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Cowboys vs. Indianapolis Colts Week 13 Initial Post-Game Observations

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Jonathan Bales

What a nerve-racking and heart-pounding game for Dallas this week in Indianpolis.  The ‘Boys were able to overcome a multitude of mistakes to take down Peyton Manning and the Colts, due in large part to their four interceptions of the All-World quarterback.  I will break down the game film tomorrow, but take a look at my initial thoughts below. . .

  • Sean Lee was a beast today.  He picked off Manning twice and made a lot of other plays, specifically in the passing game.  He can thank Mike Jenkins for his second pick, but the first was a tremendous play by the rookie in what appeared to be Cover 2.  It’s clear to me that Lee now deserves the opportunity to start over Keith Brooking.

  • Brooking was awful once again today.  There are times when he can stick with guys in coverage, but the consistency just isn’t there.  Too often he’s getting turned around and beaten in space.
  • Dez Bryant has a fractured ankle, and his season is over.  It’s a big blow to this offense, but at least it didn’t happen in a season during which the team held playoff hopes.
  • Tashard Choice’s early score was sick.  The burst he showed is incomparable to that of Marion Barber, and comparing the two is disrespectful to Choice.  I truly believe Barber would have been tackled for a loss on that play because, unlike Choice, he dances in the backfield way, way too much.  By the way, the move Choice made at the five-yard line to juke two defenders was nasty.
  • You may have noticed the Cowboys used a four-man line for the majority of the game.  It was their nickel defensive line–DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer/Victor Butler at defensive ends, and a combination of the regular defensive ends and nose tackles at defensive tackle.  Jay Ratliff was on the field for most of the game, but Igor Olshansky, Josh Brent, Jason Hatcher, and Stephen Bowen all rotated at the other defensive tackle spot.
  • When the ‘Boys weren’t in a forty-front (four-man line), they didn’t line up in their traditional defense.  Instead of placing two outside linebackers on the edges of the defensive line, the Cowboys used one of the outside linebackers in a more traditional middle linebacker spot.  That player (usually Butler or Spencer) would either rush up the middle or drop into coverage.
  • That look gave Indy some trouble early, but I think Manning and the Colts got used to it by the end of the game.  Dallas got very little pass rush late in the contest, and I thought they should have switched up their scheme.  It was a nice job to give Manning a look he wasn’t expecting, but you have to constantly adjust, because you know he will be doing the same.
  • Manning took the Colts into a true no-huddle hurry-up offense for almost the entire game (as opposed to their usual “muddle huddle”) in an effort to keep Dallas from switching personnel.  I think Manning liked the idea of Brooking on the field against any of the Colts’ skill position players.
  • On Manning’s first interception, the Cowboys were in Cover 1.  That’s man coverage with a free safety deep.  It was obvious that Alan Ball was instructed to shade Reggie Wayne’s side heavily, and he did a fair job of doing that.  On that pick, Manning forced the ball to Wayne and Ball did a nice job of reading the quarterback and making a play.
  • On the Cowboys’ second drive, Jon Kitna checked into a draw play on 3rd and 5 in Colts territory.  The Cowboys converted and I loved the decision by the veteran quarterback.
  • On that same drive, Jason Garrett bypassed a 4th and 1 attempt at the Colts’ 12-yard line for a field goal.  Later in the game, the Cowboys punted on 4th and less than a yard at midfield.  They should have gone for it on both occasions, and the statistics bear that out.  Factor in their record, and the decision to be more aggressive becomes a no-brainer to me.
