie Bush.  Even though his production was nil, he was open a few times and either didn’t get targeted or dropped the ball.  Perhaps Dallas knew something I didn’t, but placing Sean Lee on Bush never seems like a good idea.
  • Dallas attacked the middle of the Saints’ defense on the ground.  One of the guards (either Kosier or Davis) was at the point-of-attack on 22 of the team’s 26 designed runs (84.6 percent).  It isn’t uncommon for a guard to be at the point-of-attack, but that rate is unusually high.
  • In my pre-game notes, I predicted the Cowboys would run a lot of draws, counters, playaction passes, and screens to take advantage of the aggressiveness of New Orleans’ defense.  They did all four quite often.  They dialed up eight draws for 24 yards and four counters for 67 yards.  Kitna also faked a handoff on an incredible 11 passes (for 90 yards) and threw a screen eight times for 42 yards.  All in all, 29 of the Cowboys’ offensive plays (39.2 percent) were either a draw, counter, playaction pass, or screen.
  • We saw the return of the dreaded “Double Tight Right Strong Right” formation (or a variation of it, such as “Double Tight Left Strong Left” or “Double Tight Right I”).  Garrett called it 12 times, and all but three were strong side dives.  Those nine plays went for 12 total yards.  Meanwhile, the three non-strong side dives from the formation (two passes and a toss) went for 23 total yards.  Unfortunately, the toss play was the early 4th down attempt to Barber that went for no gain.

Read my full analysis on the formation here.

  • With the abundance of screens and playaction passes came few downfield throws.  Remember, the Cowboys rarely throw the ball downfield following a play-fake–of their 83 playaction passes last year, only FOUR were thrown 20+ yards.  Of Kitna’s 42 passes against the Saints, only FIVE traveled 10+ yards, and only one went 20+ yards.  Meanwhile, 26 of the passes traveled five yards or less.  I’m by no means an expert on NFL offenses, but I think the Cowboys should probably throw the ball 10+ yards more than 11.9 percent of their passes (and 6.8 percent of all plays).
  • Kitna really had an up-and-down game.  He only had 12 incompletions, but nine of those were the result of off-target passes.  Nine off-target passes is way too many when you’re asked to throw the ball downfield only five times all game.  He also failed to throw a touchdown.
  • Of the team’s 47 called passes, Witten was in a route on 34 of them (72.3 percent), which is about average for him.  Dallas gained only 53 total yards on the 13 plays he stayed in to block, and 24 of those yards came on one play.
  • Garrett obviously made a conscious effort to “protect” struggling right tackle Marc Colombo.  Of the 66 plays with a tight end lined up next to one of the offensive tackles, 44 of them (66.7 percent) were “right-handed,” i.e. the tight end(s) was next to Colombo.  I realize Dallas is a right-handed team, but it’s clear an effort is being made to “hide” Colombo.
  • A reader pointed out that, after the game, Drew Brees stated he was able to beat Terence Newman deep because the Cowboys played the same coverage a bunch of times in a row and he knew it was coming.  His claim seems truthful since the Saints had the courage to throw the ball deep on a crucial 3rd and 1 play.  Although Paul Pasqualoni has done a nice job of employing some unique looks and more zone coverage to help the secondary, I thought his play-calling on Thursday was unoriginal and predictable.  The Saints obviously agree.
  • I was shocked that the Saints didn’t blitz Dallas early in the game.  Of the Cowboys’ first 64 offensive plays, New Orleans blitzed only eight times.  I was even more stunned by their strategy late in the game, as they blitzed on the final 10 plays.  They weren’t just simple A-gap blitzes either, but unique, exotic blitzes in which defenders came from unexpected places.  I’m positive the Saints had a “two-minute defense” installed for this game that was radically different from their approach in the first 58 minutes of the game, as they weren’t running the same play, even as Dallas was in a no-huddle offense.  What an incredibly innovative and unexpected move.
  • Despite the blitzes, I thought Garrett’s play-calling on the final three plays was horrible.  Bryant was targeted on all three passes despite not recording a reception all game.  Further, the Cowboys had just burned the Saints over and over by slipping Witten into the flat.  With the offense needing only five yards or so to give David Buehler a realistic field goal look, why not go to Witten again?  I watched Buehler’s missed field goal again and again, and I think it would have been good if it was from 54 yards instead of 59.

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By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys vs. Saints Thanksgiving Day Initial Post-Game Observations

Jonathan Bales

I began to write this piece last night as I watched the Bengals-Jets game, but I simply couldn’t do it.  The wound was too fresh, so to speak, and it would have resulted in more of a rant than anything else.  I will try to begin reviewing the film today, but in all honesty, I doubt it will happen.  My goal is to have my final film observations posted by Monday.

  • Let’s start with the big one: Roy Williams’ fumble.  They say one play doesn’t decide a football game, but “they” are wrong.  Lots of single plays decide football games.  The more of those that exist in a loss, the tougher the pill to swallow.  There were a lot in this contest, but the fumble was clearly the biggest.  That play cannot happen.  It’s dumb football.  I know Williams didn’t see the defender charging in and he made a hell of a play to get that open in the first place, but at that point in the game, his sole objective should be securing the football.  It isn’t an adequate excuse to “not know” the defender was there.  You must know.

