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Cowboys vs. Bears Week 2 Final Film Observations, Player Grades



Jonathan Bales

I’ve already posted my initial game reactions and post-film study Cowboys-Bears game review.  Today, I will discuss my film study and stat findings in even greater depth.

  • I’ve explained this before, but fullback Chris Gronkowski’s pre-snap alignment is a strong indicator of the Cowboys’ play-calls.  When he lines up closer to the tailback, he is lead blocking on a run play (or receiving the handoff himself).  Otherwise, he runs into the flat in a pass route.  He did this a few times from “Strong” formation on Sunday.

  • In my post-game notes, I remarked that the big reception by Johnny Knox down the field was the fault of both Mike Jenkins and Alan Ball.  I mistook Ball for Gerald Sensabaugh, though.  I’ve watched the play again and again, and Dallas appeared to be in a Cover 3 with Sensabaugh manning the deep middle portion of the field.  He bit up on a crossing route and is most to blame for the 3rd and 15 completion.  Overall, though, Sensabaugh played really well.

Red Zone Play-Calling

The Cowboys ran seven plays in the red zone: three runs for four yards and four passes for 20 yards and a touchdown.  I didn’t like Jason Garrett’s red zone play-calling last season, but it has improved this year.

Personnel

  • Base (TE, 2 WR, RB, FB):  11 plays
  • TE 3 WR, RB: 25 plays
  • 2 TE, WR, RB, FB: 12 plays
  • 2 TE, 2 WR, RB: 19 plays
  • 2 TE, WR, 2 RB: 1 play
  • 3 TE, RB, FB: 2 plays

Formations

After lining up in 25 different formations in Week 1, the Cowboys used 19 on Sunday.

3 Wide Strong (2), Ace (3), Double Tight I (4), Double Tight Ace (2), Double Tight Left/Right I (5), Double Tight Left Strong Left (1), Double Tight Right Weak Left (1), Full House (1), Gun 3 Wide Pro (5), Gun TE Spread (18), Gun TE Trips (4), Gun Trips (5), I-Formation (7), Strong (2), TE Spread (2), TE Trips (3), Twins (2), Weak (2), Wildcat (1)

  • The Cowboys motioned on 22 of 70 plays (31.4 percent).  They gained 111 yards on those plays (5.05 yards-per-play).  Here are last year’s motion stats.
  • After calling more draw plays than anyone in the NFL last season, the Cowboys have called just six in all of 2010.  Those plays have totaled only 13 yards.  In my Ultimate Guide to Dallas Cowboys draws, I proposed they run far fewer this season, but six may be a bit low.
  • It was obvious that Romo wasn’t himself on Sunday.  He threw 12 off-target passes.  In my 2009 study of Romo’s throws, I noted he threw just over seven off-target passes per game.
  • As you can see below, the Cowboys made an obvious attempt to run the ball inside.  Of their 19 runs, 10 were right up the gut.

Note: Romo's kneel at the end of the first half was not counted.

  • Of the 39 pass plays that Witten was in the game, he went out into a route on 29 of them (74.3 percent).  This is a little bit less than last year’s average, but the Cowboys made up for it by utilizing a lot of two-tight end sets.  Even before Witten went down with a concussion, Martellus Bennett was on the field for 39 of the Cowboys’ 58 plays.  That 67.2 percent rate is nearly double the 38.0 percent rate at which Bennett saw the field in Week One.
  • I suggested that Dallas not run playaction passes because I thought the Bears’ defenders (specifically Julius Peppers) wouldn’t bite on the run fake anyway, so it would basically be a wasted motion.  Nonetheless, the Cowboys ran 12 playaction passes for 80 yards (6.67 yards-per-attempt).

A side note: Jason Garrett loves to run playaction with exactly 10 yards-to-go (either on 1st and 10 or after an incomplete pass on first down).  On Sunday, 10 of the Cowboys’ 12 playaction passes were from this distance.  The trend dates back to last year.  Take a look at these numbers.

  • After running 10 screens against Washington, the Cowboys called only two against the Bears: one to Chris Gronkowski for six yards, and one to Felix Jones that fell incomplete.
  • The Cowboys were in a true no-huddle offense on four plays–all passes for a total of 44 yards.

