The DC Times

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

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys vs. Saints Thanksgiving Day Initial Post-Game Observations

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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?
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9 Responses to Cowboys vs. Saints Thanksgiving Day Initial Post-Game Observations

  1. Mark Watkins says:

    Man, that one hurt. I was watching it with my father-in-law and he was rooting for the Saints, which made it even tougher to take. I thought they had the game in the bag when Roy made that catch, only to see it get stripped. I still thought they would come back with the time they had. I didn’t like JG’s play calling on that last drive. I thought they should have done a little screen or something in the middle of the field instead of low percentage passes to the outside. Very disappointing!

  2. JJ says:

    Jonathan- I was anxious to view your initial remarks. I’ll skip the 4th down decisions by Garrett and the fumble but a few things for you and others digestion and comment:

    It seems that we now look at the Cowboys similar how we did in the days of 5-11 and are just thrilled they are in the game which I was impressed, by the way, they were able to do down 17.

    I was happy to see that a few guys took responsibility…Buehler (although he had a great game and I think you should reconsider his grade), Newman and Williams all “manned up.”

    The Oline is still poor to me but they have moments (although Colombo still looks awful) and are extremely erratic but they do have moments.

    I cannot get away from our poor defensive play. Our safeties cannot cover and in his post game comments, Brees said they burned Newman because the Cowboys had not changed their coverage for a while and the Saints suspected the same coverage would be there. Yes, Brees is outstanding but that play cannot happen. I like JG and he may be a great HC but I really think he needs to persuade someone like Capers to lead the D and rebuild the defense. Start the foundation with Ware, Ratliff, James (although I wish he didn’t have to cover) and, yes, Jenkins and find football playing studs. The standard needs to be championship caliber and if someone like Newman, Spencer, etc. is just a guy at their position, find someone else. I simply cannot understand how we receive so few “big” plays from DEs, Spencer and the safeties….it’s as though 3/4 of the defense is just present….Hatcher and Bowen have proven to me they are capable backups but the Cowboys need two new starting DEs, a replacement for Brooking, 2 new safeties (maybe Newman is one of them) and a new starting CB. And, IMO, coupled with a need for a new RT and RG, you can see what the Cowboys are not what they seemed to be.

    The D was fortunate on some occasions but they are getting sliced by Julius Jones for 4-5 yards on first down and then seemingly at the mercy at Brees when he decided he “needed” to score. I was so excited that Ratliff actually had a sack I almost soiled myself.

    I think it makes JG’s efforts over the last 3 games more impressive. He’s going to get everything out of these guys but I submit that our D scares no one and our offense has to almost be turnover free and putting quite a few points on the board to win.

  3. Mark–I should have written the same in my notes. . .the play-calling once the Cowboys crossed into Saints territory was horrendous. With just under a minute and two timeouts, get the ball down the middle of the field. There was no reason to alter the strategy, at least not to the extent which they did.

    JJ–I didn’t see that comment about Newman but that is extremely interesting. If true, that’s a big mistake from Pasqualoni. I did notice the Cowboys because much more tentative towards the end of the game. With almost three minutes left, however, they have to realize Drew Brees has more than enough time to strike. There’s no reason to change the play-calling in that situation. Be aggressive and live with the results. It isn’t like there was 45 seconds on the clock.

  4. moses says:

    I saw a lot of problems from the defensive side of the ball.
    When they advertised blitz, they came through the hole that they were in. Rarely did they twist to create space for the rushers. When they did they got to Brees.
    On the last NO drive, the Cowboys went semi aggressive. They committed to a rush but did not do anything to get Ware free. This left the CBs on an island and we got burned. Has the defense just stagnated? They are not creating pressure and leaving the secondary vulnerable

    Another issue. Everyone praises Garrett and the game that he called. I thought that he did an average job. To be at the goal line twice and not play to the team’s strengths is inexcusable! I don’t mind the decision to go for it on 4th down but to call a stumble play into the teeth of the defense when they are committing everyone to a gap is just stupid!!! If he cannot think beyond that or at least have an audible call out of the dive is just outrageous.

  5. john coleman says:

