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“Grading the ‘Boys”: Preseason Week Three, Cowboys vs. Chargers

Jonathan Bales

I’ve done a lot of analysis of the Cowboys/Chargers game (what to watch, DOs and DON’Ts, initial post-game notes, what we learned, final film study observations, and so on).  The Cowboys really played quite awfully, although there were some good signs (the offense scored a red zone touchdown and Sean Lee showed flashes of play-making ability, for example).

Today, I will grade the players.  In my first two “Grading the ‘Boys” segments, I explained that it would be impossible for me to study every player as closely as I deem necessary for grading.  Instead, I watch a select group of players in great detail and report back to you on their performance.

WR Miles Austin: A

He and Romo have the potential to be unstoppable on those back-shoulder fades.

FS Alan Ball: A-

Not sure if I mentioned this, but Ball looks much better tackling this season; brought down Darren Sproles in open field and looked solid elsewhere

RB Marion Barber: C

Barber’s first preseason grade; don’t see the added explosion and burst others are raving over

TE Martellus Bennett: B+

Showed why the Cowboys drafted him with freaky athleticism; always a great blocker; committed one false start; may have gotten “A-” if not for horrid post-touchdown dance

OT Robert Brewster: B+

Shocking performance; did receive some help from tight ends/running backs, but technique was much improved; one false start

LG Travis Bright: C

Just not seeing the same level of dominance from Bright as from Costa

S Barry Church: B+

He’s an “in-the-box” guy, but his tackling ability really stood out; if he can show adequate range, he’s got a shot



G/C Phil Costa: A-

Very impressive film; versatility will grab him a roster spot

RB Herb Donaldson: D-

Hesitant on runs and dances in hole; poor receiver

CB Cletis Gordon: A

Underestimated this guy; tremendous technique and coverage ability; displayed athleticism and ball skills on one-handed interception; also an emergency return man; will likely be Dallas’ fourth cornerback

FB Chris Gronkowski: D

Just can’t see how Cowboys will keep him on 53-man roster; loses balance and lunges at defenders; light years behind Deon Anderson

DE Jason Hatcher: B

Nothing extraordinary, but playing well this preseason against both pass and run; could unseat Spears for starting gig

LG Montrae Holland: A-

Really nice job in both run game and pass protection; showed good balance and is a “scrapper” inside

WR Sam Hurd: B

Stepped up with roster spot in question; probably more potential as a receiver than Jesse Holley

CB Mike Jenkins: C

Nothing to worry about, but got beat a few times inside; showed poor technique by losing leverage, missing on press

QB Jon Kitna: B

Others hate, but I am comfortable with Kitna as backup; has checked out of four plays this preseason, all with good results

LB Sean Lee: B-

Up-and-down night; lost track of ball a few times early (two run plays and a screen that I noticed), but responded well and made some tremendous plays to close out game

S Danny McCray: C-

Still not as impressed with this guy as others; blew assignment in third quarter to yield huge play; special teams ability could save him, but I prefer Church

RG Pat McQuistan: F

Next.

FS Akwasi Owusu-Ansah: C+

Hesitant on kickoff returns but showed burst and decisiveness on punt return; no obvious mental errors

QB Tony Romo: C-

By my count, was off-target on four of 11 passes; analysis of 2009 off-target passes shows he’s missed about twice as many this preseason; also made poor decision on interception

NT Junior Siavii:  B

Arrival of Josh Brent has lit fire under Siavii; would be nice to see him improve in pass rush

RT Sam Young:  D-

Really poor game after solid outings earlier; yielded only sack of game and got beat other times due to poor technique and lack of quickness; lined up off of line of scrimmage twice in period of a few plays

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Cowboys vs. Chargers Preseason Film Study Observations

Jonathan Bales

I’ve already posted initial game notes, “DOs and DON’Ts analysis,” and what we learned from the Cowboys/Chargers game.  Now that I’ve finally had a chance to completely break down the film, here are my final observations.

