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

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys vs. Colts Week 13: What We Learned About Dallas

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Jonathan Bales

DO stay in a nickel defense (or even dime) at all times.

Result: Pass, kind of

The Cowboys came out with their nickel defensive line (a forty front), using DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer as defensive ends and Jay Ratliff and Igor Olshansky/Jason Hatcher/Stephen Bowen/Josh Brent as defensive tackles.  The plan seemed to confuse Indy a bit early, as they likely anticipated the Cowboys’ usual three-man front.

Sean Lee also got a lot more playing time than usual, which clearly paid off.  If I said there’s zero chance Keith Brooking would have made the interceptions Lee did, it would be too much.

DON’T respect the running game or playaction fakes.

Result: Pass

The Colts showed the Cowboys a playaction fake quite a few times, but there was really no reason for the linebackers to respect the run.  Indy ran the ball 17 times for only 40 yards.  I specifically watched the Dallas linebackers’ pass drops late in the game, and for the most part, they remained steady even while Peyton Manning was faking handoffs.

DO focus attention on Reggie Wayne.

Result: Pass

Alan Ball’s early interception was a clue that Dallas was rolling coverage to Wayne’s side of the field.  The Cowboys were in Cover 1 on the play, meaning Ball didn’t have a specific responsibility–he was free to read Manning’s eyes and roam the field.  While Ball made a hell of a play, I doubt he would have made it without shading Wayne’s side before the snap.

Ball was placed over top of Wayne for much of the game, and Dallas seemed content to let him catch balls underneath (specifically on quick screens and ‘in’ routes), but made sure to limit his big-play potential.

DON’T blitz too often early, but do disguise your intentions.

Result: Pass

Like I said, the Cowboys gave the Colts a look they weren’t expecting with their frequent four-man defensive line.  When they did implement only three down-linemen, one of the outside linebackers moved to a middle linebacker spot and either rushed from there or dropped into coverage.

Manning and the Colts eventually figured out how to move the ball on Dallas, but the early confusion Dallas instilled in Indy was enough for the ‘Boys to come out with the win.

Still, I want to see more unique looks out of the Cowboys defense.  Did you see the Steelers and their “Amoeba” defense on Sunday night?  Why can’t the Cowboys be innovators instead of followers?

DO hit Peyton Manning whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Result: Fail

Dallas got almost zero pressure on Manning for much of the contest.  He rarely went to the ground and generally had plenty of time to throw.  The lack of pressure speaks to the incredible play from the linebackers and secondary.  If you told me the Cowboys would intercept Manning four times (and twice return it for a touchdown) without getting in his face, I would have told you that you were nuts.

DON’T place Keith Brooking on Colts tight end Jacob Tamme.

Result: Mostly Fail

Although Sean Lee got a ton of playing time and Gerald Sensabaugh covered Tamme from time to time, Brooking also covered the tight end quite frequently.  Although strong early, Brooking eventually displayed poor hips and zero ability to break down in space.  It’s time to start Lee.

DO twist the defensive ends to create some sort of pressure.

Result: Fail, sort of

I didn’t see any twists from Dallas, but they did something similar in their three-man fronts.  As I said before, one of the outside linebackers lined up in the middle of the defense and would sort of roam around over the center and guards.  Since the offensive line couldn’t be sure from where the backer would rush (or if he would at all), the alignment sort of had the effect of a twist or stunt in that it forced the offensive linemen to respect the potential rush of more than one defender.

DO realize the Colts love to run behind tight end Brody Eldridge, not Tamme.

Result: Pass

I can’t be sure of this, of course, but the Colts’ 2.35 yards-per-rush showed that Dallas was able to sufficiently stop the running game, allowing the linebackers and safeties to focus solely on defending the pass.

DO run a lot of double-tight sets to aid Doug Free and Marc Colombo (specifically the latter) against Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.

Result: Pass

The Cowboys ran a lot of double-tight sets (25) and packages with two tight ends (50).  However, nine of the double-tight plays were runs from “Double Tight Left/Right I.”

Garrett made up for that by using both Witten and Bennett to chip the defensive ends out of a variety of formations, including the new “Gun 5 Wide Tight.”

DO take some shots deep.

Result: Fail

As I mentioned in my film study observations:

Of Kitna’s 26 pass attempts, only nine traveled 10+ yards, and four went 20 yards or more.  Of the former, Kitna completed only three for 34 total yards.  The Colts played much more of their usual Cover 2 scheme than I expected, particularly early, so Kitna simply took what the defense was giving him.

DON’T punt on 4th down in Indianapolis territory unless it is 4th and 10+.

