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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.


  • 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


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.


Player Grades


  • 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.


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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Week 2 Preview: Dallas Cowboys vs. Chicago Bears Game Day Manifesto

Jonathan Bales

During the preseason, I formulated two separate articles called “What to Watch” and “DOs and DON’Ts for Dallas” as game previews for the upcoming contests.  During the regular season, I will combine these two features into a single, more all-inclusive article known (solely to me) as a “Game Day Manifesto.”  You’ll be able to find the “Manifesto” category under the “GameDay” tab above.

Also check back later in the week for a new feature called “Game Plan.”  While the weekly “Manifesto” will contain some Xs and Os, the “Game Plan” will feature in-depth game strategy detailing how Dallas can win that week’s game and how they should go about doing it.  There, you’ll find a lot of analysis of formations, personnel, play-calling, and so on.

Now on to this week’s Manifesto. . .

What to Watch for Dallas vs. Washington

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

Kosier and Colombo are both practicing today, so things are looking up for the offensive line.  I would say Colombo has a better chance of returning than Kosier, but he isn’t a particularly fast healer.

Holland will start at left guard if Kosier can’t go, as he should.  He played pretty well on Sunday night (I gave him a ‘B’ in my player grades).

The real mystery is who will start at right tackle if Colombo is down.  In my opinion, Robert Brewster should have been starting there in the opener.  Hindsight is 20/20, but Brewster was superior to Barron during the preseason when on the right side.  Barron’s game simply isn’t suited for right tackle (and perhaps not for left tackle, either).

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

I thought the Cowboys would blitz sparingly against the Redskins, but Coach Phillips brought pressure, particularly with the inside linebackers, quite often.  It didn’t really work out, but the Dallas defense still played well.

Let’s see if the ‘Boys employ the same approach on Sunday against Chicago.  Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is known to make poor decisions in the face of pressure, but the Cowboys may be able to reach him without blitzing.  If that turns out to be the case, they’ll have more defenders in coverage to take advantage of his mistakes.

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

Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz is going to throw the ball early and often against whoever he plays.  Even without elite weapons outside, Martz will test opposing secondaries.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the Cowboys’ cornerbacks will be able to handle Devin Hester, Johnny Knox, and Devin Aromashodu.  Knox has the potential to get deep, but Alan Ball has shown he is capable of halting any big-play opportunities.

In my opinion, there are two players who could potentially cause problems for the Cowboys: tight end Greg Olsen and running back Matt Forte.  Martz hasn’t utilized his tight ends in the past, but that seems like it may be changing with Olsen–a player who is more like a receiver than a tight end.  Olsen could be a mismatch whether he’s covered by Bradie James, Keith Brooking, or Gerald Sensabaugh.  Dallas will need to monitor him closely.

Forte’s receiving prowess was on display last week when he burned Detroit for 151 yards on seven receptions.  He’s obviously tremendous as a receiver and possibly the Bears’ best opportunity to beat the ‘Boys.  He has the advantage over any Dallas defender that is covering him, so it may be smart to play a lot of zone coverage.  Screens to Forte could be the Cowboys’ kryptonite this week.

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

Sunday night was another classic case of the Cowboys racking up yards without scoring points to show for it.  To have a successful season, it is imperative they improve their points-to-yards ratio.  The easiest way to do that is to force turnovers, creating a short field for the offense.

If the ‘Boys can’t force Jay Cutler to turn over the ball, there’s no hope for them.  Cutler will throw plenty of balls up for grabs, and without much protection up front, Ware, Spencer & Co. should be able to get in position to strip the ball from the Bears’ gunslinger.

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

In my Cowboys-Redskins film study observations, I noted that Washington was able to get pressure on Romo by disguising their blitzes and confusing the Dallas linemen.  You can bet the Bears will try to copy that success.  Linemen always need to be nasty, but this week it is even more imperative that they are cerebral, adjusting to the various defensive looks Chicago is bound to throw at them.

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

Bowman and Tillman aren’t exactly Leon Hall and Jonathan Joseph.  Both are tall, but neither is particularly big (193 and 198 pounds, respectively), meaning the Cowboys’ tall, physical receivers should be able to use their size to not only gain position when the ball is in the air, but also break a few tackles once they make the reception.  Look for Austin in particular to have a field day when running after the catch.