  • To Williams’ credit, he manned up about the situation after the game.  He put the entire loss on his shoulders.  I like that.
  • On the first kickoff the Cowboys received, Bryan McCann should have ran to the sideline, put one foot out of bounds, and then touched the football when it was in play.  That might sound dumb, but the ball would then immediately be dead, ruled out of bounds, and placed at the Cowboys’ 40-yard line.  Later in the game, McCann let a punt bounce near the sideline instead of calling for a fair-catch.  It rolled an extra 10 yards or so.  He needs to realize that the sideline isn’t “hot lava”–you can step on it, Bryan.
  • I should probably apologize for the next note ahead of time.  I’m not actually going to, I’m just recognizing that I should.
  • I think Andre Gurode has Multiple Personality Disorder.  One personality is a Pro Bowl-caliber center who plays intelligently.  The other personality has down syndrome and snaps the ball whenever he feels like it.  Both are fun to watch, but only one helps Dallas win games.  I counted three poor snaps and a non-snap from Gurode No. 2 last night.
  • An early end-around to Dez Bryant was poorly designed.  Perhaps the rookie made a mental error, but he was too far from the ball before the snap to reach Jon Kitna after he faked a handoff to the running back.  There should be short motion on that play, or else Bryant should line up closer to the ball.
  • The Cowboys used a rare “Amoeba” look on defense in which there was only one (maybe two?) down lineman, with the rest of the front seven moving around pre-snap.  That alignment makes it difficult for the offensive line to call out their assignments, as players aren’t in their “usual” spots.  Not surprisingly, it resulted in Drew Brees’ first incompletion.
  • Jason Garrett had to make a lot of difficult 4th down decisions last night.  He was all over the place on his calls.  He went for it on 4th and 1 at the Saints’ 21-yard line, but then later kicked a field goal on 4th and inches inside the Saints’ five-yard line.  As you may have guessed, I liked the first call, not the second.
  • Later in the game, Garrett decided to punt on 4th and 4 at the Saints’ 35-yard line.  That ones a no-brainer–he has to go for it.  Instead, Mat McBriar dropped the snap, illegally kicked the ball, and Dallas gained just 16 yards of field position.
  • Marion Barber’s biggest problem right now is that he’s trying to run around guys instead of through them.  After receiving nearly every handoff, he dances behind the line-of-scrimmage.  He gathers no momentum and is then forced to try to make a move around a guy instead of lowering his shoulder.  He’s not the most nimble player, and lots of times ends up stumbling.  His pre-handoff nosedives are killing this team.
  • Felix Jones’ explosion is back in a big way.  He’s clearly the Cowboys’ biggest playmaker in the backfield and makes up for a lot of the offensive line’s mistakes.  If he came out in a “24″ jersey and wore dreads, I would still be able to tell it wasn’t Barber within the first step.
  • Jones’ biggest improvements this year have come as a pass-catcher.  He looks much, much more comfortable receiving the football and does a tremendous job of immediately getting up the field after doing so.  Despite being explosive with the ball in his hands in the past, he was never really a great receiver.  He still needs to work on his route-running, but he’s getting there.
  • I saw multiple plays with guys like Sean Lee and Bradie James on Reggie Bush during crucial 3rd downs.  The Cowboys are extremely lucky he had an off-night.  They should have treated him as another wide receiver, not a tailback.
  • I saw a new wrinkle from Saints coach Sean Payton that I’d love to see Garrett employ.  On about a half dozen snaps, he used an offensive tackle as a tight end, even putting him in motion a few times.  This serves two purposes.  First, it’s an extra blocker on DeMarcus Ware.  Why use a tackle and a tight end on Ware when you can use two tackles?  Second, it allows the tackle to line up in the backfield.  Normally, an offensive tackle must be on the line-of-scrimmage.  They usually cheat back to block speed rushers like Ware, often getting penalized for an illegal formation.  An eligible offensive tackle, however, can line up wherever he wants without a penalty.  Brilliant idea.
  • Garrett’s worst decision as a head coach came before halftime.  The Cowboys stopped the Saints on 3rd and 1 at midfield, but New Orleans was flagged for holding.  Garrett should have declined the penalty and forced Payton to make a very tough decision on 4th down.  With about two minutes left in the half, I’m almost positive that even the ultra-aggressive Payton would have punted.  Garrett accepted the penalty, however, and basically gave New Orleans a free down.  They converted on 3rd and 11, and Garrett rightfully looked like a goat.
  • Who is the primary kick returner?  McCann or Bryant?  How about punt returner?  Choose one please.
  • The Cowboys were able to spring a few long runs because of downfield blocking.  Williams’ blocking, as usual, was superb.  On Miles Austin’s long touchdown run, both he and Jones made key blocks.  Jones ran all the way downfield after a fake handoff to get in the way of the safety.  Austin doesn’t score without his hustle.
  • Garrett clearly had a plan to take advantage of the Saints’ aggressiveness on defense.  You saw a ton of screens, counters, draws, and even end-arounds.  Great game plan from that aspect.
  • Anthony Spencer was lost much of the game.  He ran after the running back on a handful of play-fakes and stormed after the quarterback on draws.
  • This is my last plea.  Can Tashard Choice please take some of Barber’s snaps next week, Jason?  Pleaseee?  Pleeeeeassssseeee?

