The DC Times

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

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys vs. Philadelphia Eagles Week 14 Initial Post-Game Observations

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Jonathan Bales

Let’s get right into it…

  • As I anticipated, DeMarcus Ware lined up on the left side of the defense more often than usual.  He made a lot of plays while over there, including putting a lot of pressure on Michael Vick from his blind side and forcing Vick’s second interception while in the alignment.

  • The Cowboys are running way too many draws following “kill” calls (when Jon Kitna checks out of the first play he called in the huddle and gets the offense into the second play).  If I was an opposing defensive coordinator, I would tell my players that if we line up in a safe-looking coverage and a “kill” call comes, a draw is following.
  • That’s why the 3rd and Goal touchdown pass on the Cowboys’ initial drive worked so well.  Kitna “killed” the first play and the Eagles, who weren’t initially showing blitz, immediately moved into position to defend the draw.  Still, the rate of draws following “kill” calls doesn’t need to be so high, even considering the big plays that can come from Kitna’s checks when the team doesn’t run a draw.
  • The Cowboys are running a lot of screens to Felix Jones, which is good, but why are nearly all of them swing passes?  I realize Garrett wants to get Jones on the edge, but the “swing screens” are coming from the same formations and becoming too predictable, as I twice forecasted screens to Jones before the snap in tonight’s game alone.
  • With an early 4th and 4 at the Eagles’ 39-yard line, why did the Cowboys punt?  I’m not going to bring up the 4th down chart again, but at 4-8, what is there to lose?  Plus, like it or not, punting is the risky play in that situation.
  • Sean Lee looks better at the point-of-attack lately.  He did get lost a couple times tonight, but he’s taking on blocks much better and just looks more comfortable flowing to the football.
  • Bryan McCann now has three fumbles despite a limited number of touches.
  • I thought the roughing the passer penalty on Anthony Spencer was bogus.  Yeah, his helmet grazed the bottom of Vick’s, but come on.  Spencer should have been called for a late hit a little earlier, though, so I guess order was restored.
  • With well over a minute left in the first half and the Cowboys at their own 40-yard line, the team showed absolutely no urgency.  They huddled up instead of going into a hurry-up offense, and when Kevin Ogletree later converted a third down, there was only 25 seconds left in the half.  Garrett still needs a lot of work on his clock management.
  • I’m not sure why the Cowboys kicked a 50-yard field goal with a first down and 13 seconds left before halftime.  They didn’t have any timeouts, but I think attempting a quick-hitting out route (with Kitna rolling out) is worth the risk.  There’s a big difference between a 45-yard field goal and a 50-yarder, and rolling Kitna out of the pocket would allow him to throw the ball away with worrying about intentional grounding.
  • David Buehler was impressive on his two field goal attempts, though.  His kickoffs were sub-par (for him, anyway).
  • I absolutely loathed Garrett’s overall play-calling in this game.  Where were the shots downfield?  I will get you the numbers tomorrow, but I’d be shocked if Kitna attempted more than five passes of 15+ yards all night.  And although I haven’t watched the film yet, big plays appeared available for the taking.
  • I thought the Cowboys should have attempted a two-point conversion after going up 19-14 in the third quarter.  Uninformed fans (and analysts, unfortunately) will tell you “it’s too early to go for two,” but that makes no sense.  No literally–the sentence is meaningless.  What does it even mean “it’s too early?”  Since two-point conversions and extra point attempts hold roughly the same expected point value, it is never too early to go for two.  Actually, anytime you score a touchdown and are up five points, you should go for two.  At that point, the chances of your opponent scoring a touchdown is far more likely than them kicking two field goals.  And even if they do kick two field goals, you’d only be tied if you kicked an extra point.  A two-point conversion would put you up one point.
  • Here’s the math. . .suppose the chances of converting the two-point conversion were only 45 percent (which is an extremely modest estimation, since the league-wide conversion rate is closer to 50 percent).  Also presume the extra point conversion rate is 100 percent (which is clearly not the case, especially with Buehler kicking it).  The expected points of the two-point try is 0.9, while the expected points of the extra point is obviously 1.0.  Now the question is how likely it will be that the Cowboys, winning 19-14, will need the “extra” point that comes from a two-point conversion.
  • Let’s suppose there was only 20 seconds left.  Clearly the Cowboys would go for two since the Eagles would only try to score a touchdown–a five-point lead is the same as a six-point lead, for all practical purposes.  Since the expected points of a two-point conversion is nearly the same as an extra point, there’s also no practical difference between 30 seconds left in the game and 30 minutes remaining.  Any minuscule difference in expected points is overruled by the chances of Dallas losing by one point if they choose to go up by six points instead of attempting to go up by seven.  Either way, it’s never too early to go for two.
  • When Orlando Scandrick blitzes, good things tend to happen.  It isn’t that blitzing Scandrick is inherently optimal, but rather it contains an element of surprise for the offense.
  • Terence Newman had a really poor game.  Other than one nice tackle in the open-field, he just looked like he lacked all confidence.
  • I loved the decision to go for it on 4th and 8 at midfield late in the game.  The Cowboys were down 10 points with under six minutes left, and there was no way they could give the ball back to Vick.  Before that, however, the offense should have been in hurry-up mode.  Considering the Cowboys’ new up-tempo practices under Garrett, they sure do lack a sense of urgency in crucial times.
  • At the end of the game, the Cowboys’ defense needed to stop LeSean McCoy on the ground.  They knew runs were coming, and they still got gashed.  That was really disheartening.

