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By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys vs. San Diego Chargers Week 2 Post-Game Observations

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Jonathan Bales

In case you missed it, I did a live blog of last night’s game. Here are some of my observations. . .

  • Felix Jones looks remarkable.  He is the clear No. 1 and should be a workhorse for Dallas.  People will argue he cannot withstand the punishment of receiving 15+ touches a game, but I disagree.  You have to feed the ball to your most talented players, and the Cowboys are a far more dynamic offense with Jones on the field.  Jones has a greater chance of getting injured if he receives more touches, but that is simply because of a larger selection of plays on which he can get hurt.  He is no more likely (at least not substantially so) to get injured on his 20th touch than his first.  Give him the ball.
  • By the way. . .anyone else see Jones’ beard?  Yikes.
  • Tyron Smith looks really good.  His footwork needs to be developed, but he is far ahead of where I thought he might be at this point.  He’s already a large upgrade over Marc Colombo and offers the Cowboys left/right tackle versatility.  I still don’t like Jason Garrett giving him more snaps than the other first-team offensive linemen, though.  I realize he needs work, but do we really want to see Sam Young starting?
  • Tony Romo’s interception came on a playaction pass out of ‘Ace’ formation.  The ‘Boys love to run playaction out of ‘Ace’ (particularly screens), and Romo checked into this particular play.  It wasn’t that the audible was poor as much as the throw, as Romo simply made a lackluster read.  In my 2010 Quarterback Grades, I analyzed Romo’s audibles for the entire season (stats below).

  • The cornerbacks are playing quite a bit of off coverage.  I’m not sure if this will continue into the regular season, but I think Rob Ryan is dialing it up because he’s afraid the defensive backs could get beat deep.  With Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins still out, it is tough to ask Alan Ball and Orlando Scandrick to be too physical at the line.
  • In the early part of the game, we saw Abram Elam, Danny McCray and Bryan McCann all blitz.  Using unconventional defenders (i.e. secondary) to blitz is a trademark of Rob Ryan’s defense.  The reason it works is because offensive line’s rarely account for a nickel cornerback, for example.  While blitzing players from the secondary (or, similarly, dropping defensive linemen/outside linebackers into coverage) is not inherently value-maximizing, it can still often lead to maximum value for a defense.  This is due to the fact that football is a zero-sum game (meaning the success of one team necessarily means the failure of the other).  If we assign a “normal” blitz with 500 “value points” and give the offense 450 points in their ability to effectively block it, it creates less of a disparity than an exotic blitz which is worth just 400 points (intrinsically “less” valuable than the normal blitz) but gives the offense 300 points in their ability to halt it.  The points are arbitrary, but they show that Ryan’s defense works because it creates the largest disparity between offensive and defensive efficiency, not because it is valuable in and of itself.
  • Barry Church had a nice night.  He made a couple plays on special teams and looked pretty good in coverage (sans one pass interference call).  His ability to stop the run has always been considered a strength, so it is nice to see him improving against the pass.  I think he offers versatility as a blitzer as well, and at this point, I think he has a better chance to make the team than Danny McCray.  The two may be in a battle for a roster spot.
  • Gerald Sensabaugh already looks much improved after showing hesitancy in Ryan’s scheme last week.  He nearly made a really nice interception and looked solid overall.  Don’t forget the Cowboys were smart to retain Sensabaugh on a one-year deal.
  • Stephen McGee continues to improve.  He has all the tools to succeed, but he still needs to display more consistency.  Sometimes he stands tall in the pocket and delivers the football, and other times he bails when there is no apparent pressure at all.  He uses his mobility in a manner similar to Romo, scrambling behind the line-of-scrimmage to find open receivers as opposed to taking off on the ground.  With sub-par accuracy, he needs to use that mobility–but not when it isn’t necessary.
  • Lonyae Miller continues to struggle, and I don’t think he has much of a chance to make the roster anymore.  He runs hesitantly and displays little burst.  He leveled a linebacker in pass protection, but he’s inconsistent in that area as well.  The real story at running back right now is Phillip Tanner.  The kid showed a lot last night–tremendous burst, good pass protection, and incredible toughness.  If he keeps it up, the ‘Boys won’t be able to stash him on the practice squad.  If I was Garrett, I would be heading into the 2011 season with four tailbacks on my roster–Jones, Murray, Choice and Tanner–and I’d be looking to move Choice.
  • Jeremy Parnell is the third-best offensive tackle on this team right now.  That doesn’t bode well for the offensive line, but Parnell has shown a nice combination of power in the run game and quickness in pass pro.  I think he’ll make the 53-man roster.
  • The more I watch the rookies, the more I think David Arkin is going to be a future starter at guard.  The knock on him was an inability to move around well in space, but that isn’t what I see.  He’s shown me he can get to the second level just fine, giving the offense the ability to continue to run screens when he’s in the game.
  • Kevin Ogletree and Manuel Johnson both had solid nights.  I’d still like to see Dwayne Harris win the No. 3 receiving job, but Ogletree has experience on his side.  Johnson is probably in a fight with Jesse Holley for the final receiver spot on the roster.

