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Dallas Cowboys vs. San Diego Chargers Week 2 Post-Game Observations

Jonathan Bales

In case you missed it, I did a live blog of last night’s game. Here are some of my observations. . .

  • Felix Jones looks remarkable.  He is the clear No. 1 and should be a workhorse for Dallas.  People will argue he cannot withstand the punishment of receiving 15+ touches a game, but I disagree.  You have to feed the ball to your most talented players, and the Cowboys are a far more dynamic offense with Jones on the field.  Jones has a greater chance of getting injured if he receives more touches, but that is simply because of a larger selection of plays on which he can get hurt.  He is no more likely (at least not substantially so) to get injured on his 20th touch than his first.  Give him the ball.
  • By the way. . .anyone else see Jones’ beard?  Yikes.
  • Tyron Smith looks really good.  His footwork needs to be developed, but he is far ahead of where I thought he might be at this point.  He’s already a large upgrade over Marc Colombo and offers the Cowboys left/right tackle versatility.  I still don’t like Jason Garrett giving him more snaps than the other first-team offensive linemen, though.  I realize he needs work, but do we really want to see Sam Young starting?
  • Tony Romo’s interception came on a playaction pass out of ‘Ace’ formation.  The ‘Boys love to run playaction out of ‘Ace’ (particularly screens), and Romo checked into this particular play.  It wasn’t that the audible was poor as much as the throw, as Romo simply made a lackluster read.  In my 2010 Quarterback Grades, I analyzed Romo’s audibles for the entire season (stats below).

  • The cornerbacks are playing quite a bit of off coverage.  I’m not sure if this will continue into the regular season, but I think Rob Ryan is dialing it up because he’s afraid the defensive backs could get beat deep.  With Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins still out, it is tough to ask Alan Ball and Orlando Scandrick to be too physical at the line.
  • In the early part of the game, we saw Abram Elam, Danny McCray and Bryan McCann all blitz.  Using unconventional defenders (i.e. secondary) to blitz is a trademark of Rob Ryan’s defense.  The reason it works is because offensive line’s rarely account for a nickel cornerback, for example.  While blitzing players from the secondary (or, similarly, dropping defensive linemen/outside linebackers into coverage) is not inherently value-maximizing, it can still often lead to maximum value for a defense.  This is due to the fact that football is a zero-sum game (meaning the success of one team necessarily means the failure of the other).  If we assign a “normal” blitz with 500 “value points” and give the offense 450 points in their ability to effectively block it, it creates less of a disparity than an exotic blitz which is worth just 400 points (intrinsically “less” valuable than the normal blitz) but gives the offense 300 points in their ability to halt it.  The points are arbitrary, but they show that Ryan’s defense works because it creates the largest disparity between offensive and defensive efficiency, not because it is valuable in and of itself.
  • Barry Church had a nice night.  He made a couple plays on special teams and looked pretty good in coverage (sans one pass interference call).  His ability to stop the run has always been considered a strength, so it is nice to see him improving against the pass.  I think he offers versatility as a blitzer as well, and at this point, I think he has a better chance to make the team than Danny McCray.  The two may be in a battle for a roster spot.
  • Gerald Sensabaugh already looks much improved after showing hesitancy in Ryan’s scheme last week.  He nearly made a really nice interception and looked solid overall.  Don’t forget the Cowboys were smart to retain Sensabaugh on a one-year deal.
  • Stephen McGee continues to improve.  He has all the tools to succeed, but he still needs to display more consistency.  Sometimes he stands tall in the pocket and delivers the football, and other times he bails when there is no apparent pressure at all.  He uses his mobility in a manner similar to Romo, scrambling behind the line-of-scrimmage to find open receivers as opposed to taking off on the ground.  With sub-par accuracy, he needs to use that mobility–but not when it isn’t necessary.
  • Lonyae Miller continues to struggle, and I don’t think he has much of a chance to make the roster anymore.  He runs hesitantly and displays little burst.  He leveled a linebacker in pass protection, but he’s inconsistent in that area as well.  The real story at running back right now is Phillip Tanner.  The kid showed a lot last night–tremendous burst, good pass protection, and incredible toughness.  If he keeps it up, the ‘Boys won’t be able to stash him on the practice squad.  If I was Garrett, I would be heading into the 2011 season with four tailbacks on my roster–Jones, Murray, Choice and Tanner–and I’d be looking to move Choice.
  • Jeremy Parnell is the third-best offensive tackle on this team right now.  That doesn’t bode well for the offensive line, but Parnell has shown a nice combination of power in the run game and quickness in pass pro.  I think he’ll make the 53-man roster.
  • The more I watch the rookies, the more I think David Arkin is going to be a future starter at guard.  The knock on him was an inability to move around well in space, but that isn’t what I see.  He’s shown me he can get to the second level just fine, giving the offense the ability to continue to run screens when he’s in the game.
  • Kevin Ogletree and Manuel Johnson both had solid nights.  I’d still like to see Dwayne Harris win the No. 3 receiving job, but Ogletree has experience on his side.  Johnson is probably in a fight with Jesse Holley for the final receiver spot on the roster.

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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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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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