  • I think Orlando Scandrick’s pick-six was the result of film study.  The Colts love to run combination routes with the inside receiver running an ‘out’ or ‘corner’ route.  Scandrick sat on the route and then used his athleticism and instincts to secure the interception and take it for six.
  • I have major issues with Garrett’s play-calling and clock management at the end of the half and game.  The Cowboys showed very little urgency before haltime this week and wasted precious seconds before using their timeouts.  The coach should know whether he will call a timeout or not before a play, not after it while the clock is running.
  • I know David Buehler made the game-winning field goal in overtime, but am I the only person that wasn’t comfortable with a 37-yard attempt?  Once Dallas was in field goal range, they ran the predictable strong side dive from “Double Tight Strong,” telling me they were content with the field goal try.  A lot of teams get ultra-conservative in these situations, but why?  You can be safe and still try to get the ball into the end zone.  When you combine Buehler’s inconsistency with the limited upside of the plays Garrett was calling, I thought settling for a field goal try in overtime was a lower percentage play than being slightly more aggressive and trying to score a touchdown.
  • Speaking of “Double Tight Strong,” the Cowboys ran a strong side dive from the formation at least six times in the 4th quarter and overtime.  Most of them came down by the goal line on their final regulation touchdown drive.  Had the offense not been bailed out by the penalty called on Indy during their field goal try, the predictability of the plays would have cost the ‘Boys the game.
  • I don’t know why teams don’t use a quarterback sneak more when they have less than a yard-to-go for a first down or touchdown.  Dallas had a 2nd and Goal from the half-yard line late in the game and threw a slant to Miles Austin.  Why not sneak the ball, then sneak the ball, then sneak the ball again?  Are you telling me you can’t gain half a yard in three tries?
  • Another major issue I have with the Cowboys’ short-yardage and goal line play-calling is that it nearly always comes out of tight formations.  Sure, you have more blockers, but you also force the offense to block more defenders.  Ever notice how much more successful the Cowboys appear to be when running the ball out of spread formations?  A study on this subject will definitely come this week.
  • I loved the call to bring out the punt unit on a 4th and short, but then line up in “Wildcat.”  It forced the Colts to burn a timeout, although I wish they hadn’t, as Dallas ended up making a mistake by punting.
  • I think I figured out why Marc Colombo is struggling.  He saves his energy during the play so that after it he can rush to the quarterback and help him up from being sacked by the guy Colombo was supposed to block.  I’m sure Kitna appreciates Colombo’s help, but I think he’d appreciate it even more if Marc didn’t get him killed five seconds prior.
  • The Cowboys left Doug Free on an island for most of the game, and he struggled to consistently block Dwight Freeney.  It’s such a difficult task to block that guy one-on-one, and Dallas always has to make sure they aid Colombo first.  There are only so many guys that can stay in to block, but I thought Garrett should have used Martellus Bennett and Jason Witten to help Free a bit more often.
  • The blocked punt appeared to be the fault of Jesse Holley.  He just whiffed on his block.
  • Most of the “offensive balance” the Cowboys have displayed in their wins has been the result of late runs that came after Dallas had already secured a lead.  That wasn’t the case today.  The ‘Boys pounded it all day long, including 14 runs on their 18-play touchdown drive near the end of regulation.  Good idea to take advantage of a very undersized defense.

