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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


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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Preseason Week 2, Cowboys vs. Chargers: What We Learned

Note: I am having some trouble securing the game film for this contest.  Hopefully, I will have it by tomorrow.

Jonathan Bales

Before the Cowboys’ third preseason game in San Diego, I gave you 12 things to watch.  Here is what we learned.

1. How much will the starters play?

Fairly long, actually.  Tony Romo was again the first player out on offense, and backup quarterback Jon Kitna got some reps with the first team.  That’s just what I wanted to see and, despite public opinion to the contrary, Kitna is an above-average backup.

On defense, most of the starters played nearly the entire first half.  Shoulder injuries to Gerald Sensabaugh and Keith Brooking may have been blessings in disguise, as it gave us an opportunity to see more of rookies Barry Church and Sean Lee.

2. How will the offense execute against a 3-4 defense?

Terribly.  Dallas’ first team offense (and defense) was dominated.  They did score a red zone touchdown, but it was set up by a fumble return to the San Diego eight-yard line.

The good news is that both Montrae Holland (left guard) and Robert Brewster (left and right tackle) played well.

3. Will Robert Brewster, starting in place of the injured Marc Colombo, step up after a lackluster start to the 2010 preseason? Can he contain Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips?

Well, Merriman ended up not playing, but Brewster still held his own.  He looked really comfortable on the right side of the line.  His footwork was light years ahead of where it was in the Cowboys’ first two games this preseason.

4. With his roster spot possibly on the line, how will receiver Kevin Ogletree respond after two poor games?

Despite a solid week of practice, Ogletree was rather quiet in San Diego.  He did make a nice catch on a terrific comeback route (his best route, in my opinion), but he also got ripped into by special teams coach Joe DeCamillis.  His roster spot isn’t a lock at this point.

5. Will the offense continue to use so much Shotgun?

I will have to watch the film again to know for sure, but Dallas certainly ran less Shotgun plays than last week.

6. Will Dallas be more effective on their draw plays?

Again, I will have to break down the film.  The Cowboys did appear to not lean on the draw play as much in San Diego, though.

7. Will we see the debuts of rookies Sean Lee and Akwasi Owusu-Ansah?  If so, how will Lee perform in coverage and will AOA show something special on returns?

We did see action from both players.  Lee was over-matched initially.  He got called for a (phantom) illegal contact penalty and looked lost at times through the first few quarters.  He did pick it up at the end of the game though, showing why Dallas drafted him when he took on a block, shed it, and made an important tackle.

Owusu-Ansah looked a little hesitant on kick returns and needs to secure the football, but he also displayed great burst on a 45-yard punt return.  It got called back due to a penalty, but his decisiveness on the return has to make the Cowboys happy.

8. How will the linebackers and safeties perform against one of the league’s premiere tight ends?

Not bad.  Gates was held to just one catch for seven yards.  Linebacker Keith Brooking again looked sensational in coverage, running step for step with Gates before he (Brooking) went down with a minor shoulder injury.

We didn’t get to see much of Sensabaugh, but Barry Church needs to work on some things in coverage.  He doesn’t have a particularly quick first step and blew an assignment in the third quarter to yield a huge play downfield.

9. Will nose tackles Junior Siavii and Josh Brent continue to play well enough to force the coaches to contemplate keeping both players?

Yes.  Siavii was awesome again, particularly against the run.  He still needs to show he can get to the passer though.

This was the most quiet game for Brent, but he did get less playing time than usual.

10. It is a make-or-break game for rookie cornerback Jamar Wall. Will he show something?

Not really.  I will watch him more intently once I receive the film, but he sure didn’t make any big plays.  He is getting outplayed severely by Cletis Gordon and Byran McCann.  I would place the odds of him making the team at about 10:1.

11. Will Leon Williams continue to show he deserves a roster spot?

I’m torn on Williams.  He always seems to be around the ball, but he is pretty poor in space.  He showed that on a screen pass where he failed to properly break down and just flew by the ball-carrier.  He also dropped another interception, although this time he got jacked up as he caught it–by teammate Jason Williams.

Overall, Leon’s roster spot is a 50/50 proposition to me at this point.

12. Can David Buehler continue the success he had against the Raiders?

He didn’t really get the opportunity.  No field goal tries and two extra points.  No news is probably good news for Buehler, though.