    I caught the game in the mid 3rd quarter and thought we looked pretty good. Judging from comments here I missed most of the bad stuff. I have to admit though that this loss was much easier to take than some of the earlier ones. I agree that Roy has to know the GAME SITUATION. On the other hand hea had a good night. Witten also had a big night, which I think is generally not good. Maybe the same in Roy’s case as well. Why? That usually means Miles and/or Dez didn’t. The sting is lessened by the fact that we came back from 17 down and really won the game. If Roy falls down after gaing 20 yds, it’s game over. He was trying to score though and that would have been game over as well. I like the fact that he manned up, but it is the defense that is clearly the problem. The CB play is not good and the safety play is worse. However before I play the blame game let me say the passrush continues to be lackluster. Spencer is NONEXISTANT, and has been all year. He might be a good candidate for trade bait. Or is it a hangover from Wade? He definitely has me wondering what has happened? After last years second half I was expecting big things. From what I saw of the game the ILBs were a little better than most of the year. I missed Gurode’s antics, so I will with hold comment. The way I see it we need some beef inside on both sides of the ball. I would like to see a true NT like Phil Taylor or Kenrick Ellis. I’m talking a 6-3 to 6-6 340 to 350 pounder. Move Rat to DE and let Brent rotate at NT/DE. Let Lissemore and Hatcher at this point be the other DEs. It’s time now for some lineup changes like Young at RT and Costa at C. Move Gurode to OG for some plays and let’s see what we have. It’s time for Church and or McCray to play as well. With the remaining games we need to see what we have and start preparing for the draft. I also have to give Buehler a little love. Not many guys can make from 59 yds and it had a chance. Plus the kickoffs were back on. I’m thinking the focus on directional kicking has been the problem. To be completely honest, I’m looking for a good draft slot. I would like to whip Philly at least once.

  6. Moses–I’ve liked Garrett’s red zone play-calling for the most part this season, but his short-yardage calls have generally been awful. I know you want to have confidence in your line, but running predictable plays lowers the potential success rate. I’m so tired of seeing the same strong side dive out of the same formations. Line up in spread, running a weak side power, motion away from the play, run a bootleg..SOMETHING other than what we all know is coming.

    John–I don’t think it’s time to trade Spencer. He clearly has the POTENTIAL to be really good, but something isn’t clicking. His value is down now, and I think the reward of a trade isn’t worth the risk of letting him go. I do think Butler is ready for a bigger role, though. Doesn’t it seem like he’s just got “it”? He’s a playmaker. If he’s given a legitimate shot next season, I think his run defense is so much improved that he can compete for a starting spot. I really like him.

    You’re right that the ILBs played better..I still haven’t watched the film, but it was obvious they did really well.

  7. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    I disagree w/ Roy Williams fumble being a killer. Had it happened in the 3rd qtr or at any other time, it would have been just another bonehead play like the rest of the bonehead plays we saw. I realize that it did occur at the end of the game and a guy like Roy should no better.

    That’s the same as saying that a last minute miss at the buzzer (in basketball) lost the game. THAT IS NEVER TRUE. Last minute turnovers and/or missed field goals never lose the game, they just don’t WIN the game.

    But, the Cowboys showed a lot to me in the loss. Let’s be honest, they SHOULD have lost. The Saints are a better team than the Cowboys. The Cowboys have more talent in skill positions than probably every other team in the league but the team play is what is lacking.

    I do agree w/ leaving Romo out. In fact, I actually think Kitna is more accurate than Romo at this point. Romo has always struggled to hit guys in stride and consistently threw behind receivers on crossing/slant routes. Kitna, at one point, hit Jason Witten in the head as he wasn’t looking for the pass (earlier game). Romo can learn from Kitna.

    TC is a better back than MBIII. Let me reiterate that – Tashard Choice is a better back than MBIII. Period.

    The Boys need to find an answer ILB, FS, CBx2, FB and, of course, OLx3-4. That’s more players than draft pics for next year and w/ a mid round placement (if the Boys go 6-10, they’ll probably have a 8th-14th sitting), they don’t look like they’ll be getting anyone who can help out NEXT year except for OL. Steve Wiesnewski (C-OG) comes to mind as well as Anthony Costanzo (OT), Rahim Moore (FS) and Stanley Havilii (FB). The FB pickup in the 3rd round means you can cut MBII and not have to draft another RB (just carry 2 RBs and 2 FBs – Havilii doubles as an RB and has had TD runs of 50+ yards already).

    Again, since the Boys aren’t going to make the playoffs, the rest of the season should be no more than prepping guys for next season.

  8. Tyrone…there’s an enormous difference between Roy’s fumble and a 3rd quarter fumble or missed shot at the buzzer. The game situation dictated that Roy worry about NOTHING except protecting the football. In the 3rd quarter, his goal would have been to score. In basketball, the goal of a buzzer-beater is still the same as in the 3rd quarter–your technique doesn’t change. . .you still have to make the shot.

    Instead, I would say Roy’s fumble is analogous to a basketball player on a fast break laying the ball into the basket with two seconds left and his team up by one point. In that situation, his goal should be to run out the clock since he’s all alone. Laying the ball into the basket only gives the opposing team a chance to tie the game. It’s totally different than a buzzer-beater or 3rd quarter shot. Similarly, Roy’s mindset should have been to hold onto the ball at all costs due to the game situation. It was nothing like a 3rd quarter play.

    I’d agree that Kitna is more accurate than Romo in traditional drop-back situations. He’s been sensational, really.

  9. Pingback: Cowboys vs. New Orleans Saints Film Study Observations: What We Learned About Dallas | Dallas Cowboys Times

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