By Jonathan Bales

The Sportstradamus: Week 12 NFL Game Picks

Jonathan Bales

The majority of sports picks you find online are basically useless.  They’re slapped together in minutes and have no real connection to the actual outcome of the games.

So I figured I’d give you some more useless projections.

In all seriousness, I will pick the games and totals each week and compare my results to those of other writers and sports types around the internet.  They’ll be listed in the “Game Picks” tab under the “Gameday” category.  I just want to show you guys how a real statistician does work. . .

Notes before reading

  • An’@’ symbol is listed in front of the home team.
  • Game lines alter slightly based on the source.
  • The winner versus the spread is listed in bold.
  • I don’t advocate gambling.  These picks are simply for fun (and to prove I’m better than 95 percent of “experts” at picking games).

Week 11 Results/Overall Results

12-4 straight up/97-63 on season

10-6 against spread/86-67-7 on season

5-9-2 on over-under/75-79-6 on season

Over/unders just aren’t my thing.

Week 12 Game Picks

New England 31 (-6.5) @Detroit 21

New Orleans 28 (-3.5) @Dallas 24

New York Jets 27 @Cincinnati 20 (+9)

Minnesota 20 (+1) @Washington 17

Pittsburgh 21 @Buffalo 20 (+7)

@Houston 28 Tennessee 24 (+6.5)

@New York Giants 24 (-6.5) Jacksonville 17

@Cleveland 20 Carolina 14 (+10.5)

@Baltimore 23 Tampa Bay 17 (+7.5)

Philadelphia 31 (-3) @Chicago 20

@Atlanta 24 (-2) Green Bay 20

@Oakland 20 (-3) Miami 13

Kansas City 21  (-1) @Seattle 17

@Denver 24 (-3.5) St. Louis 17

@Indianapolis 30 (-3) San Diego 24

San Francisco 23 (-1) @Arizona 20

Over/Under

New England/Detroit OVER 51

Dallas/New Orleans OVER 49.5

New York Jets/Cincinnati OVER 43

Washington/Minnesota UNDER 43.5

Pittsburgh/Buffalo UNDER 43

Houston/Tennessee OVER 45.5

New York Giants/Jacksonville UNDER 44.5

Cleveland/Carolina UNDER 38

Baltimore/Tampa Bay UNDER 41

Philadelphia/Chicago OVER 42

Atlanta/Green Bay UNDER 48

Oakland/Miami UNDER 38.5

Kansas City/Seattle UNDER 44.5

Denver/St. Louis UNDER 44.5

Indianapolis/San Diego OVER 51

San Francisco/Arizona OVER 40

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys vs. New Orleans Saints Week 12 Thanksgiving Game: DOs and DON’Ts for Dallas

Jonathan Bales

Thanksgiving games always have a different feel to them.  In all honesty, they’re a big advantage for the Cowboys.  Not only do they get an extra day of preparation compared to their opponent (due to travel), but they also get 10 days of preparation for the next game.

I think the Cowboys will play well tomorrow, but here are some DOs and DON’Ts which should allow a win to come easier. . .

DO focus on stopping Reggie Bush–with more than one defender.

Bush will be back for New Orleans, and despite his layoff, he should be the focus of the Cowboys’ defense.  It’s sort of a “Catch 22″ in that placing too much of an emphasis on Bush is what gets defenses in trouble, but not monitoring the former USC star is even more deadly.

There isn’t a single player on the Cowboys who can defend Bush one-on-one, and that includes the cornerbacks.  Instead, the ‘Boys need to use a variety of defenders to stop him.  One way to make that task easier is. . .

DON’T play as much man coverage.

Playing man coverage will make the Saints’ job easy.  They are extremely effective at using motions and shifts to create favorable matchups.  It will be much easier for Sean Payton to do that if the Cowboys are in man coverage.  There’s no easier way for New Orleans to isolate Bush than to recognize man coverage and run defenders off of him.

Another monumental reason the Cowboys need to play a lot more zone coverage than normal is the Saints’ spread offense.  Drew Brees throws short passes (less than 10 yards) more than any quarterback in the NFL.  He’s deadly accurate and will simply pick defenses apart with underneath throws.  There’s no way Dallas can expect to play man coverage the majority of the time and still defend the short crossing routes, rub routes, and so on that the Saints will utilize.  They need to be in a zone, preferably. . .

DO play a lot of Cover 2.

The Cowboys aren’t big on Cover 2, but I think this is the week to run it.  The coverage allows for maximum defenders underneath, but it’s still a safe coverage deep.  There’s no sense in stacking all your defenders near the line-of-scrimmage if you just let Devery Henderson or Lance Moore beat you deep.

The weaknesses of Cover 2 are the deep middle of the field and the area by the sideline between the cornerback and safety.  The best way to cover up these holes is to not let the offense know your coverage before the snap.  The Cowboys have been doing a better job of this lately, but Brees is the master of pre-snap reads.  The Cowboys really need to disguise their coverages if they expect to win.