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15 Responses to Dallas Cowboys vs. San Diego Chargers Week 2 Post-Game Observations

  1. Scott says:

    Felix really does look outstanding. Always have to add the “as long as he can stay healthy” qualifier. I have to admit every time I see him take a hit or land awkwardly (he got dumped on his head on the first run) I cringe a little bit, waiting for him to come up limping or whatever. But with every carry he gets, I’ll feel more confident in his durability. But dang he looks good.

  2. john coleman says:

    offense-Felix is a beast. Tanner is a mini-beast. If I’m in charge he definitely makes the team. For the record- Felix 8.0 per carry, Tanner 7.7 per carry ( with an incredible helmetless run called back), Miller 1.5 per carry. Also sports fans the Chargers were still after the helmetless Tanner.

    Murray and Choice better get it together. I think injury/recovery could land somebody on the IR for 4 weeks. Clearly Choice and Tanner are better than Miller and Murray is going nowhere based on draft status. I do agree with JB that TC’s time may be up, if a trade offer arises.

    GOOD NEWS- The newlook oline seems to be able to run block(5.4 per carry avg.) and that’s with Miller’s abysmal 1.5 per. Also Romo isn’t running for his life on every pass play. I’m hoping for a heavy dose of running game in the regular season.

    Hate to bring it up-Witten 5.7 per, Bennett 11.0 per, and Phillips 7.0 per. I LOVE Witten and he is very reliable/sure handed plus he has ESP with Romo, but Bennett needs more opportunities on intermediate routes. Focus and predictability may be a big reason for Witten’s low number and changing that is the only way to get bigger plays. I think Witten and the Cowboys benefit from more Marty B catches.

    3rd-5th WR- KO looked a little better. Radway didn’t hurt his cause, nor did Manny or Holley. I’m not sure what happened to Harris. I don’t think he was targeted. Could have been by design.

    Backup OT- I didn’t think Parnell was too bad. He is certainly no worse than Barron was and not far behind Columbo.

    DEFENSE- Hum! Whew! It all comes down to the secondary being able to play man, to allow the blitz to get home. However it is still early and the scheme is new. There is obviously still some uncertainty and a lot of thinking going on. In other words we are out of position and slower to react. I said in an earlier post and still say we may be 3 or 4 weeks into the regular season before we hit our stride on D. Let’s hope 75% will be good enough until then.

    A few show ups- Alex Albright is showing a little for a UDFA who is changing from DE to OLB. I have to agree with JB on Church. He seems to be improving and playing more instinctively. Mario Butler had a few decent covers. At this point if a guy is not burnt and has a chance to make a play it is solid. Especially for the UDFA’s. Sensy flashed, now for some consistency.

    Spencer nor Butler did anything to jump out. I almost have to wonder if RR played fairly vanilla after the first few series.

    Bottomline- We outgained them something like 330 to 240. Consider all of our key players like Austin, Jenkins, Hatcher, Brooking, and Newman who were missing and maybe we are ok. We do have to remember that they were without Gates and sat some LB’s. After game two, we surely can’t afford injuries or turnovers. The early line from me is anywhere from 8-8 to 10-6. We should be MUCH better at about week six. By then the D will be up to speed and the newbies will be Vets.

