There are two ways to look at the Cowboys’ 18-16 win over the Washington Redskins on Monday night–as a sloppy offensive performance marred by a lack of concentration and execution that the team was lucky to win, or as a near-dominant defensive performance that led the way to victory. In reality, it was probably a bit of both. Here are some of my thoughts. . .
- Tony Romo was obviously still affected by his broken rib, as the accuracy just wasn’t there. Romo continually ducked out of the pocket or threw off of his back foot to avoid being hit, but you really can’t blame the guy. While Michael Vick came out of the Eagles’ Week 3 game with what turned out to be a bruised hand, Romo returned to his with a broken rib and collapsed lung. He gutted it out this week as well, and my hat is off to him for his toughness and leadership.
- Dez Bryant is still hurt. He made a few plays, but this was a game in which he had opportunities to take over. Instead, he limped around the field quite a bit and was never really able to gain any sort of separation on his routes. Look for him to have a monster game next week when fully healthy (hopefully).
- Have the Cowboys found a placekicker? That’s the hope as rookie Dan Bailey went 6-for-6 on field goals, with his team needing each and every one. His kickoffs were lackluster, but that was expected. Yes, I still think David Buehler’s leg warrants a roster spot (here is why), but Bailey has some real potential.
- Rob Ryan really didn’t dial up much pressure. In my preview of the game, I anticipated far more blitzes than we saw. Obviously Ryan figured it would be best to sit back and force Rex Grossman to continually make good decisions. One of his rare early blitzes came on a 3rd and 1 on which the Redskins called a fullback dive. Ryan countered with a perfect safety blitz (Abram Elam) into the “two hole,” and Washington was forced to punt. After the play, Ryan’s body language suggested he was expecting that exact play call from the ‘Skins.
- I missed on my prediction of a lot of blitzes, but I hit on a far more specific one. In my pre-game notes, I wrote:
Specifically, I think you’ll see both Bennett and Witten line up at receiver with Bennett eventually motioning into a traditional in-line tight end spot. The Cowboys ran that look quite often last year against the ‘Skins, calling “3 Wide Strong Right Liz 26 Power” rather frequently.
- I was right on. According to my initial count, the Cowboys ran this exact play six times. Six times. And yes, the Cowboys did playaction off of the look a few times as well.
- After struggling early against rookie Ryan Kerrigan, Tyron Smith responded nicely and turned in another strong performance. The same can’t be said for Doug Free, who had a horrific night. He was beat continually by Kerrigan, Brian Orakpo, and even backup Rob Jackson. I have heard rumors that Free has an injured left arm or shoulder, and I really think there’s something to that theory. This is the worst I’ve seen Free play during his entire career.
- What. The. Hell. is wrong with Phil Costa? Four premature e-snap-ulations. I have watched those plays again and again, and I have no idea what he was thinking. No one is firing off the ball, so it isn’t like Romo should be expecting the snaps. This should be something which can be fixed immediately, but if it continues to happen for some reason, Costa has to sit. I don’t want that to happen, but the Cowboys are dangerously close to turning the ball over because of his mental errors.
- The offense continues to do a fantastic job snapping the ball with more time left on the play clock, and it is important.
- Sean Lee is turning into one of the top playmakers on this team. His 31 tackles rank second in the NFL, and he’s thrown in two crucial picks as well. Without him, there is no way the Cowboys would have won last night’s game.
- The Cowboys stuck with the run last night, and they were lucky to win the game because of it. The team was ineffective early before Felix Jones broke off two big runs, pumping up the average. In reality, the majority of the runs were unsuccessful and took away from opportunities to get the ball downfield. I realize the offense was having just as much trouble passing, but I’ll take my shots with a struggling passing game over pounding the ball into a pile of defenders. The team isn’t going to win many games scoring only 18 points.
- Jason Garrett made three bad decision on 4th down, twice kicking a field goal and once opting to punt. The first came on 4th and 1 at the 9-yard line, where the numbers suggest average offenses should go for it with around four or five yards-to-go in normal game situations. The same is true for the team’s 4th and 3 at the 14-yard line. Garrett also decided to punt on a 4th and 6 from the Redskins’ 41-yard line while down four points in the fourth quarter. That was his biggest mistake of all, as the statistics show offenses have historically had just as much success going for it on 4th and 10 in that range as they do punting.
- If you need more math as to why the graph above (provided by Advanced NFL Stats) is correct, check out the expected points graph below. Had the Cowboys gained a single yard on their 4th and 1 play, for example, they would have an expected point total of around 4.1 for that drive. That is, over an unlimited number of trials, an average offense can be expected to score 4.1 points per drive when given a 1st and Goal at the opposition’s eight-yard line.
- Assuming Dan Bailey is about a 95% kicker from the nine-yard line (giving the offense an expected point total of 3 x 0.95 = 2.85), the offense would need to be successful on around 69.5% of their 4th and 1 attempts for the expected points of going for it to exceed that of kicking the field goal. Offenses have around a 60% success rate on two-point rushing attempts (from the two-yard line), and even with Dallas’ struggles on the ground, I have to think they can convert on 7 out of 10 tries with a single yard needed. On top of all that, don’t forget those numbers assume the Cowboys gain one and only one yard on the 4th down play AND a failed fourth down attempt leaves Washington at their own nine-yard line, whereas a made field goal gives them the ball (realistically) around the 20–a difference of around another 0.5 expected points.
- One of the most overlooked areas of improvement for the ‘Boys (and the one I think is most responsible for their improved defensive play) is better tackling. Everyone on this team other than Alan Ball is sticking their nose in there to bring down ball-carriers. . .even Mike Jenkins. If Jenkins is tackling, you need to as well, Alan. A nice hit on a defenseless player late in the game doesn’t make up for missing tackles on a consistent basis.
- Terence Newman has a concussion, but he played really well in his first game this season. When healthy, he’s extremely valuable to the defense. His presence will allow Ryan to be more creative with his calls.
- Even though the Cowboys ended up kicking a go-ahead field goal, I didn’t like the play-calling to end the final drive. Garrett called three straight runs in an effort to milk the clock, but there was still plenty of time left for Washington to move down the field. Why not call a playaction pass against a defense selling out against the run? Of course, Garrett never could have expected Tashard Choice to run out of bounds, making one of the dumbest decisions I have seen in awhile.
- Despite all of the mental mistakes and lack of execution, the Cowboys got the win and that’s all that really matters. Having said that, this team is going to have trouble finishing better than .500 if they don’t pick up their level of play in a big way. Getting healthy should go a long way in aiding them in that process.