DON’T think the Saints won’t bring pressure.

For whatever reason, the Giants and Lions haven’t brought much pressure on Jon Kitna.  They’ve sent only five and 12 blitzes, respectfully, over the past two weeks.

That trend won’t continue on Thanksgiving.  The Saints’ primary objective on defense is to force turnovers, and they do that by getting after the quarterback.  The Cowboys must be prepared for a variety of innovative blitz packages, as Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams loves to send the “unexpected.”

DO continue to be exotic with blitz packages.

The Cowboys should try to beat New Orleans at their own game this week.  As I said above, there’s no way Dallas will win if they let Brees decipher their coverages/blitzes before the snap.  They need to hide their intentions, lining up in base formations and then blitzing from weird angles, or showing blitz and then backing out.

DON’T run any “predictable” plays.

From last week’s Cowboys-Lions Manifesto:

Last week, the Cowboys ran the play below three times.  The formation (“Double Tight Left Ace”) was a completely new one.  If they line up in it again versus the Lions, they better have a new play-call.

The Cowboys did a similar thing in the Vikings game with the play below.  This time, the formation is “Double Tight Left Twins Right Ace.”  The Cowboys have since added new plays to the formation’s repertoire, but the one pictured below is still a staple.

And of course we can’t forget about “Double Tight Strong.”  Last season, the Cowboys ran a strong side dive from the formation nearly three-fourths of the 100+ times they lined up in it (including 85.7 percent of the time when motioning into it).  The play basically disappeared early in the season, but it has reemerged since Kitna has taken over (perhaps in an attempt to simplify the playbook).

Well, the Cowboys ended up running all three plays against Detroit.  The last was simply used in garbage time (and the Cowboys do have other plays from the formation), but the other two were used in meaningful situations.  I was able to predict the play before the snap, and if I can do that, the other team should be able to do the same.

DO attack Tracy Porter, especially with double-moves.

Porter made a name for himself in the playoffs last season, but he’s still far from an elite cornerback.  Gregg Williams’ scheme allows him to gamble a lot.  Kitna will have to be prepared for that, but it also means Jason Garrett can call a few double-moves on him to try to secure a quick score.  Plus, the Saints’ other starting cornerback (Jabari Greer) is one of the most underrated players in the entire NFL.

DO run a lot of “right-handed” formations.

This is simple.  The Cowboys need to protect Kitna and Marc Colombo can’t do it.  He needs help from a tight end.  Plus, Dallas usually finds success when running to the weak side of the formation, which would be away from Colombo if the tight end is next to him.

DON’T leave Orlando Scandrick in the slot if Marques Colston bumps inside.

Scandrick has put together two magnificent games in a row, but he’s been the recipient of favorable matchups.  Scandrick vs. Colston is not a favorable matchup for Dallas.  Colston won’t even need to get open against Scandrick, as he can simply post up and use his far superior size to fend off the cornerback and make the catch.  The Cowboys may want to look at moving Terence Newman inside when Colston does the same.

DO continue to throw the ball out of two and three-tight end sets.

The Cowboys implemented three or more receivers on only 16 offensive plays last week (after doing so on just 14 plays the prior week–a season-low).  In the past, I’ve explained why passing out of running formations is successful.  Combine that with Jason Witten and Martellus Bennett’s superb pass protection ability and the deep threat posed by Miles Austin and Dez Bryant, and you have the makings of a lot of “surprise” deep passes.  Now, if Garrett would just call a few after playaction fakes. . .

DO leave Jason Witten in to block so you can take some shots downfield to “The Rookie.”

Whether in base personnel or a two-tight end set, Dallas should leave Witten in to block more this week.  The Cowboys could really help themselves by scoring quickly a time or two, and the easiest way to do that is No. 88.  Considering the frequency with which I expect the Saints to blitz, it won’t be so easy for the Cowboys to provide Kitna proper protection unless they have more blockers.  Lots of blitzers means true man coverage, though–a dream scenario for the ‘Boys.

DO use a dummy snap count (and allow Kitna the freedom to check out of plays).

Against the Saints, Kitna will see a lot of different looks, many of which New Orleans won’t “show” until he goes into his cadence.  If Kitna can use a dummy snap count to force New Orleans to show their intentions, it will make his job a lot easier.  By the way, a dummy snap count is used when you hear the quarterback yell “Omaha.”  Before that, the entire cadence is meaningless.  ”Omaha” signals to the offense that the snap count is now live.

Once Kitna recognizes the Saints’ defense, he should be allowed the freedom to check into whatever play he chooses.  He’s been outstanding with audibles since the preseason.  Last week, he checked out of three plays, two of which went for touchdowns.

DON’T resort back to Shotgun.

The Cowboys’ lack of three and four receiver-sets of late has resulted in less Shotgun snaps (or perhaps vice versa).  Through Week 10, the Cowboys were in Shotgun on a ridiculous 47.3 percent of all snaps.  Last week, however, Dallas used Shotgun on only 13 of 54 offensive plays (24.1 percent).  This comes just a week after using Shotgun at the same rate in their win over the Giants.  Garrett must have recently realized how much more successful Kitna is under center as opposed to in Shotgun.