  3. JJ says:

    I’ll echo John on several points.

    The good: I thought the young line has promise. I like Arkin but he gets pushed around a bit. I’m souring on Young and felt Parnell looked ok for being in football such a short time. I read how other writers feel Miller is still better than Tanner because he picks up one block and plays special teams. SO WHAT? He can’t run. In fact, he bites. Tanner ran against the same D and we saw what he can do. Sure you need to pick up a blitz but if a RB can’t run than just put an OG as your RB. I really liked Albright last night and am thinking that Mario Butler is better than Ball.

    Not so good: So Holley and Manny made a catch. I’m not seeing it. They need to find another veteran receiver (not old just seasoned). I write this each week because the thought of Ogletree being a starter should someone fall is disturbing. I’d like to see much more from Brent, Spencer and McCann. I also felt Cummings had a poor game. As I indicated, Ball just seems lost to me and I think if I were to rate the CBs outside of Newman, Jenkins and Scandrick, I’d go Mario Butler (just seems make plays), McCann(fast but not fluid), Thomas(gutty) then Ball.

    Finally, on QB, I think someone said it best. Romo makes his reads too quick at times (on the interception Bryant was open and he threw into double coverage) and McGee seems to take too long…hopefully they’ll iron that out.

  4. Vince_Grey says:

    Not much to add overall, but I’ll take a few shots:

    - Cowboys would be nuts to even attempt to slip Tanner onto the practice squad. In fact, I would rate him easily our second best RB right now. My only nit to pick with JB is that I would keep Choice and cut/trade Miller. (I don’t see Choice having any trade value either.) Choice has at least proven that he has some “real game” ability, while Miller seems to be one of those “Tarzan in practice, Jane in games” players.

    So far I am more than a little impressed with the play of our O-line overall. These younger guys are really bringing it and it seems to be rubbing off on the few remaining oldsters. They might block the wrong guy at times, but at least they’re blocking someone.

    BTW, questions for JB: I’m confused by your comment on Ty getting “too many” snaps? Are really worried they’ll wear the kid out? Lord, I hope he’s in better condition than that.

    Receiver play was a mixed bag. Some stupid drops, caused by trying to run before catching the ball, but a few nice catches. No one stood out, except Witten of course, but nothing odd about that.

    Not much good to say about the D except for Gerald, who impressed me the most with his wicked hit on that SD receiver. Haven’t seen a Dallas DB whack someone like that in some time. I suppose the tackling, when they didn’t blow the coverage or the contain, was pretty good.

    Butler dropped off from last week’s effort. Spencer continues to look kind of lost. Igor once again got shoved around like a free agent rookie. Ware was a beast, but again that’s the norm.

  5. Kris says:

    I like it!

  6. Scott says:

    Of course we want to see what the young oline will do, but got to appreciate the guy who just does his job so well that we don’t even need to talk about him while he’s the glue for the new guys. Watch Kosier 63 on Felix’s 22 yard run, he pulls and plows through the hole, taking out two defenders one of which Felix pushes off his helmet and shoves him into the ground on his way past lol. Now we have a whole oline or at least 4/5 that is athletic enough to learn from and work with Kosier and they can all be very good at pulling and throwing and blocking in space like he does.

  7. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    Watched the game for a 2nd time last night…

    I agree w/ all of your observations but agree w/ Vince in that I don’t think Tyron Smith can get too many snaps. He should be durable and conditioned enough to play most of the game by now if needed/chosen to do so.

    My question – why does everyone seem to be so down on Tashard Choice? Outside of the obvious dislike that JG seems to have for him, why is he all of the sudden the odd man out – especially w/ 2 rookies now taking his spot (one of which is a UDFA and the other is injured now and probably will be a considerable amount going forward and hasn’t played a single down of preseason ball). Is Demarco Murray a better player than TC right now? Will he be by November? My answer to both those questions is no. Tanner should be a PS player unless he proves to be such a special teams ace that he’s needed on game day. Right now, I don’t think he’s as good as TC at pass protection and knowledge of the offense.