Result:  Fail

The Cowboys made mistakes by punting on 4th and 1 at midfield and  kicking a field goal on 4th and 1 at the Colts’ 12-yard line.  They also decided to kick a field goal on 4th and goal inside the Colts’ two-yard line before the end of regulation, but were bailed out by an Indianapolis penalty.

DO duplicate the Chargers’ game plan from last week.

Result: Pass

In my pre-game article, I wrote:

Last week, you saw a lot of different looks from the Chargers defense.  They did the unthinkable:  confuse Peyton Manning.  A staple of their game plan was the zone blitz–something I think Dallas needs to utilize a lot more.  Zone blitzes this week could trick Manning into thinking more defenders are rushing than is actually the case, forcing him to mistakenly “throw hot” into the waiting arms of a Cowboy.

On offense, San Diego ran the ball a lot more than usual.  It’s no secret that Indy loves to draft “undersized” defensive players who can defend the pass.  This leaves them susceptible to getting overpowered in the run game.  If Dallas can run the ball effectively early (and there’s no reason they shouldn’t be able to), it will set up big play opportunities later in the contest.

The ‘Boys didn’t zone blitz much (which needs to change), but they did throw some different looks at Manning.  They also ran the ball much more often than usual, and it clearly paid off.

DO be physical early and often–this team doesn’t respond well to getting punched in the mouth.

Result: Pass

The Cowboys blew the Colts off of the ball early, running the rock on 15 of the first 20 plays.  They gained 86 yards on those plays (5.73 yards-per-carry).

DON’T run a strong side dive from “Double Tight Strong,” unless it is in short-yardage situations.

Result: Fail

Nine strong side dives from the 10 times they lined up in the formation?  Only three of those in short-yardage situations?  Five strong side dives from “Double Tight Left/Right I” on 1st and 10?  A 2.44 yards-per-attempt average on the nine runs?  Gigantic fail.

DON’T use Shotgun much unless in hurry-up mode.

Result: Pass

Dallas lined up in Shotgun on only 19 plays (25.7 percent of all snaps).  Plus, the ‘Boys were lined up in “Gun 5 Wide Tight” on 11 of those plays, meaning the tight ends were still in position to chip the Colts’ defensive ends even in most of the Shotgun snaps.

DO give Tashard Choice all short-yardage and 3rd down snaps, at least.

Result: Pass

Choice received all but one 3rd down snap and all but one short-yardage snap (three yards-to-go or less), and they were the same play.  Altogether, Choice was on the field for 29 snaps, and he certainly capitalized on his first significant activity of the season.

Overall Results

I’ll give the Cowboys 10 passes and 6 fails.  They did a really nice job of fighting back, displaying the heart they didn’t always show during the Phillips era.  That’s particularly impressive considering the team knows they’re out of the playoff hunt.  There is always something for which to play, however, and as long as these players remember that and continue to fight, they’ll be fine moving forward into 2011.

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7 Responses to Cowboys vs. Colts Week 13: What We Learned About Dallas

  1. johncoleman says:

    This is not a Cowboys comment but still worth saying. As you mentioned San Diego gave the blueprint and we followed up with similar success. I say the Colts are in big trouble unless they can find a running game quick, fast, and in a hurry. It kind of reminds me of our own offense and Romo’s issues when the running game is nul and void. It is simply a lot to ask for a guy to win every game for you without being able to run. If it can be done to Peyton Manning it can be done to anybody. I am still concerned with our defense, specifically the lack of a passrush. Spencer has sure made me miss Greg Ellis. His lack of production is really causing problems on the field and will later(draft time). It’s a shame to have to draft a position we thought was solid. If his play continues as it is I would seriously consider a trade. The DE position is causing the exact same problem. I would love to see us get a couple of true widebody NTs and move Rat and Brent to DE. Then coach up Lissemore and keep one of the three incumbent free agents. Cut Olshansky and the other two incumbents.

  2. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    Let’s talk about Anthony Spencer. According to NFL.com he has 46 tackles combined (2 less the D Ware) and 3 sacks. That places him 76th in the league in tackles among LBs and tied for 30th for sacks among LBs. That’s really about average – not good but not bad either. Now, considering that D Ware draws more double teams than Spencer and teams often don’t run to D Ware’s side (if they do they run inside the tackle expecting D Ware to rush outside), you would think that Spencer’s tackle #s should be slightly higher. But, you also need to consider that most teams RTs are better run blockers than LTs. Overall, I’d say Spencer is about average and really shouldn’t be a concern.