Check back later for film obervations (hopefully) and final player grades.


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Preseason Week Three, Cowboys vs. Chargers: Initial Post-Game Notes


  • After a great week of practice, Martellus Bennett carried that momentum into the game.  He looked really good in the passing game.  I didn’t get a chance to watch his run blocking too much (which I will do tonight and tomorrow), but outside of a false start, he looked really good.
  • Tony Romo was up and down tonight.  He missed a few open receivers and threw a bad interception, but also showed why the back-shoulder throw is going to be an important tool in his arsenal this season as he used it on a touchdown pass to Miles Austin.
  • Jason Garrett is obviously planning to implement more designed rollouts this season.  The Cowboys are running about three times as many this preseason as they did in the regular season last year.  It could be an effective method to combat a sometimes porous offensive line.
  • Pat McQuistan was bad at tackle, and he is worse at guard.  There is no way he can possibly make this team.
  • I need to watch the film, but both Montrae Holland and Robert Brewster appeared to play well.  Brewster got a ton of playing time at both left and right tackle.  He showed much better footwork tonight and his only noticeable error was a false start.
  • Doug Free really excels out in space.  He blocks much better on tosses and counters than on power runs.
  • The only major qualm I had with Garrett’s play-calling was a 3rd and 1 pass out of “Gun Spread.”  Of course, it is only preseason and perhaps he just wanted to monitor something with that particular play.
  • Check that. . .I did have ONE more issue with the play-calling.  By my count, the Cowboys lined up in “Double Tight Strong” six or seven times. . .ALL strong side dives.  You can see my study of the play-calling out of “Double Tight Strong” here.  Dallas ran a strong side dive 85.7 percent of the time last season when they motioned into the formation.
  • On the flip side, the Cowboys seem to be running to the weak side when they line up in “Double Tight I” this season.  The reasoning is simple: the fullback is closer to the weak side pre-snap and has an easier lead block.
  • Phil Costa looked good at center.  His versatility will help him make this team.
  • Sam Hurd helped his case for a roster spot with solid play at wide receiver, while Jesse Holley again excelled on special teams.


  • Barry Church showed that he is an “in-the-box” safety.  He made some nice open field tackles, but also struggled in pass coverage.
  • The Cowboys didn’t tackle well overall, though (particularly the first team).  They let rookie running back Ryan Mathews run all over them.
  • Keith Brooking locked down Zach Miller last week, and he did a nice job on Antonio Gates tonight.  He also injured his shoulder, but it appears to be just a mild sprain of the AC joint, which should heal shortly.
  • Rookie Sean Lee had a poor night before coming on strong at the end of the game.  He looked lost through the first two and a half quarters, but he showed incredible instincts on a third down run late in the game.  He took on the fullback, shed him, and made a strong tackle.
  • Cletis Gordon was by far Dallas’ best cornerback on the night.  He displayed lock-down coverage and secured an interception during which he exhibited perfect technique and ball skills.
  • I still haven’t seen much from Alan Ball at free safety.  That can sometimes be good for a free safety, but the Cowboys want him to make big plays.  He appears to be too scared to allow a big play.  It is affecting his ability to make some of his own.
  • Junior Siavii’s play, particularly against the run, makes me think the Cowboys will keep three nose tackles (Jay Ratliff and Josh Brent).
  • The Cowboys had a blown coverage in the third quarter.  After watching the play a few times, I believe safety Danny McCray was at fault.  The Cowboys appeared to be in Cover 2, meaning McCray’s responsibility is the deep half of the field.  Cornerback Cletis Gordon allowed the No. 1 receiver to run free, expecting deep help.  I will review the play more later and report back on it tomorrow.c
  • I haven’t seen much from Marcus Dixon at defensive end.  He is a long-shot to make the team at this point.

Special Teams

  • Akwasi Owusu-Ansah is going to be the real deal on returns.  He displayed tremendous burst, particularly on a 45-yard punt return that got called back because of a penalty.  I was particularly impressed with his decisiveness–one cut and gone.
  • We didn’t get to see David Buehler attempt a single field goal tonight.  That could actually help him, as the job is probably his barring a meltdown.

Check back in the coming days for film study results and player grades.

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