DO use the same aggressive mentality that beat the Saints in 2009.

The Cowboys beat the Saints last season because they came out on fire.  They opened up the playbook and played with a sense of urgency.  If they do the same this week, they’ll have a good opportunity to once again take down the defending Super Bowl champs.

That’s all for today.  It may take a day or two for me to analyze this week’s game film due to travel, but it’s a long week anyway, so deal with it.  Happy Thanksgiving to all loyal DC Times readers (I hope the disloyal ones have a really shi**y one).  :)  See ya.

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By Jonathan Bales

Visit The Blonde Side, Tashard Choice, and Bryan McCann

HELLO EVERYONE!

Come see ME and The Blonde Side girls TODAY from 4-5pm at Embassy Suites in Grapevine! Bring your calendars and take some pictures with us!

While you’re at it, don’t forget your favorite COWBOYS GEAR to get signed by #23 Tashard Choice and #37 Bryan McCann!

For information check out www.PSNDallas.com/Thanksgiving

BRING A CANNED GOOD AT GET A FREE RAFFLE TICKET (not to mention you’ll help feed a family in need!)

SEE YOU ALL VERY SOON!

<3

Amber Leigh

@TheBlondeSide on Twitter

By Jonathan Bales

2010 Dallas Cowboys Player Grades, Awards Through Week 11

Jonathan Bales

Offense

  • QB Tony Romo: B-

Romo’s injury has made this a nightmare year for him, but he wasn’t playing terribly while he was healthy.  His numbers were about the same as last season, but the big difference, of course, was that the team wasn’t winning games this year.

  • QB Jon Kitna: B

I don’t think Kitna is better than Romo or has even played better this year.  I am simply grading him as a backup.  When taking that into consideration, he’s been really good, especially of late.

  • RB Marion Barber:  D

I know some of you think Barber still deserves to be the starter, but he’s been really bad this season.  He’s shown no explosion and actually goes down easy on contact.  He’s the team’s best pass blocker and should only play on third downs, in my opinion.

  • RB Felix Jones:  C+

I was really expecting more out of Jones this season.  He’s become the Cowboys’ clear workhorse running back, but there are major holes in his game.  He needs to play more intelligently and really work on his pass protection, but he does seem to have regained his ability to accelerate in the last couple of games.

  • RB Tashard Choice:  ?

I can’t grade Choice because he’s received just over five snaps per game.  My hunch is that he’d grade out as Dallas’ top back if he had more opportunities.

  • FB Chris Gronkowski:  C-

Gronkowski is obviously more athletic than former Cowboys fullback Deon Anderson, but the ‘Boys don’t really need more playmakers.  They simply need a devastating lead blocker, which Gronkowski is not.

  • TE Jason Witten:  C+

I realize Witten has still racked up the receptions (leading all NFL tight ends), but he hasn’t been his normal self this season.  He’s been a step slower out of breaks, accumulates a lot of penalties, and has been quite mediocre as a blocker this season.

  • TE Martellus Bennett:  B-

Bennett with a higher grade than Witten!? Well, for the opportunities he’s been provided, Bennett has outperformed the Cowboys’ starting tight end.  He’s been far superior in both run and pass blocking, especially.

  • LT Doug Free:  B

A lot has been made of Jerry Jones’ failed gambles this year, but this one has worked.  Free has easily been the Cowboys’ best offensive lineman.

  • LG Kyle Kosier:  C

Kosier has again been injured a lot, and he’s been just okay when he’s been healthy.  There wasn’t much of a drop-off when undrafted rookie Phil Costa filled in.

  • C Andre Gurode:  C-

Gurode has been much better of late, but he started the season horribly.  He struggles with stunts and recognizing blitzes, which is a bad sign for a center.

  • RG Leonard Davis:  C-

Davis’ struggles have been publicized ever since he was benched against the Titans.  He has played decently at times, though, particularly since that benching.

  • RT Marc Colombo: F

A lot of people think Colombo and Davis have been equally bad this year, but trust me when I say Colombo has been far, far worse.  He really hasn’t had a good game all season.  He’s incredibly slow-footed, struggling with defensive ends who possess any sort of speed.  He’s also been average (at best) in the run game.

  • WR Miles Austin:  B+

Austin has come back to reality a bit since last season, but a lot of that has to do with factors outside of his control.  He’s still the hard-working, incredibly talented player from ’09.

  • WR Dez Bryant: A-

This kid has been simply amazing.  I’ve never seen a rookie with comparable ball skills, ever.  His work as a punt returner has been incredibly valuable as well.

  • WR Roy Williams: C

After a hot start, Williams has cooled down lately.  A lot of that has to do with Bryant’s emergence, as the rookie has stolen a lot of snaps from Williams in base personnel packages.

Defense

  • NT Jay Ratliff: B-

Ratliff hasn’t been as dominant as usual, perhaps due to the sub-par play around him.  He still has the potential to create havoc, as he did this past week.

  • NT Josh Brent: C-

The supplemntary draft pick has actually gotten pretty many snaps, mostly in nickel situations (when the Cowboys go into a 4-3 alignment).  His motor is excellent, but he needs to find a way to more adequately shed blocks.