    And, I sure hope whenever Jenkins and Newman get healthy, our secondary improves…

  8. Vince_Grey says:

    Tyrone- I agree that Choice seems to be the odd man out in a lot of people’s minds, and I don’t agree with that notion. Yet. Choice can play. He’s no star, but he can play RB in the NFL and be a productive guy. That said, RB’s are a dime a dozen and so I don’t see anyone giving up a draft pick for him right now. Murray’s spot is safe, simply by his draft position and potential. Felix is safe of course, so I see the real battle as between Miller and Tanner. Not sure who’s the better back as so far as receiving, special teams, and blocking, but even assuming it’s Miller by a significant margin, Tanner has been dominating LM as a runner, and the position is called RUNNING back, you know. LM can go back to the PS if eligible, but Tanner, based on what I’ve seen, would get snapped up in 10 minutes if he’s put there, so you have to keep him on the main roster or lose him for sure.

    Right now, in terms of strictly running the ball, I would rate our backs as follows:

    1. Felix
    2. Tanner
    3. Choice
    4. Miller
    5. Murray (Who knows?)

    And I see a noticeable drop off after Choice, though again, Murray might be a stud. Or a dud. Mystery man at the moment.

    Again, I understand this does not take into account the other things a RB must do, but we know Choice is a good receiver, and at least okay at blitz pick ups.
    But, if Tanner’s running ability moves him to the #2 slot, can Choice hang around as a 3rd string guy who doesn’t contribute on ST? Tough call, but anyway you cut it, I see Miller as the guy to go. He’s had ample opportunities to show what he can do on the field, and hasn’t shown he can run the ball for us. But also too, Choice really irritates me by not playing hard on ST. That’s just a lack of effort IMO, and probably what has him constantly on Garrett’s shit list.

    If Murray would get healthy and show us something, I wouldn’t be opposed to cutting both Choice and Miller and going with another guy. Again, RB’s are easy to find and they come cheap these days.

    On another matter, let me offer the following tidbits on some other NFL matters:

    1. No way would I pay Chris Johnson QB money. He definitely deserves a big raise, but if I couldn’t find the cap space to pay him over the next 2-3 years, I’m not about to put myself in cap jeopardy by signing him to a long term deal with a huge signing bonus. RB’s are just too easy to pick up and they burn out quick.

    2. The Eagles will look very impressive some games this season, but I would never trust the QB’s they have to be consistent and win in the playoffs. Plus, their LB’s are weak and weaker.

    3. Watch out for the Saint’s if they stay fairly healthy.

    4. I see the Pack taking a step back this year. SB hangover.

    5. That “toe-heel in bounds to make a catch” rule is ridiculous. Makes no sense whatsoever.

    6. Plax looks like he never left. Jet’s scare me a little for the opening game.

  9. JJ says:

    Vince, are you really bringing in “other” NFL news ala John Clayton? (giving you a hard time.)

    I wanted to add that the Cowboys, I believe, are learning from their mistakes when they let so many young players go that are now starters on other teams in areas where the Cowboys could use them. For that reason, I just “wish:”

    The Cowboys would cut Alan Ball. Mario Butler and Josh Thomas have much more upside…much more. Butler is smooth.

    The Cowboys would end the Miller experiment at RB. I’ve seen nothing to suggest he should stay. No way is he better than Murray. And while I like Tanner, do it against a first team D, then we can hail him but he’s better than Miller.

    The Cowboys keep an eye on cuts for a gem that may come in at WR. There are not Miles Austin’s on the team beyond the first two. Radway is raw but a great PS candidate. Holley, Manny Johnson and Ogletree are just guys. I like Harris as a slot gut but they need to find someone else to add to the mix on the outside. This is a weak position right now. The Cowboys know what they have in Holley and Johnson and “top WR” is not what they see.

    I can’t put my finger on it but our D just makes me uneasy. Is it the apparent lack of Spencer? The lack of faith in our secondary? The inability for our interior LBs (Brooking/James) to run to the ball or cover? The push our 2nd string DLine cannot sustain? Who knows but it makes me uneasy.