Play-Calling/Formation Notes

  • The Cowboys lined up in Double Tight Left (or Right) Strong Left (or Right) seven times on Saturday night, running a strong side dive all seven times. They gained 22 total yards (3.14 yards-per-carry).  I know it is only preseason, but this is getting a bit ridiculous.  However, all seven of the plays came with the backups in the game–perhaps not a coincidence.  Here is my full analysis of the Cowboys’ play-calling out of the formation.
  • Overall, the Cowboys have run a strong side dive out of the formation on 12 of 14 plays this preseason (85.7 percent).
  • Last season, the Cowboys ran a strong side dive out of both the “Strong” and “I” variations of the “Double Tight Left or Right) formation (below).

  • This preseason, they are running weak side out of the latter variation (I-formation).  The reason is simple: the weak side lead block for the fullback is easier if he lines up behind the center as compared to lining up between the strong side guard and tackle.  On Saturday night, they lined up in Double Tight Right I Right twice, running weak side both times and losing four total yards.
  • The Cowboys have lined up in a new formation this year called “Double Tight Left Twins Right Ace” (or vice versa).  The play-calling out of this formation is by no means as predictable as that from “Double Tight Strong,” but I’ve noticed that Dallas has frequently lined up in “Double Tight Right Ace” and motioned the receiver on the Double Tight side of the formation over into a twins set, running a toss to the two-tight end side.  The play, which I (and not the Cowboys) have titled “Double Tight Right Ace Liz 28 Toss” is shown below.

  • The Chargers said they would blitz the Cowboys, and they did.  San Diego came after the Dallas’ quarterback 17 times after Oakland blitzed the ‘Boys just five times.  The Cowboys gained only 88 yards on these plays (5.18 yards-per-play).  Unfortunately, Romo was just one-for-five against the blitz for six yards and an interception. That won’t be a trend for a quarterback who is one of the league’s best in the face of pressure.
  • It seemed as though Dallas made it a priority for the quarterbacks to get the ball out of their hands quickly.  They allowed only one sack (Sam Young), but only six passes traveled more than 10 yards in the air, and only two more than 15.  An incredible 18 of the passes were five yards or less.

Players

  • I haven’t been impressed with fullback Chris Gronkowski.  I’ve seen multiple 53-man roster projections with him making the team over Deon Anderson.  You won’t find that in my roster projection.  Sure, Gronkowski is probably more athletic and a bigger receiving threat out of the backfield, but with the weapons the Cowboys possess on offense, does that really matter?  They don’t need another pass-catcher.  They need a powerful lead blocker, and right now Gronkowski isn’t showing that ability on film.  I’ve witnessed him lose his balance and dive at defenders on multiple occasions.
  • I still cannot figure out how Lonyae Miller has not jumped over Herb Donaldson on the depth chart.  Donaldson is extremely hesitant when running the ball and a poor receiver.  Miller has shown a knack for catching the ball and, although inconsistent, has at least shown some burst with the ball in his hands.
  • I’ve been impressed with Phil Costa at center.  Starter Andre Gurode is still one of the most important pieces of the offense, but Costa is making a case that he, and not Kyle Kosier, should be the backup center.
  • After watching more film, I am beginning to like safety Barry Church more and more.  He is never going to be a ball-hawk in the secondary, but he sure can tackle.  He has come flying up from the back of the secondary to make a few extraordinary tackles, yet still maintains control.
  • I was wrong on cornerback Cletis Gordon.  He will be the Cowboys’ fourth cornerback.  The one-handed interception and subsequent return he displayed in the fourth quarter in San Diego was a thing of beauty.
  • For more player observations, check my post-game notes. Player grades coming tomorrow.

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Analyzing Pre-Game DOs and DON’Ts for Cowboys vs. Chargers



Jonathan Bales

Before the Cowboys’ third preseason game in San Diego, I published a list of DOs and DON’Ts for Dallas.  Let’s see how they performed:

DO keep tight ends in to help right tackle Robert Brewster in pass protection.

In my original post-game notes, I remarked that it seemed as though the Cowboys actually let Brewster out on an island at right tackle quite a bit.  I was wrong.