  • DE Igor Olshansky:  D-

Olshansky needs to go.  He’s extremely limited in what he can do (stop the run), and he hasn’t done that well all year.

  • DE Marcus Spears:  C-

Spears’ injury was more devastating to Dallas than many people realized, as he was one of the only players who was stopping the run.  He too, however, is very limited in his skill set.

  • DE Stephen Bowen:  D+

After an impressive preseason, I haven’t seen much from Bowen at all.  He’s gotten blown off the ball in the run game and stoned in the passing game.

  • DE Jason Hatcher:  C+

Hatcher has been the Cowboys’ best defensive end, which is sad.  He played remarkably well last week, but he needs to show more consistency.

  • OLB DeMarcus Ware:  B+

Despite a little dry spell recently, Ware is still fifth in the NFL in sacks.  He’s been caught out of position a handful of times this season, but I think we make a bigger deal of it than normal because it’s DeMarcus Ware.

  • OLB Anthony Spencer:  C

Spencer was primed for a breakout season and it simply hasn’t come.  Perhaps he benefited from Ware’s presence more than we imagined, but he was even sub-par against the run early in the season.  He’s picked that part of his game up of late.

  • OLB Victor Butler: C+

For the most part, I’ve liked what I’ve seen out of Butler.  He’s become a better run defender, although that part of his game still needs work.  His natural pass-rushing ability is obvious.

  • ILB Bradie James:  B-

James is again having a solid season, although his numbers may not be as eye-popping as usual.  For his size, he’s been decent in coverage.  He blitzed a ton when Wade Phillips was still in town, which doesn’t seem to fit his skill set well.  I think Paul Pasqualoni has used him better in the past two games.

  • ILB Sean Lee:  C

Lee’s sample size of plays isn’t enormous, but there has been improvement.  He played well last week, showing good range, leverage, and improved strength inside.

  • ILB Keith Brooking:  D-

I love Brooking’s attitude, but the end appears near.  I think the Cowboys should be starting Lee already, as Brooking has looked lost out there.  At worst, he needs to be off of the field in all nickel situations.

  • S Gerald Sensabaugh:  C-

Sensabaugh is the definition of a role player: doesn’t make a ton of glaring mistakes, but doesn’t make many plays of his own either.  He needs to tackle better.

  • S Alan Ball:  D+

We saw signs of life from Ball two weeks ago, but his season overall has been poor.  He doesn’t drive well on the football and takes horrible pursuit angles.

  • S Barry Church:  B-

No one seems to talk about it, but Church has done well as a nickel linebacker.  Let’s not forget he’s an undrafted rookie playing an entirely new position.  I think he has potential for Dallas at his normal safety spot.

  • CB Terence Newman:  B-

Newman started off the year quite well but has regressed in the past few weeks.  He’s never had the best ball skills, but recently he’s shown poor technique as well.

  • CB Mike Jenkins: C

Jenkins has been a scapegoat for the Dallas defense, but he hasn’t been that bad.  His mistakes are magnified because they often deal with effort, which is a big no-no.  It appears he’s beginning to regain his confidence.

  • CB Orlando Scandrick: C

Scandrick is so difficult to grade because when he’s been good, he’s been really good, but when he’s been bad, it’s been awful.  It’s my opinion that he plays much better outside than in the slot.

  • CB Bryan McCann:  B

This grade is simply because it’s obvious the kid has playmaking ability.  He clearly hasn’t received enough snaps for me to grade him as a cornerback, but the future looks bright.

Special Teams

  • P Mat McBriar: A-

Another Pro Bowl-caliber year.

  • K David Buehler:  D-

This is a major problem for Dallas and it needs to be fixed.  If the Cowboys win a few more games here to give them any shot at making the playoffs, Buehler’s got to go.  His kickoff distance no longer justifies a roster spot.

Awards

Offensive MVP: Dez Bryant

Bryant is a classic example of why you draft the best available football player.  He’s going to be one of the league’s top players for years and a Hall of Famer.  Yeah, I said it.

Defensive MVP:  DeMarcus Ware

Despite recent flack, Ware has again been the Cowboys’ rock on defense.  He’s on pace for 14 sacks and makes everyone around him better.

Breakout Player:  Bryan McCann

Dez Bryant is the obvious choice but we knew he’s be sensational.  McCann was stupidly released by Dallas in training camp, and they’re extremely lucky to have him back.  He can compete for a spot in nickel packages next year.

Top Disappointment:  Mike Jenkins

Felix Jones, Marc Colombo, Anthony Spencer, and Alan Ball are all close runner-ups.  Like I said above, Jenkins hasn’t been that bad, but the fastest way to alienate a fan base is to give up.  He’s the biggest disappointment to me because of his lack of effort and high preseason expectations (Jones, Colombo, and Ball were never expected to be Pro Bowl players).

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By Jonathan Bales

Week 12 NFL Power Rankings: Top Eight Teams All Survive

Biggest Risers: Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins (Six spots)

Biggest Faller: Oakland Raiders (Six spots)

————————-

1. New York Jets (8-2); Last Week- 1

What a ridiculous game for the Jets.  It was huge for Mark Sanzhez’s confidence and the confidence of his teammates in him.