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14 Responses to Cowboys vs. Philadelphia Eagles Week 14 Initial Post-Game Observations

  1. Brett says:

    I hope you will criticize Choice for his AWFUL game last night. Its funny you dont even mention him after 7 carries for 16 yards. AND he asked for Vick’s autograph after the game. This wasn’t the Colts who are ranked 29th in rush defense giving up 141 yards/game! I wonder how your post would read if it were Barber?

  2. Brett says:

    Really Im just jokin. Choice is playing good but just wanted to make the point that stats dont tell the whole story.

  3. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    I think they played pretty well overall. Philly is a better football team than the Boys and it showed – they got the plays executed when they needed them. Vick kept getting up. McCoy kept converting 3rd downs. The D line held our stellar run game to few yards than expected. Simply, Philly played better.

    We have Jeckle an Hyde w/ our secondary – one week they seem to do well and other weeks they stink up the place.

    I just don’t understand why the Boys insist on playing guys who won’t be here next year – or at least they shouldn’t be here. The fact that Leonard Davis is still playing scares me. Same w/ Columbo. We have backups for both of their positions who might not be as good but at least we can evaluate that possibility. Sean Lee seems to be getting more snaps, why not Costa. And, the starting CB position in place of Newman needs to be addressed soon (maybe not this year, but soon).

    I would agree on the play calling assessment. The 2nd TD pass to Witten was open the play earlier and think that’s why we went to him there. Actually, the middle of the field should have been open all night as both Eagles safeties were shading outside go route coverage on Williams and Austin but it seemed we hardly called pass plays that would capitalize on that.

    McCann’s 3 fumbles shouldn’t be a concern – the one last night came from a poor decision he made to try and field a punt for a runback (should have been a fair catch). This decision was probably due to the fact that the punt prior he called a fair catch when he probably should have tried to run that one back. Maybe someone made that comment to him on the sidelines and he just decided right then that we was gonna take a chance on the next punt no matter what. Rookie mistake.

    I am concerned about Sensabaugh. I know he got an INT but he’s playing 5-10 yards away from the nearest receiver while in zone. I’m not sure he gets that he’s supposed to COVER the people in his zone – not watch them catch the ball 7 yards away then go try and tackle them. That happened more than a few times last night.

    Overall, good game from the Boys in the loss. I think the lack of taking chances over the middle (causing the LBs to play more zone instead of thinking run) and plays downfield of 40+ (even if you don’t complete them, they still make the defense gameplan for them) was the difference in the game. Philly did all those things early on – by the time they wanted to run the ball, we were thinking pass down the field so much that McCoy had a field day.

  4. Mark Watkins says:

    I didn’t get a chance to watch the game unfortunately (or fortunately, depending upon how you look at it). I do hate to see them lose to the E-gals more than anyone. But I’m sure that Garrett is still playing guys that likely won’t be here next year because he feels that it will still give him the best chance to win and be named the head coach. It’s too bad that he’s in that position and can’t use these games to evaluate players. I’d be curious to see how much, if any, dropoff we might have if Young were in at RT. If Bennett is indeed a better blocker than Columbo at this point, I don’t see how that could hurt much.

  5. Brett–I will address Choice in my post-film review. I think stats, if used correctly, CAN tell the whole story (or near it). One stat that makes a huge difference in Choice’s numbers: five of his seven carries were the same play–a strong side dive from Double Tight Strong. Sometimes stats don’t tell the whole story. My stats do. :)

  6. Tyrone–Agree on some of the guys starting…for me, it’s Colombo and Brooking. We’ve seen a lot more Lee lately, but where is Sam Young? Or even Brewster, even if at guard?

    Another great point you make is the lack of downfield throws. I think if the Cowboys attack the deep middle part of the field earlier, they win the game.

    Mark–I feel confident in saying there would be zero dropoff from Colombo to Young. That isn’t praise for Young, but rather an indictment of Colombo. He’s truly been that bad.