More observations to come tomorrow after I break down the film. . .

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17 Responses to Cowboys vs. Indianapolis Colts Week 13 Initial Post-Game Observations

  1. JJ says:

    Jonathan-great stuff here.
    I’m thrilled with the win and the guys are playing hard for Jason but each week I feel the same way. Frankly, this is an undermanned Colts team and they almost won.

    Good news: the team played tough. What I am trying to understand:

    Who has been telling us that Sean Lee is inferior to Brooking in coverage? What? Who has been telling us that Barber is better than Choice? Is there any reason why Young can’t spot Colombo just a bit? Does Jerry thinks he’s keeping Colombo, Barber, Brooking, Igor next year? Really? If not, let’s see what you have in other players. Shelf Barber, Brooking and Romo right now and start picking up players from practice squads.

    Where is the pressure? Does Anthony Spencer have a pulse? Why do we see Freeney and other members of the Colt’s DLine create havoc but our DLiine and rushing LBs can’t seem to cause any chaos?

    I’m glad Ball got a pick but if I still think our starting safeties are below average. I’m starting to buy into your theory of moving Newman to FS.

    It’s a young man’s game in most positions although Kitna really is one tough dude. Lee, Choice, Bryant really bring an energy to the game that’s refreshing. I just hope Jerry leaves talent evaluation to someone else. I

    Regarding Buehler, I’ve said it before but as inconsistent as Buehler may be, he’s kicking the ball deep now and there are other issues to be addressed far before the kicker. The defense needs a real overhaul starting at DE, depth at ILB, two new safeties and another starting corner.

    Jonathan, your comments on Garrett’s play calling to end halves and games is spot on…a real need to improve for him. And, what you noticed on short yardage runs is astute. We seemed to be more physical up front when spread out but when bunched in…we imploded.

    Finally, maybe it’s just me but to have Felix in the game running between the tackles is a waste. He needs to lose the bulk he put on and become the speed change up back that he should be. Your work horse should be Choice…find another back next year to be your third back….if Barber returns to start or be the second back….someone will need to really explain why.

  2. willis says:

    Good points and observation Jonathan(and JJ as well).

    I’m with you guys, choice is so much better than barber. Barber’s bread and butter was running through people, he’s not the type of back that can dance around. The fact he is still the starter when healthy has to fall at the feet of Jason Garret as OC and head coach.

    I like how JG gets everyone motivated, and his play calling has been better, but there is still room for improvement. It’s really frustrating for me to call the play before it happens, ala strong side dive (thanks to your article). It’s not my job to call plays, althogh I wish it were, bu if fans can call the play before it happens you have to believe the opposing defensive coordinator can.

    I’m wondering why we don’t increase our screen game and our play-action passes. It seems like we are just beating teams straight up, which is great, but if we disguised more of our plays on both sides of the ball I believe we would get better results.

    This brings me back to JG, while I think he’s doing a good job, I’m not sold on him being the future coach of the Boys. His personell decisions are horrible, I cannot see how Marion Barber was the starter all season, even in games when Felix was playing more. It seems lie they are tip-toeing around, trying to keep people’s feelings from being hurt. A similar situation would be Dez and Roy, although that is more understandab;e because Dez is a rookie and probably does not know the offense as well as Roy. The same goes for Colombo, he really is the worst starting tackle i the league, and I don’t think it would be detrimental at all to start Young or Brewster on the right side.

    On top of this, the clock management is HORRIBLE. I truly think this belies JG’s weaknesses because clock management is really not that difficult, and I can’t understand some of his decisions, regarding this. I also can’t understand accepting penalties in certain situations(like the holding penalty you commented on in the saints game) These things worry me. For someone who has been OC for as long as JG, I would expect him to know more.

    Other thoughts –

    Jason Witten is Back! Yay!

    T.Choice had a ghreat game. It seems to me that he shows up big everytime he gets a chance.

    Sean Lee looked like a first round pick today. He layed the wood on a screen play early, then he capitalized on two game-changing interceptions. I Definately agree he’s ready to replace Brooking.

    Roy had a really good run after catch, and looked his traditional self on the two point conversion. Good game for him.

    Really suprised Mies Austin didn’t lay out for the pass in the endzone. It seems as if he has had some ncharacteristic drops this season, but knowing his work ethic I’m betting he gets squared away.

    Sorry to hear about Dez, watching him is really my favorite part about watching the Boys. You have to love his passion.

    Can’t say enough about Kitna, the guy is a true competitor. I like Romo, but seeing Kitna’s fiery spirit today made me put a new quarterback on my christmas list. I want to see someone who shows emotion like that every game. Kitna has seriously won my respect, I used to despise the guy and couldn’t get over what I thought was a lack of brainpower, but I will take his fierce spirit and gutty performances any day. Even if we had lost today, I would have been proud to see a that guy as my quarterback. He looked like a warrior, not like he was standing in line for a bus.

    I’ve often thought Ball needs to be replaced, and was pleasantly suprised by his interception. He has certainly increased his value in the last three weeks, although I’ll agree with JJ and say he still needs to be replaced soon.