2. Atlanta Falcons (8-2); Last Week- 2

The more I watch the Falcons, the more I see a legitimate Super Bowel contender.  How will anyone beat them at home in the playoffs?

3. New England Patriots (8-2); Last Week- 3

Only the Patriots seem to be able to confuse Peyton Manning.

4. Green Bay Packers (7-3); Last Week- 4

This was domination, and I have Aaron Rodgers and Greg Jennings on my fantasy team.  I had 229 points this week.  That’s not a misprint.

5. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-3); Last Week- 5

The Steelers’ main concern now should be securing home field advantage, or at least a first-round bye.

6. New Orleans Saints (7-3); Last Week- 6

Fairly easy win over Seahawks for the Saints before their arrival in Big D.  It’s too bad New Orleans didn’t play that one in Seattle.

7. Philadelphia Eagles (7-3); Last Week- 7

Are the Eagles the best team in the NFC?  If Michael Vick is playing well, then yes.  They can hurt you in so many ways on offense.

8. Baltimore Ravens (7-3); Last Week- 8

Really tough game for the Ravens against a quarterback who is now 18-1 at home in his career.

9. San Diego Chargers (5-5); Last Week- 12

How much parody is there in the NFL?  I have the 5-5 Chargers as the league’s ninth-best squad.

10. Indianapolis Colts (6-4); Last Week- 9

Peyton rallied the troops for a magnificent comeback in New England, but it wasn’t enough.  Could Indy miss the postseason?

11. New York Giants (6-4); Last Week- 10

The G-Men are now riding a two-game losing streak and are in danger of sliding out of the playoff picture.

12. Tampa Bay Bucs (7-3); Last Week- 14

The Bucs are a tough matchup for many teams because their defense is playing so well.

13. Chicago Bears (7-3); Last Week- 15

The Bears are a .500 football team at best who just happens to have won two “extra” games.

14. Kansas City Chiefs (6-4); Last Week- 17

If the Cowboys played in the AFC West, they’d be just three games out of first place.  If they played in the NFC West, it would be just two.

15. Jacksonville Jaguars (6-4); Last Week- 18

The Jags are on a three-game win streak for the first time in awhile.  Hopefully they can beat the Giants next week.

16. Oakland Raiders (5-5); Last Week- 11

I thought Oakland would want to show the world they’re for real against Pittsburgh, but they laid an egg.

17. Miami Dolphins (5-5); Last Week- 13

Anyone who wants evidence that the Parcells/Sporano old-school approach doesn’t work anymore just needs to watch the Dolphins for one game.

18. Tennessee Titans (5-5); Last Week- 16

It would have been nice if the Titans could have taken down the ‘Skins, but they’re still one-dimensional.

19. Washington Redskins (5-5); Last Week- 25

I still have a glimmer of hope that Dallas can sneak into the playoffs at 9-7, but they need the Redskins to lose close games.

20. Dallas Cowboys (3-7); Last Week- 26

The Cowboys are at least giving fans a reason to be excited for the Thanksgiving game.

21. Seattle Seahawks (5-5); Last Week- 19

You’re looking at a team with sole possession of first place in their division.

22. Houston Texans (4-6); Last Week- 20

I’ll admit I watched the Texans-Jets game a bit after the Cowboys’ game ended, only to walk away after the Texans secured a late interception.  What the hell happened?

23. San Francisco 49ers (3-7); Last Week- 21

For those who think the Cowboys need a “mean” coach, look at the Niners.  They have one, and they’re awful.

24. Minnesota Vikings (3-7); Last Week- 22

My quote from last week is still relevant:  ”A couple Vikings players said they wouldn’t ‘give up like Dallas.’  They were right.  They were still themselves as they gave up.”

25. St. Louis Rams (4-6); Last Week- 23

The Rams are one the right track, but they’re still a bit away from being a true division contender.

26. Cleveland Browns (3-7); Last Week- 24

I’m not sure how this team beat the Patriots.

27. Arizona Cardinals (3-7); Last Week- 27

How does a team this bad have the same record as Dallas?

28. Cincinnati Bengals (2-8); Last Week- 28

T.O.’s big numbers could come to a halt on Thursday as Darrelle Revis plans to shadow him.

29. Buffalo Bills (2-8); Last Week 30

The Bills could be 5-5 if they had a few breaks go their way earlier in the season.

30. Denver Broncos (3-7); Last Week- 29

Josh McDaniels is just an a**hole. . .still true from last week.

31. Detroit Lions (2-8); Last Week- 31

Why do the Lions always seem to be improving everywhere except in the win column?

32. Carolina Panthers (1-9); Last Week- 32

The Panthers hung in there against Baltimore and only lost by 24.

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys vs. Detroit Lions Week 11 Post-Film Study Observations: What We Learned About Dallas

Jonathan Bales

I posted a lot of interesting notes on the Cowboys-Lions game last night, and below are some observations and statistics I gathered after reviewing the game film. . .