  7. johncoleman says:

    As usual you are right on it. I’m guessing that the effort made the end result a little easier to take. I have real concerns about the game being to big for Garrett. Last night I was screaming for a timeout at the end of the first half. We had a shot at a touchdown there if we had managed the time properly. I’m saying we gave up two plays and possibly three or four. This seems to be a weekly occurence. Then our last drive in the second half, we were on a Sunday cruise. All of that falls directly on the head coach, especially when he is the offensive coordinator. Even more puzzling to me is that we are always down to a second or two on the play clock. I’m not sure if we are late with the play call, personnel slow getting on the field or if we are having that much trouble reading what we see. In any case we should be getting to the line and doing business, if for no other reason than to limit defensive substitutions. You also hit it on the head about the strong side dive. Is that the play they are pulling Free back inside on? If not them there is not much difference. Davis just tried to cut a guy at least once on the 3 consecutive Choice goaline touches. Why wouldn’t a guy of his stature simply blow his man out. He easily outweighs the opposition by 40 lbs. He even let a LB escape on a pull play. Sims just shook him off. It’s totally ridiculous for a man his size to perform at that level. If I’m coaching Holland is in there. I fully agree with Young playing as well and for the same reason. He couldn’t be any worse. It is also clear that Lee is ready for a lot of the snaps. I am also curious why Sensabaugh continues to play and Church and McCray sit. After last night in am more convinced than ever we need Phil Taylor and/or Kenrick Ellis. We need a hole plugger in the middle. Why are the ILBs not shooting against the run when Ratliff takes an angle and gets penetration. At least one of McCoys runs could have been met in the hole for a loss.

  8. John–I think the primary reason the play-clock drops so low before each snap is that Garrett likes to call two plays in the huddle. It is its advantages (a simple “kill” call puts the offense in an entirely new play), but it also allows the clock to drop down and doesn’t let the quarterback put the offense in the BEST play, simply a better one.

    Free does not pull on the strong side dive…the backside guard pulls to the play-side.

  9. JJ says:

    Jonathan

    I agree with you on Garrett’s play calling..seemed pedestrian at times and I fail to understand the fetish with running Felix between the tackles.

    Amazingly, our line was subpar, we had no running game in which to speak, there were no deep throws and our defense was awful against the run and pass and the Cowboys only lost by 3. Wow. I believe each game plays out many of the defensive weaknesses. In fact, the play that made me wonder if this is Neman’s last year as a starter was a key third down when Newman gave an 8 yard cushion to, I believe, Avant who caught an easy slant for a first down.

    The offseason is not too far away and I hope the Cowboys can follow the lead of the Patriots and be wiling to cut sacred cows and just find talent.

  10. starred4life says:

    Have you noticed that our backs never bounce it outside, always running headlong into the middle of a logjam between the tackles? There seems to be space outside the scrum, and our interior linemen aren’t moving anybody. I understand that on third and one, that you put your head down and try to pick up the first instead of trying to make something happen outside, but on first and ten how many times to they throw themselves into a pile for no gain?

  11. JJ–The team’s willingness to make the difficult but necessary moves will certainly be key to their 2011 success. For me, there’s one move that will dictate the rest of the offseason, and that’s the potential release of Marc Colombo. If Colombo is still on the team in 2011 (specifically still starting), the team didn’t get serious enough about playing the best guys.

  12. JJ says:

    I had a chance to review the game again and I must admit that I’m impressed that the Cowboys were that close and they deserve props for that. However, my premise early in the season was that, while we underperformed under Wade, the team was not as good as sold. Nothing has happened this year to change my opinion. What the Eagles, Patriots and others have done to reinvent themselves and perform so well is astonishing to me. It seems like yesterday we were worried about Westbrook and others on the Eagles. Now they have a capable RB, big play receiver and complimentary players. It’s called player evaluation.

    I really like Garrett. I do. I am just concerned if he has the ability to see talent and use it. His limitation on Choice. His lack of finding ways to get the ball to Austin. His reluctance to play younger players that possibly could be better than the incumbent, see Lee over Brooking…Young over Colombo…Church over Ball or Sensabaugh….we just don’t know until we try.

    Nevertheless, Jerry really needs to stay clear because he tends to buy fables. The fable that his thirtysomething OLine should be good because the Super Bowl Cowboys OLine were in their 30s. The fable that veterans such as Brooking, Sensabaugh, Igor are good enough. The fable that Ball and Sensabaugh would be magnificent. You get the idea.

    My Christmas list:
    I do hope that Romo has a different QB coach than Wade WIlson next year. Someone that can propel him to true greatness and mental fortitude. I do hope for a new OLine coach that is a bit more fiery and can get the best from a “new” line. I do hope for a completely new defensive staff with DCoordinator that knows defensive talent and can help find two starting DEs, more depth at ILB, a new starting CB to replace Newman and two starting safeties. I do hope that the Cowboys find another RB late in the draft that can be steal as Barber is jettisoned. I do hope for more team speed. I do hope that Jerry and, if he is the coach, Garrett can realize that Felix is not an every down back. That his OLine is pretty awful. That proper personnel evaluation can separate the pack in a close league…can you name more than 4-5 Patriots? And, to think, they get 2 picks in every round next year…oh my! Lots of wishes.

  13. JJ–Agree completely on a new QB coach. Don’t you wish a guy like Tony Sporano was here to guide Romo and give him that mental edge?

  14. Pingback: Season Recap: Game Thirteen « Go You Dallas Cowboys Go

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