    ILB is a concern. Bradie James is solid. Brooking is OK vs. the run and horrible vs. the pass. I’m not sure Sean Lee is the answer just yet besides his 2 INTs this past week but he is a rookie and has been injured. I’d give him the benefit of the doubt still.

    CB shouldn’t be a concern but is – primarily for Terrence Newman. He’s a solid corner but has games where it seems he’s off his game and let’s people get open too often. I think this is due to his age – he will have to be replaced soon and I doubt Scandrick is the answer. I’d much rather see Akwasi Oasu-Ansah, McCann or move Alan Ball back to CB for next year.

    Which leads to the Safety position. I’m still not sure Dallas knows what to do w/ our safeties. Take for instance Roy Williams and Ken Hamlin. Both were VERY good safeties at one point in their career. They got to Dallas and stayed there a couple of years under Wade Phillips and became average to marginal. I think Ball and Sensabaugh could both end up being fairly solid if the right scheme were used.

    Lastly is the D Line. Yes, DE is an issue and LUCKILY, there are a plethora of good ones coming up in the draft. The only thing is, there are a lot of 1st rounders and late rounders – not too many are projected to be above average and get picked up in the 2nd-3rd round. Thus the value isn’t there and the risk of a bust in the 1st round is high.

    If you look at the Cowboys and think that every person will come back next year, which positions are likely to have starters who aren’t very good? That’s the O and D line (minus a few exceptions like Ratliff). If a DE is picked up in the 1st round, then a good OG or C could be picked up in the 2nd.

    Lastly, I think we need to go ahead and spend a 4th round pick on a FB. Gronkowski was serviceable but not really impressive. But, w/ 2 FBs on the team, one of which can serve as a big RB when needed (like Savili of USC), then you can cut MBIII and use a 2 back system w/ your 2nd FB as your 3rd RB (and special teamer).

    The CB/FS position either needs to be addressed in free agency or with the 3rd round pick.

  3. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    Just realized something…

    Da’Quan Bowers (DE – Clemson) won the 2010 Bronco Nagurski Award for the nation’s best NCAA defensive player. He beat out Auburn’s DT Nick Fairley (who is a BEAST), Justin Housont, LB from Georgia, LB Luke Kuechly from Boston College and Patrick Peterson, the CB from LSU.

    Dallas would be marketably better on defense w/ ANY of these 5 guys on their team next year and there’s a strong possibility since so many teams worse than Dallas need offensive help.

  4. I wouldn’t trade Spencer now. The value would be terrible, and we at least know he’s capable of really good things. Right now, look at him as a third-year guy that has the potential to be great, but something needs to click. You don’t want to trade that–at least not until he starts playing better.

    I don’t think Dallas needs to address OLB early in the draft. Butler has shown me enough for me to believe he deserves an opportunity to compete for the starting gig.

    I think the biggest issue is DE. I know 3-4 DEs will never be stars, but the Cowboys have to find someone who can get SOME pressure to help out Spencer and Ware. Until then, Spencer probably won’t be able to create his own sacks.

    Tyrone–Of the guys you mentioned, I’d love to see Fairley in D. PP might be the best player, but I think he’ll go before Dallas selects.

  5. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    Mr Bales, I would agree that Fairley will probably be avail and both PP and DB will be gone by the time the Boys pick.

    On another note, I noticed that the Boys just signed Kenwin Cummings (ILB) off the Jets practice squad. W/ Lee and Brooking hurt, they’ve added some depth. I wonder who will start if both Lee and Brooking can’t go – Leon Williams or Cummings (seeing as how Hodge and Jason Williams are gone) and Butler and Brandon Williams are OLBs…

    Any thoughts?

  6. If both can’t go, I would imagine Leon Williams will start aside James.

  7. Vince Grey says:

    Most of my anger issues with this game came from the defense and special teams.

    Where was Ware? In this game he was mostly getting owned by the Colt’s #74, who controlled D Ware for most of the game with no help. Of course, the rest of the defense couldn’t get any real pressure either, and when they did, it was from the outside and all Manning had to do was step up and he was clean to throw. Bane of the 3-4: No inside pressure without massive blitzing.

    I know this is PEYTON MANNING but give me a break. The guy has ZERO running game and just one receiver of note. Thank God he only had Reggie Wayne and not Clark and his other regulars as well or he would have thrown for 500 yards.

    The last two weeks in late game situations our defense has crumpled like a paper cup against a tank.

    The ONLY thing that saved us were the picks, which once again confirms my belief that NFL teams with top QB’s will find a way to score much of the time and you MUST get turnovers to win.

    Still, our pass rush was terrible. Just rancid, especially considering the other team couldn’t run the ball at all.

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