    Oh and where was Spencer? JJ’s paying him, so he should be mad he didn’t show up.

  3. JJ says:

    From the real people that follow the boys in print, Jonathan is right up there in my opinion as Bob Sturm, Bryan B and just a few others seem to really assess the Cowboys with any insight so hat’s off Jonathan.

    Willis, I wish I understood what’s happend to Spencer. He reminds me of a guy who did roids in baseball and blasted the ball only to go off the juice and become average. As for Colombo, unfortunately, we don’t have much on the self in OLineman. Brewster is gone and it’s Barron who is dressed while Young waits in street clothes.

  4. Awesome comments guys. These could be articles of their own.

    JJ–While I never want anyone to get injured, I knew Barber going down could be a real positive for Dallas. I feel confident in saying that if Barber was in that game today, the Cowboys would have lost–that’s how well Choice played. You’re right on pointing out that Colombo and Brooking should be next. Sean Lee would be starting on a lot of squads already, and JG needs to show he’s not afraid to bench a vet in favor of a younger guy with more upside.

    I have no idea what has happened to Spencer. My guess is teams are paying him more attention after last year’s semi-breakout season. Plus, if I was game-planning against the Dallas D, I would focus solely on the OLBs and Ratliff. The DEs next to Spencer aren’t doing him any favors. On top of all that, despite some poor games early, Spencer does do a fine job of halting the run before flying into his pass rush.

    I definitely want to complete a study on runs out of spread/tight formations, specifically in short-yardage situations. I’ll do that and get back to you this week.

  5. Willis–It really is interesting how you notice trends in play-calling once you know what to look for. I’ll get the numbers to you tomorrow, but it was fairly easy to predict quite a few of the Cowboys’ plays this week, particularly down by the goal line. I know JG believes the O-line should be able to drive defenders off the ball even if they know what is coming, but it’s still all about percentages. If you line up in a spread look and still run the dive, not much changes at the point-of-attack, but the defense doesn’t know what is coming. With short-yardage runs, there are really only three “crucial” blocks that need to be made for the play to be successful. Why line everyone up together and allow for more defenders to make themselves available at the POA? And when that alignment gives away your call, you’re lowering the percentages. . .

    I’d love to see more screens (not quick screens to the WRs, but unique screens like the throwback to Bennett early in the game today) and PA passes. I’d specifically like to see Dallas take some shots downfield after a PA look, but that doesn’t seem to happen much. 2nd and 1 or 2 are awesome opportunities to catch a defense off-guard.

    You brought up some other points I failed to mention in my post, including Roy’s run after the catch (on a crucial 2nd and 19 following a Colombo sack, I believe) and Austin failing to lay out. I think Austin just misjudged that particular pass. As you said, he has the work ethic to sort it out. It sure is nice to have players like that.

    Kitna has really grown on me as well. He’s a guy you can’t help but to root for. I loved his reaction after the 2-point conversion to Williams. He’s a hell of a commodity to have as a backup.

  6. And thanks for the awesome compliment JJ.

  7. Vince Grey says:

    The Cowboys, and you have to assume this comes from Jerry, have a very bad habit of going to the extreme of playing “The Guy With The Biggest Contract and/or The Guy Drafted The Highest”.

    That’s just so wrong to me that it defies belief. All that contract/draft position stuff should go out the window once the games begin, and if a free agent is clearly out-playing a 1st rounder, then PLAY HIM.