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Player Grades

OFFENSE

  • LT Doug Free: A-

Although he received some help from Martellus Bennett, Free quietly had a really good game.

  • LG Kyle Kosier: C-

Kosier got called for holding once and was generally overmatched at the point-of-attack.

  • C Andre Gurode: C-

Gurode was fine in pass protection but didn’t get much of a push otherwise.  He also had a premature snap.

  • RG Leonard Davis:  B-

Davis had a rare false start, but he wasn’t bad on the day.

  • RT Marc Colombo: C-

Colombo is obviously a huge upgrade from Alex Barron, but that doesn’t mean he’s a Pro Bowl-caliber player.

  • WR Miles Austin: A

He’s simply sensational.  Incredible leg drive and ability to come out of breaks, particularly on comebacks, curls, and so on.

  • WR Roy Williams: B

Williams and Romo had their weekly miscommunication, but Williams has played much better than last year.

  • WR Dez Bryant: B+

He didn’t get on the field much due to the abundance of two-tight end formations, but he is electric once the ball is in his hands.

  • TE Jason Witten: B

Watching Witten caged up by the trainers on the sideline was excruciating, but he should be fine this week.

  • TE Martellus Bennett: A

Bennett had one hell of a game.  He pancaked defenders multiple times, provided ample protection for Romo, and performed well as a receiver when Witten went down.

  • RB Marion Barber: C

I’m just not seeing it yet.  He’s still great in pass pro though.

  • RB Felix Jones: C-

Jones has been hesitant to hit the hole, dancing too much in the backfield.  For all the hype about him as a receiver, he really isn’t much of a natural pass-catcher.

  • QB Tony Romo: C-

There’s no doubt about it. . .Romo played poorly.  He threw 12 off-target passes and made some poor audibles as well.

DEFENSE/SPECIAL TEAMS

I didn’t study the defense as in-depth as normal, but here are the grades for the players on which I focused.

  • NT Jay Ratliff: B
  • OLB DeMarcus Ware: A-
  • OLB Anthony Spencer: B-
  • ILB Keith Brooking: C-
  • CB Mike Jenkins: C-
  • CB Terence Newman: B-
  • S Alan Ball: C-
  • S Gerald Sensabaugh: A-
  • K David Buehler: D+

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Dallas Cowboys vs. Chicago Bears Week 2: What We Learned About Dallas


Jonathan Bales

The sky is falling in Dallas.  The Cowboys are 0-2 and have looked undisciplined and even unmotivated in their losses.  I wrote yesterday why now, more than ever, we need to support our ‘Boys.

While I’m still frustrated over the loss, there’s a substantial difference between my attitude today and my attitude yesterday.  I’m now in a more suitable state of mind to perform objective (or as close to it as possible) analysis.  I’ve broken down the film and I’m ready to analyze my pre-game Cowboys-Bears Manifesto and Game Plan.  Here are my initial post-game notes if you missed them.

Let’s start by answering a few of my “What to Watch” questions. . .

Analyzing “What to Watch” for Dallas vs. Chicago

Will Kyle Kosier and Marc Colombo return from injury?  If not, who will start in their places?

Both returned.  Kosier got called once for holding, but overall played fairly well.  Colombo yielded some pressure, but like Kosier, he didn’t give up a sack.  He also got called for two false starts.   Both players did okay for their first game back and were significant upgrades over their replacements.

Will the Cowboys continue to blitz often against Chicago’s porous offensive line or will they try to get pressure without sending extra rushers?

This was one of my biggest pet peeves of the game.  The Cowboys were putting significant pressure on Jay Cutler early in the game with just four rushers.  Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware looked unblockable.

For whatever reason, though, Wade Phillips decided to start blitzing, and it backfired.  The touchdown pass to Greg Olsen which got the Bears rolling was against a blitz, as were a few other game-changing Chicago plays.

Will the Bears’ aerial attack cause any problems, particularly over the middle of the field, for the Cowboys’ defense?