  10. Vince_Grey says:

    Just trying to keep the conversation in motion.

    Speaking of youth getting a chance, Nagy seems to be holding his own as a starting guard. I am quite literally stunned by that one. Figured Nagy as a guy who would barely make the team, then ride the pine for a year or three before getting a shot at taking over for Andre.

    This is really great news. For one thing, Garrett clearly has no issue playing rookies (The anti-Wade in that regard) and two, it’s great that maybe we finally seem to have gotten the hang of drafting O-linemen after so many failures and busts.

  11. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    Since VG brought it up…

    Chris Johnson is the definition of NOT the RKG (right kind of guy). I know that I have little perspective on this issue, but if I were the Titans GM for a day (just ONE day), I’d call CJ out and tell him to get is butt to practice or sit out for the rest of the year. I completely agree w/ VG in that RBs are easy to acquire and aren’t as important at QBs, WRs and pass rushing OLBs. I’m kinda debating whether or not a good CB is more important than a 1500 yard RB. I’m sure there will be a practice squad RB somewhere in the league that would satisfy the RB reqts of the Titans for at least a few months. Ryan Grant (Green Bay) was 4th on the Giants depth chart when traded. Lagarette Blount (Tampa Bay) was a 6th round pick.

    The Cowboys O line – my take is this: you get what you pay for. Since 2005, the Boys have drafted 4 O lineman with a pick in 1st four rounds: Doug Free, James Marten, Robert Brewster and Tyron Smith (2 have turned out to be busts). Additionally, they signed 3 vets: Marc Colombo was signed in 2005, Kyle Kosier was signed in 2006, Leonard Davis was signed in 2007 (all to fairly sizeable contracts). That’s 7 players who should be solid (or at least average players somewhere in the league) in the last 6 years. Only 3 are still playing considerable minutes.

    During that same period, the Boys have drafted 8 LBs w/ picks in the 1st 4 rounds: D Ware, Kevin Burnett, Bobby Carpenter, Anthony Spencer, Jason Williams, Victor Butler, Sean Lee and Bruce Carter. Keith Brooking was brought in in 2009. That’s 9 players in the last 6 years. One is an elite OLB and plays almost every down, 2 others are solid starters and 3 others are specialty backs that are poised to play considerable minutes either this year or next. And, the cost per player for the LB position, even w/ Ware’s sizeable contract, has proven to be far less than the O line position.

    My point is that the Dallas O line won’t be appreciably better (that is have 1 or 2 elite players) until they utilize higher draft picks for the players. This is the 1st year Dallas has EVER used a 1st round pick on a O lineman and he projects to be a fairly good one. When the FO obtains the mentality that they have toward LBs in obtaining O linemen. The last 3 pro bowl O linemen Dallas drafted were Gurode, Flozell Adams and Larry Allen – all taken in the 2nd round. So, my expectation of Arkin, Nagy and Costa are to be perennial backups in the league. If they turn out to be solid or better, than that’s gravy.

  12. To clarify my point on Smith…the reason I think he is receiving too many snaps has nothing to do with wearing him out, but rather increasing the chances he gets injured. If either he or Free goes down, the Cowboys are screwed. Thus, I think it is prudent to limit his preseason snap count so as to avoid a potential injury, not because he will get tired or anything like that.

  13. Vince_Grey says:

    JB – Sorry, but I don’t agree with that at all. One snap is just as likely to cause an injury as the 10th. Or the 100th. Dan Marino tore his Achilles just standing back there after a handoff. I just don’t believe you can coach worrying about who might get injured or when. If the guy can play, he plays. Period.

  14. Vince..yes, any individual snap is just as likely to cause an injury as any other, but ONE snap is not as likely to cause an injury as 100 snaps. That’s why the rest of the starters don’t get a ton of snaps and won’t even play in the final preseason game.

  15. Vince_Grey says:

    JB – And I believe coaches are far too timid in that respect as well. Remember when Jimmy played all the starters in that last `92 game against da Bears? Loved that. Colts might have more post-season success if they played more like that.

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