  8. johncoleman says:

    Well how about an ATaBoy for Choice! I must say there is a feeling of satisfaction when a guy proves you right. JB you must also be glowing in the aftermath of Choice’s performance. Thanks for consistently giving us facts and your TRUE opinion on issues. With that said, and we agree on most things, I’m OK with Buehler. When the kickoffs were not there I wasn’t. Now thaat he is booming again, I can live with 72% on field goals. I AM taking for granted that he will continue to work hard and improve. NO WAY would I waste a pick on drafting another kicker. I am however still worried about personnel decisions. We all know Choice should have been playing. After his performance at the end of 08, he should have been the starter since. As many have commented on here, it seems that draft status and/or pay scale determine playing time. That coupled with clock management and play calling has me wondering if Garrett is the man at all. Or is it simply that Jerry controls everything that much? I like Garrett’s manner and his approach to the team but he must make some “convince me” decisions regarding personnel. Why is Alex Barron dressing? Why not Young? Why is Brewster not at OG and on the practice squad? BTW I’m not saying he should have been playing in the games at OG. He should be working at the position, because of his skill set. Almost all scouting reports had him moving to OG and we can see why. Even at OT he was better than or equal to Barron. Clearly this team has responded and the effort is all I wanted to see. Wins are a bonus. I have to give Coach P some props as well for game planning and getting the guys in position to make some plays. I AM NOT saying I believe he should stay as the D- coordinator. For the record, like it or not, I believe Garrett is a lock for the head coaching job. Anything else would be a complete shock to me.

  9. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    I agree that the FS position that Ball plays is either under-schemed or Ball just isnt’ very good. He did get the INT but still doesn’t make enough plays after being in the same scheme for 2 years. I haven’t figured out exactly why the Cowboys’ safeties are usually 15+ yds off the ball at play start (instead of 11 or 12) . . . that just may be where the DC wants them. But, often they’re just late getting where they need to be. And ANY scheme that has the SS on a wideout in goal line situations (think Giants game), then you either have a VERY good SS in coverage or your CBs aren’t physical enough to play goalline. It’s obvious what the DC thinks about our CBs…

    With that thought in mind, this is the 3rd or so site that I’ve heard of moving Newman to FS next year. FS is a MUCH different position than CB. Primarily, the tackling is different. CBs tackle receivers mostly and that’s when the receiver is trying to allude them. FSs tackle RBs and TEs mostly and that’s when the RB or TE is trying to run over them. Newman would make a HORRIBLE FS in run support but the thought of moving him there in obvious passing situations makes more sense.

    Sean Lee has excellent instincts but I still don’t like his talent/ability. He still gets blown out of holes by the FB in run support and has trouble keeping up w/ receivers. The Boys were in man coverage on his 2nd interception and the TE he was supposed to be covering was 2-3 yards away. If not for Mike Jenkins, that’s an easily completed pass.

    But, just about everyone here has commented on, the O Line still needs work. I agree that a QB sneak should have been attempted – especially with their record and with TC in the backfield. Why is everyone on the staff so hesitant to see what we have in our bench/backup players. Let’s START some games with Lee or Williams or Butler at LB. Let’s put Hurd and/or Ogletree in more often for Austin (yes, Austin) and in the slot. And, why not McCray at FS?

    Speaking of young talent, you never like to see season ending injuries to your up and coming as you don’t know how that will affect them. But now that Dez is gone, this is the exact time to try out some of the WRs (including Holley) from the practice squad.

  10. Michael says:

    While I think Garrett’s play calls tend to err on the conservative and predictable side at times, he makes a few nice calls every game–the quick pitch to Choice that gained positive yards and a touchdown both times they ran it; the throwback screen to Marty B. to name a couple. I think game management is something all young coaches struggle with–especially head coaches who also coordinate a side of the ball–and with the ebbs and flows in a game, I’m sure he tends to get overwhelmed. By the way, that’s no excuse, just an observation.

    The Cowboys don’t always execute well or use good technique and that’s more of an indictment on the installation of schemes than it is the actual play call. But Garrett is very stubborn as playcaller, seeming to resist the notion to adjust and call plays from different formations and that’s something that I think will need to change if he’s going to regain his reputation as a bright offensive mind.

    Speaking of, besides John Harbaugh, I don’t know of any great offensive minds that are going to be available at the end of the season that will be better than Garrett in terms of play-calling. And in Gruden’s years in Oakland and Tampa Bay, his offenses were never really juggernauts. Plus, I don’t think our personnel is suited for a west-coast scheme.