Yes.  Olsen was obviously a match-up problem for Dallas.  So was Matt Forte, who the Cowboys bottled up pretty well until late in the game, when he caught an easy touchdown over Michael Hamlin.

If you remember, Johnny Knox also caught a deep ball over the middle on a crucial 3rd and 15 play early in the game.  It was a rare poor game for Mike Jenkins, and a seemingly common poor one for Alan Ball.

Can the Cowboys finally get some takeaways from the league’s most turnover-friendly quarterback?

No.  I am thoroughly convinced that Phillips has been sending unnecessary pressure in an effort to force takeaways, but in my opinion, that is the wrong way to go about things.  Simply by random luck, the Cowboys could have expected more takeaways this season if they had played exactly the same as last season.  If they play sound, responsible defense, the takeaways will come.

Instead, they are pressing the issue, and getting burned in the process.  It may seem ironic, but I think the answer to creating more turnovers is to forget about them.  Play your assignments (in an aggressive manner), and they will come.

Will the Bears take a page from Washington’s playbook and creatively disguise their blitzes?

Yes they did, and you can bet pretty much every team in the future will be doing the same thing.  Tony Romo has shown he struggles when he’s unsure of where pressure might come.

The Bears didn’t blitz nearly as much was Washington, but they did disguise them.  Of their 12 blitzes, they only showed blitz seven times, and on multiple occasions they brought pressure from defenders who weren’t showing blitz.

More importantly, the Bears showed blitz 16 times without actually sending extra rushers.  This confused the Cowboys’ line and Romo at times.

Overall, Chicago blitzed or showed blitz on 28 of the Cowboys’ 71 offensive plays (39.4 percent), although that percentage is deceiving since the Bears didn’t blitz any of the final 15 plays.

Can the Cowboys’ receivers take advantage of the Bears’ slightly weak cornerbacks Zackary Bowman and Charles Tillman?

Well, Miles Austin did.  He’s showing why the Cowboys paid him so much money and why he’s probably a top five receiver in the NFL. Other than that, the ‘Boys weren’t able to do anything too special against one of the league’s worst cornerback tandems.

Who will return kicks and punts?

Bryant showed he should be the Cowboys’ primary punt returner for the remainder of the season.  He’s electric with the ball in his hands.  Akwasi Owusu-Ansah was up and down on kick returns.  He shows good vision and burst, but he needs to hang onto the football or he’ll find himself standing on the sideline.

Analyzing DOs and DON’Ts for Dallas

DO continue to run outside (right at Julius Peppers).

The Cowboys did anything but run at Peppers.  I charted the holes they ran through below.

Note: Romo's kneel at the end of the first half was not counted.

Dallas actually looked like they were making an effort to run up the middle, right at Tommie Harris and Brian Urlacher.  They ran outside of the tackles on just four plays the entire game.

Result: Fail

DO bring back the draw in a big way this week.

Dallas ran just three draws the whole game, and they totaled -1 yards.  It is obvious the draw play isn’t going to be a staple of the offense as it was in 2009.

Result: Fail

DON’T leave Doug Free or whoever starts at right tackle on an island versus Julius Peppers.

Of the 39 pass plays that Witten was in the game, he went out into a route on 29 of them (74.3 percent).  This is a little bit less than last year’s average, but the Cowboys made up for it by utilizing a lot of two-tight end sets.  Even before Witten went down with a concussion, Martellus Bennett was on the field for 39 of the Cowboys’ 58 plays.  That 67.2 percent rate is nearly double the 38.0 percent rate at which Bennett saw the field in Week One.

The Cowboys used Bennett to help out in pass protection instead of “wasting” Witten, and it actually seemed to work pretty well.  The Cowboys didn’t yield a sack all game.

Result: Pass

DO continue to air the ball out, but take some shots downfield.

At first glance, it appeared the Cowboys took more shots down the field against Chicago (as compared to the Redskins game), but that actually wasn’t the case.  Romo attempted five passes of 20+ yards in both games, but he actually threw three more passes between 10 and 20 yards against the Redskins.  Further, he actually threw two more passes overall against Chicago.

Result: Fail

DON’T get fooled by inevitable twists and stunts.