Who will return kicks and punts?

Last week, Dez Bryant and Akwasi Owusu-Ansah took turns fielding punts, while AOA and Kevin Ogletree manned kickoffs.  This week, I think the Cowboys should choose one guy and stick with him.  ‘Kwasi needs to be the guy, at least on kick returns.  He’s strong and decisive.  If they want to leave Bryant back as a punt returner that’s fine, but it doesn’t make sense to continually rotate guys.  The best return man (whoever they decide it is) should be returning all the time.

DOs and DON’Ts for Dallas

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

The ‘Boys ran outside a ton against the Redskins, which isn’t their normal modus operandi.  Actually, 12 of the Cowboys’ 22 runs were outside of the tackles, and only four were inside the guards.  I didn’t think that was a particularly good game plan against the Redskins, but I do think it will work against Chicago.

First, there’s some guy named Brian Urlacher manning the middle of the Bears’ defense.  With help from defensive tackle Tommie Harris, Urlacher could make it quite tough to gain yards inside.

Further, Julius Peppers lines up outside.  Peppers is an insane athlete and one of the league’s top pass-rushers, but he’s not good (or at least inconsistent) against the run.  It’s not that he couldn’t be good against the run, but rather he plays selfishly.  He doesn’t stick with his responsibility, nearly always rushing upfield in an attempt to get to the quarterback.  The Cowboys can take advantage of that by running right at him.

One method by which they can accomplish that task is by doing the following. . .

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

The Cowboys ran just three draws against the Redskins after calling nearly eight per game in 2009.  I explained in my Ultimate Guide to Dallas Cowboys Draws that the ‘Boys could maximize the efficiency of draw plays by calling them less often, but this week is an exception.

As I mentioned, Peppers is likely to rush up the field on most plays.  This is particularly true when he sees a play that resembles a pass.  If Doug Free drops into a pass set and Romo drops back as if to pass, Peppers will be gone.  The Cowboys should be able to run right in the vacated area, particularly if they dial up a few five-step draws (as opposed to the more conventional three-step variety).

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

The Cowboys could accomplish this by leaving Jason Witten in to block, but statistically that’s a poor idea.  The more prudent method, in my opinion, would be to run a bunch of double-tight sets, leaving Martellus Bennett in to block.  Plus, the Cowboys are very successful when passing out of two-tight end looks such as “Ace.”

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

The Cowboys came out passing on Sunday night, but not as usual.  They called a boatload of screens and other short passes that were really an extension of the running game.  Actually, a couple of the smoke screens they threw were actually designed run plays that Romo checked out of.

This week, Dallas needs to trust their offensive line and get the ball down the field.  With weapons like Austin and Bryant outside, there’s no reason the Cowboys shouldn’t be able to stretch the field to open up the middle for Witten and running lanes for the backs.

DON’T get fooled by inevitable twists and stunts.

As I mentioned above, the Bears are going to try to copy what worked for Washington on defense: disguising their blitzes and implementing a lot of stunts.  Even the Cowboys’ veteran linemen (particularly Gurode) seem to get fooled quite easily by stunts.  They should make pass protection against them a priority this week in practice.

DO continue to get Romo on the move with rollouts.

Worried about pass protection issues?  Designed rollouts could possibly be a solution.  Dallas shouldn’t overdo it, but calling a few plays where Romo is on the move (preferably away from Julius Peppers) could not only make Peppers path to Romo longer, but it will also be a defense against Bears defenders who like to rush to a certain spot.

DON’T run many playaction passes.

Rollouts are fine, but playaction bootlegs are not.  Why?  Because Peppers isn’t going to bite on playaction anyway.  There’s really no reason for Dallas to waste their time with playaction (unless a play is perfectly set up).

Notice a theme on who Dallas should be preparing for?

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

I love third down runs.  They are more successful than passes on 3rd and 1-5, and nearly as efficient on 3rd and 6-10 (amazingly).  They will work against the Bears. . .trust me.

DO play Robert Brewster if Marc Colombo can’t play.

This is a no-brainer to me.  Brewster is better-suited for right tackle than Alex Barron.  Period.  And he tries harder.

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