The Cowboys threw 11 passes with Brewster at right tackle, and tight end Jason Witten stayed in to block on five of them (45.5 percent).  In my study on why Witten should go out in a route more often in the future, I noted that he did so on 77.1 percent of pass plays in 2009.

Thus, as I suggested, Dallas did leave him in to block more often than usual.

Result: Pass

DON’T play Tony Romo for more than a few series OR use him on playaction when he’s in the game.

Romo did stay in the game for nearly the entire first half, but due to the Cowboys’ offensive woes, that ended up being just 17 plays (and four series).  Good job, Wade.

I suggested that Dallas not run any playaction passes with Romo in the game so that he would never have his back turned to the defense.  They ended up running just two playaction passes the entire game, and only one came with Romo at the helm.  That play involved a rather weak fake during which Romo never turned his head to the defense, so there was no added risk of injury.

Result: Pass

DO attempt a long field goal instead of punting.

The Cowboys never really got the chance to do this.  Buehler didn’t attempt a field goal all night.

Result: N/A

DON’T overdo it with rookies Sean Lee and Akwasi Owusu-Ansah.

I was surprised at the amount of reps the Cowboys gave to both rookies.  Now, Lee was forced into the game early due to a minor injury to Keith Brooking, but he stayed in until the end.  He did some great things and some poor ones, but the most important thing was that he looked, and stayed, healthy.

AOA got a lot of chances to return.  He looked a bit hesitant on kick returns and needs to secure the ball, but he flashed his skills on a 45-yard punt return that got called back.  As is usually the case with Dallas’ free safeties, he wasn’t “in” on a lot of plays–but he also didn’t yield any big ones either.

Result: Fail

DO give Alex Barron some time at both left and right tackle.

This may have been an option. . .had Barron played.  We will likely see him next weekend against Houston.

Result: N/A

DON’T feel pressured to (necessarily) run the ball in the red zone.

The Cowboys ran four plays in the red zone all night–three with Romo from the eight-yard line, and one with Kitna from the 19-yard line.

I’ve showed why passing the ball in the red zone can still be statistically superior to running the ball (when outside of the 10-yard line and on first down in particular).

Three of the Cowboys’ four red zone plays were passes, and all four were the right call, statistically, for the situation.  The Cowboys ran the ball (unsuccessfully) on 1st and Goal from the eight-yard line, then threw the ball twice following that (the third down play going for a touchdown).

The 1st and 10 play from the 19-yard line should have been a pass, and it was–a touchdown from Jon Kitna to Martellus Bennett.  I give Jason Garrett a lot of crap, but maybe he’s improving.

Result: Pass

DO give Phil Costa a lot of time at center.

Costa did get a bunch of reps at center and he made the most of his opportunity.  There were no muffed snaps and he did a solid job blocking.  In my opinion, he will secure a roster spot (probably at Travis Bright’s expense), barring a total meltdown.

Result: Pass

DON’T give center Andre Gurode a ton of playing time.

Gurode stayed in the game for the first half, but it was just 18 plays.

Result: Pass

DON’T allow Mat McBriar to do much directional punting.

It’s impossible to know whether it was intentional, but McBriar did boom some punts to give the Cowboys’ coverage unit some opportunities to make plays.  Overall, they covered them pretty well.

Result: Pass

DO give Jon Kitna more time with the first-team offense.

Kitna got some time with the first-teamers, but not exactly as much as I was hoping: one play (a strong side dive) before the end of the first half.

Result: Fail

DO run some dive plays behind Montrae Holland.

It looked like the Cowboys made a conscious effort to run behind Holland.  Of the seven first half runs by Dallas, Holland was at the point-of-attack on four of them.  The Cowboys gained only eight total yards on those plays, although Holland didn’t appear to do an awful job on his blocks.  He also performed well in pass protection.

Result: Pass

Conclusions

Seven ‘passes,’ two ‘fails,’ and two ‘N/As.’  Overall, the Cowboys did a solid job of using this game to accomplish the task which I believe to be the most important in the preseason: analyze your unknown commodities.

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