The pocket for Romo was by no means perfect, but I thought the line (and Bennett) did a commendable job in pass protection.  Romo, as always, eluded a few sacks with his mobility, but it wasn’t like he had no time to throw back there.

Result: Pass

DO continue to get Romo on the move with rollouts.

Jason Garrett didn’t call a single designed rollout against Chicago, and I still cannot figure out why rollouts aren’t a part of the offense.

Result: Fail

DON’T run many playaction passes.

I suggested that Dallas not run playaction passes because I thought the Bears’ defenders (specifically Julius Peppers) wouldn’t bite on the run fake anyway, so it would basically be a wasted motion.

Nonetheless, the Cowboys ran 12 playaction passes for 80 yards (6.67 yards-per-attempt).

A side note: Jason Garrett loves to run playaction with exactly 10 yards-to-go (either on 1st and 10 or after an incomplete pass on first down).  On Sunday, 10 of the Cowboys’ 12 playaction passes were from this distance.  The trend dates back to last year.  Take a look at these numbers.

Result: Fail

DON’T be afraid to continue running the ball on third down.

I counted seven third downs during which the Cowboys could have realistically run the ball (3rd and 5 or less), and they did so on four of those plays.  They converted on all four runs, while only one of the three passes went for a first down.

Result: Pass

Analyzing the “Game Plan”

1. Line up in double-tight end sets to pass.

The Cowboys’ play-calling made me feel as if they had read my “Game Plan.”  While that’s wishful thinking, the Cowboys did employ two tight ends on 24 of their first 34 passes.  That was by no means a coincidence, and I would presume they did it for just the reason I anticipated: so they could provide ample protection for Romo with Witten still in a route.

Result: Pass

2. Run outside (powers, counters) from spread formations.

As I wrote above, Dallas ran outside of the tackles just four times on Sunday, and only one of those was from a spread formation.  That play went for seven yards, while the three outside runs from tight formations totaled -3 yards.

Result: Fail

3.  Don’t blitz often, but disguise ‘em when you bring ‘em.

I spoke above about why I thought blitzing Cutler so often was a mistake, but regardless of when the Cowboys bring blitzes, they need to disguise them better.  We’ve seen how the Redskins and Bears have found success against Romo by tricking the Cowboys with their pre-snap alignment.  The ‘Boys offensive line really has no idea who is coming.

That’s not the case with opposing offensive lines.  The Cowboys generally make it painfully clear who is going to be blitzing on a certain play, and that needs to change.

Result: Fail

4.  Cover tight end Greg Olsen primarily with a linebacker (when not in nickel).

The Cowboys did this for the most part, and it actually worked fairly well.  Olsen’s lone big play came when the Cowboys blitzed both Keith Brooking and Bradie James, leaving Olsen as the hot read over the middle for a touchdown that was way, way too easy.  That one play deserves a “fail.”

Result: Fail

5. Get a press on Johnny Knox and Devin Hester at all times.

Knox’s big play came on a 3rd and 15 in which the Cowboys appeared to be in Cover 3.  Mike Jenkins underestimated Knox’s speed and Ball bit up on a crossing route, leaving Knox wide open down the middle of the field.

Cover 3 isn’t an ideal situation in which to press, but it can be done.  As you can see below, each cornerback has “deep third” responsibility, or the deepest guy in their third of the field.  This means they are to play “safely”, as there is no safety help in that area.

Perhaps the Cowboys should implement more press-bail coverage where the cornerback jams the receiver but then bails into his safe zone responsibility.  A lot of other teams do this (Dallas doesn’t use it much), and it can sometimes trick a quarterback into misreading coverage.  It also allows a cornerback to disrupt a receiver’s route, while still “playing it safe.”

Result: Fail

6.  After acquiring a manageable lead, run 3 Wide Right Liz 26 Power

Well, they never acquired a “manageable lead,” so this play wasn’t really necessary.  They didn’t run it at all.

Result: N/A

Conclusions: The Cowboys passed only three of my eight “DOs and DON’Ts” and just one of five applicable notes in my “Game Plan,” meaning if they were a junior high student, the teacher would be recommending them for special education.