    As far as strong-side dive goes, to me it’s about execution. Every team has plays that you know they’re going to run, but it’s about attitude and execution. New Orleans has the double-seam route to Colston in the slot; New England runs the little jerk route to Welker; Indy has the inside slant play to Wayne; and the Cowboys of the ’90s would run the lead draw to perfection. I’m sure the staff thinks the dive is one of their best plays, even if you know it’s coming.

    I think spread formations should be a second option because it’s so hard to get people open when defenses play coverage vs. bringing pressure in the red zone. Even though our receivers are awesome, I like our match-ups with Marty B. or Witten (and even the running backs) against linebackers and safeties in the red zone. They just need opportunities.

    Great post-game observations as always. I enjoy the intelligent discourse that always goes on on the site. Our passion for the ‘Boys is immediately obvious just by reading the comments.

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  12. Roy says:

    Concerning the obviously goal line formations: The Colts seem to have this right. They lined up spread and despite their back gaining only 18 yds all game, yet he scored 2 TD runs. That’s smart coaching.

  13. willis says:

    Wow, great comments. Some points I’m not sure I agree with one hndred percent. Tyrone – I’m thinking S. Lee is maybe not as good in the run as brooking, but is perhaps comprable, while his pass protection is much better, but I see where you are coming from.

    Anyway, I just wanted to say how impressed i am by the diligence of everyone’s arguments and opinions on this site. I think this is the best page for cowboysfans to sound off in a logical manner about everything cowboys.

  14. Vince–Whole-heartedly agree. There aren’t many teams that would still be starting Brooking over Lee. That’s an example of a vet getting TOO MUCH respect.

    John–It is nice to get one right from time to time, but I lose some too. I agree with you halfway on Buehler–I think he should stay as a kickoff specialist and special teams guy, but the team should find a new placekicker. To me, the difference between a 72 percent kicker and an 85 percent one is worth a roster spot. It should be a veteran, though. Why not sign Kris Brown?

    And I’m not sold on PP. I think he’s brought some life to the defense, but I really want a new-school, innovative guy to come in an overhaul this unit.

  15. Tyrone–Good point on Newman. I think your idea of perhaps moving him to FS in nickel situations is a good one. I disagree on putting Ogletree/Hurd in for Austin. Austin will be a main component of the offense for years, and even in this down year, there’s no reason to take him off the field. The primary goal is still to win games, so I think those guys should replace Williams, if anyone.

    I don’t think McCray has the skill set to play FS. He’s too stiff in the hips, but I do want to see more of him and Church (particularly Church) at SS. And Holley is already on the active roster (he missed the block on the Colts’ blocked punt), but he hasn’t received offensive snaps.

  16. Michael–Great comments. JG does always have a few plays a game that make you say, “Wow, where the hell did that come from?” The two plays you pointed out, along with the two new formations to aid the tackles in blocking the DEs, were nice surprises. I want to see more, of course.

    And although the strong side dive is about execution, I still think JG is being too stubborn in his use of it. You pointed out that running double-tight is favorable to spread in the red zone, but if the defense KNOWS what play is coming, why not run that strong side dive out of spread? It isn’t like they can leave the slot receivers uncovered, meaning there are simply less blocks that need to be made for the play to be successful. So while predictability can sometimes be overcome by great execution, great execution is ALWAYS made easier by the absence of predictability.

    And the intelligent discourse on this site is made possible from all of you guys. I simply light the spark and let you guys take over. The comments are becoming even more enlightening than the articles to me, which I love. Keep all of your thoughts coming, guys.

  17. Roy–Good example of what I’d like to see Dallas do more often.

    Willis–Thanks for the compliments, and the comments on this site are becoming more anticipated than the articles, thanks to you guys. Never hesitate to bring up article ideas or studies you’d like to see conducted. I care less about attracting a huge audience and more about making sure the “regulars” get the Cowboys info. that no one else provides.

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