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.