In all seriousness, the ‘Boys did do some things well, and if they can manage to limit the self-inflicted mistakes (penalties, turnovers, and so on), they have a good chance to win this week in Houston.  Their backs are up against the wall, so let’s see if they come out swinging.

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Dallas Cowboys vs. Chicago Bears Week 2 Initial Post-Game Notes

Jonathan Bales

This may be shorter than usual because I’m pissed.  It may also take me a day or two to drum up the motivation needed to break down the film.  Sorry for the delay, but I never hide the fact that I’m a fan first.

Play-Calling/Formations

  • The front line on kick returns is bailing too early.  They will be susceptible to a surprise onside kick.
  • Speaking of a surprise onside kick, I actually liked the Cowboys’ decision to try one in the first half.  The execution, though, was terrible.  That ball cannot be kicked up into the air so Chicago can make a fair catch.  It has to hit the ground first.  If that happens, there’s a 60 percent chance the Cowboys recover (over a large sample size). . .making the call statistically advantageous.  Again, don’t hate the call.  Hate the execution.
  • The coaches don’t get a pass on all of their decisions, though.  Although tough calls, I thought the Cowboys twice should have gone for it on fourth down in Chicago territory–once on 4th and 8 at the Bears’ 37-yard line, and once on 4th and 5 at their 27-yard line.  Not only does the math say go for it in both situations, but David Buehler was struggling.  To me, that makes the calls no-brainers.  The Cowboys ended up punting it into the endzone (gaining 17 net yards) on one and missing a field goal on the other.
  • The Cowboys lined DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer up on the same side at times, which was a new wrinkle.  It seemed to work early, but they didn’t come back to it.
  • On Greg Olsen’s touchdown, the Cowboys blitzed.  Why?  My Week 2 Game Plan said don’t blitz often, and clearly I am more knowledgeable than Wade Phillips (that’s a joke).  Seriously though, they were getting a ton of pressure on Jay Cutler with just four rushers at that point.
  • The second quarter false start by Marc Colombo wasn’t his fault.  Romo called an audible too late and the play clock ran down, forcing him to change his cadence.
  • If you didn’t notice, defensive end Marcus Spears was in the game in some short-yardage situations.
  • Lining up Marion Barber at fullback in short-yardage situations isn’t fooling anyone.  This isn’t high school football–the defense knows where he is, Jason Garrett.  Instead, why not line up in a “regular” I-formation and hand the ball to Chris Gronkowski?  He’s probably a better short-yardage runner anyway and his athleticism was likely why the ‘Boys kept him in the first place.
  • In the beginning of the third quarter, the Cowboys lined up in a formation called “Gun 3 Wide Pro” which they run a lot, particularly in long-yardage situations.  They usually line up with Jason Witten in the backfield as Romo’s personal protector.

Perhaps the Cowboys got word of our statistics that suggest Witten should be in a pass route more often, because they changed up the alignment on this formation today.  Martellus Bennett was in Witten’s spot, with Witten in the slot.

I don’t like the change, at least not as Dallas ran it today.  Bennett is a really good blocker and fine in the backfield, but the Cowboys lined up in the look on 3rd and long.  The Bears knew the Cowboys would be passing in that situation, meaning Witten can’t really create any match-up problems for them.  He (and other tight ends) are effective because their blocking ability forces teams to bring in linebackers in case the offense runs.  On 3rd and long, though, Dez Bryant and even Roy Williams, I would argue, are better options in the passing game than Witten.

Players

  • Gerald Sensabaugh had an awesome game.  He made a few really important tackles, wrapping up instead of going for the knockout shot.
  • I am still sticking with my preseason prediction that Alan Ball will be replaced by Akwai Owusu-Ansah at some point this season.  He hasn’t been good against the pass or the run.
  • AOA fumbled the ball again, although his knee was already down.  He needs to hold onto the football.
  • Does anything really need to be said about David Buehler?  He’s going to lose his placekicking job this week.
  • I don’t think Felix Jones’ extra weight is serving him well.  He looks noticeably slower than last year and he even appears hesitant on runs.  He gets the handoff, stops, and tries to jump through a hole as opposed to hitting it at full speed.  Tashard Choice needs more playing time.



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