  • Dallas ran 12 red zone plays: seven runs for 27 yards and five passes for four yards (including a sack for -8 yards) and two touchdowns.  I’ve loved Jason Garrett’s red zone play-calling thus far in 2010.  Awhile back, I suggested that he call more passes between the opponent’s 10 and 20-yard lines, and more runs inside the 10-yard line (particularly on 1st down).  He’s doing just that this season, and it’s working well.

  • You may have noticed the Cowboys have run a lot less three-receiver sets of late.  Last week, they implemented only 14, and this week it was only 16.  This decrease is due to a variety of factors, not the least of which is an attempt to provide protection for Jon Kitna.  Martellus Bennett is a tremendous blocker (better than even Marc Colombo, I’d say), and his receiving skills force defenses to honor him in the passing game.
  • Part of the decrease in three (and four) receiver formations is also due to Dez Bryant’s presence in base personnel packages.  He’s earned the right to be on the field for the majority of snaps, and now Garrett isn’t forced to put three receivers on the field to get Bryant involved.  I’m not afraid to admit I have a bit of a man-crush on him.
  • The lack of receivers has also resulted in less Shotgun snaps (or perhaps vice versa).  Through Week 10, the Cowboys were in Shotgun on a ridiculous 47.3 percent of all snaps.  This week, however, Dallas used Shotgun on only 13 of 54 offensive plays (24.1 percent).  This comes just a week after using Shotgun at the same rate in their win over the Giants.  Garrett must have recently realized how much more successful Kitna is under center as opposed to in Shotgun.
  • The Cowboys motioned 16 times, including on 10 of the first 18 plays.  They gained only 85 total yards on the 16 plays (5.31 yards-per-play).
  • Kitna checked out of three plays on Sunday.  All of them were passes and they totaled four yards.  That sounds poor, but two of them were touchdowns (Bryant’s touchdown and Austin’s first touchdown).
  • In my notes from yesterday, I mentioned I liked a play that didn’t work for Dallas.  They had lined Marion Barber up at fullback and motioned Felix Jones to tailback from the slot (in my notes I mistakingly said it was Bryant).  When they’ve done this in the past, they’ve usually handed the ball to Barber on a dive.  When that doesn’t happen, they’ll pitch it out to Jones.  Well, they faked both this week, and may have found themselves another touchdown had Jason Witten and Marc Colombo blocked better.  Both guys whiffed on their defender (the same guy, I might add).
  • Speaking of Colombo–he was absolutely horrible.  I knew he was bad, but after I reviewed the film, I realized he was even worse than I thought.  I credited him with yielding 1.5 sacks, and he also got nailed for a false start and a holding penalty.  I think it is time for Sam Young.
  • Kitna has spread the ball around quite well since becoming the starter (in terms of placement of passes).  Take a look at the distribution below:

  • You can see that the distribution of throws for Kitna has been nearly identical to the left, middle, and right portions of the field.  You can also see that he’s been incredibly accurate over the middle of the field, while the highest percentage of his ‘off-target’ passes have come when throwing to the right side of the field.  Compare these numbers to those of Romo in 2009:

  • Kitna has obviously been more erratic this season than Romo was in 2009, but not bad for a backup.  By the way, Kitna threw a season-low four off-target passes on Sunday against the Lions.
  • The Cowboys ran four draws for 44 yards, but they all came late in the contest.
  • The ‘Boys ran quite a few playaction passes throughout the game (eight), and I’m happy to report they threw the ball downfield following those looks.  Five of the eight passes traveled over 10 yards, and three of them went 15+.
  • It was a big screen game for Dallas as well.  They attempted six of them for 46 yards.  The targets were Jones (three times), Choice (twice), and Bryant (once).
  • Roy Williams got into the action early, hauling in two passes for 20 yards on the first drive.  He wasn’t even targeted the rest of the game, though.  Meanwhile, Chris Gronkowski was targeted three times.
  • Of the 28 times Dallas dropped back to pass, Witten was in a route on 18 of them (64.3 percent).  That’s a good rate.
  • Bryant did a really nice job of blocking on run plays.  He’s a complete player and his effort on each play is phenomenal.
  • On the 4th quarter screen pass to Jones that went for 25 yards, Kyle Kosier got away with a blatant block-in-the-back.  He missed his guy and pushed him in the back right in front of the ball, so I’m not sure how it was overlooked.
  • The naked bootleg 4th down play on which Kitna ran for a 29-yard touchdown was a thing of beauty, but I think Garrett should have saved it.  Clearly no one expects Kitna to keep the ball, particularly from a formation (Double Tight I) in which the Cowboys nearly always hand the ball off to the running back.  Perhaps Garrett didn’t have as much confidence in it at the time, but it sure would be nice to have that play in your back pocket for a crucial 4th down play in the future.
  • I’m not understanding why the last two teams the ‘Boys have played have decided not to blitz them much.  The Giants sat back and let Kitna pick them apart last week, and the Lions did basically the same today.  I counted only 12 blitzes all day from Detroit.  They did disguise them well, showing blitz pre-snap on only three of those 12 plays, but you’d think teams would recognize the Cowboys’ offensive line has trouble against blitzes, stunts, and twists and react accordingly.

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