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Cowboys vs. Redskins Week 3 Post-Game Notes: Have the ‘Boys Found a Kicker?

Jonathan Bales

There are two ways to look at the Cowboys’ 18-16 win over the Washington Redskins on Monday night–as a sloppy offensive performance marred by a lack of concentration and execution that the team was lucky to win, or as a near-dominant defensive performance that led the way to victory.  In reality, it was probably a bit of both.  Here are some of my thoughts. . .

  • Tony Romo was obviously still affected by his broken rib, as the accuracy just wasn’t there.  Romo continually ducked out of the pocket or threw off of his back foot to avoid being hit, but you really can’t blame the guy.  While Michael Vick came out of the Eagles’ Week 3 game with what turned out to be a bruised hand, Romo returned to his with a broken rib and collapsed lung.  He gutted it out this week as well, and my hat is off to him for his toughness and leadership.

 

  • Dez Bryant is still hurt.  He made a few plays, but this was a game in which he had opportunities to take over.  Instead, he limped around the field quite a bit and was never really able to gain any sort of separation on his routes.  Look for him to have a monster game next week when fully healthy (hopefully).

 

  • Have the Cowboys found a placekicker?  That’s the hope as rookie Dan Bailey went 6-for-6 on field goals, with his team needing each and every one.  His kickoffs were lackluster, but that was expected.  Yes, I still think David Buehler’s leg warrants a roster spot (here is why), but Bailey has some real potential.

 

  • Rob Ryan really didn’t dial up much pressure.  In my preview of the game, I anticipated far more blitzes than we saw.  Obviously Ryan figured it would be best to sit back and force Rex Grossman to continually make good decisions.  One of his rare early blitzes came on a 3rd and 1 on which the Redskins called a fullback dive.  Ryan countered with a perfect safety blitz (Abram Elam) into the “two hole,” and Washington was forced to punt.  After the play, Ryan’s body language suggested he was expecting that exact play call from the ‘Skins.

 

  • I missed on my prediction of a lot of blitzes, but I hit on a far more specific one.  In my pre-game notes, I wrote:

Specifically, I think you’ll see both Bennett and Witten line up at receiver with Bennett eventually motioning into a traditional in-line tight end spot.  The Cowboys ran that look quite often last year against the ‘Skins, calling “3 Wide Strong Right Liz 26 Power” rather frequently.

  • I was right on.  According to my initial count, the Cowboys ran this exact play six times.  Six times.  And yes, the Cowboys did playaction off of the look a few times as well.

 

  • After struggling early against rookie Ryan Kerrigan, Tyron Smith responded nicely and turned in another strong performance.  The same can’t be said for Doug Free, who had a horrific night.  He was beat continually by Kerrigan, Brian Orakpo, and even backup Rob Jackson.  I have heard rumors that Free has an injured left arm or shoulder, and I really think there’s something to that theory.  This is the worst I’ve seen Free play during his entire career.

 

  • What. The. Hell. is wrong with Phil Costa?  Four premature e-snap-ulations.  I have watched those plays again and again, and I have no idea what he was thinking.  No one is firing off the ball, so it isn’t like Romo should be expecting the snaps.  This should be something which can be fixed immediately, but if it continues to happen for some reason, Costa has to sit.  I don’t want that to happen, but the Cowboys are dangerously close to turning the ball over because of his mental errors.

 

 

  • Sean Lee is turning into one of the top playmakers on this team.  His 31 tackles rank second in the NFL, and he’s thrown in two crucial picks as well.  Without him, there is no way the Cowboys would have won last night’s game.

 

  • The Cowboys stuck with the run last night, and they were lucky to win the game because of it.  The team was ineffective early before Felix Jones broke off two big runs, pumping up the average.  In reality, the majority of the runs were unsuccessful and took away from opportunities to get the ball downfield.  I realize the offense was having just as much trouble passing, but I’ll take my shots with a struggling passing game over pounding the ball into a pile of defenders.  The team isn’t going to win many games scoring only 18 points.

 

  • Jason Garrett made three bad decision on 4th down, twice kicking a field goal and once opting to punt.  The first came on 4th and 1 at the 9-yard line, where the numbers suggest average offenses should go for it with around four or five yards-to-go in normal game situations.  The same is true for the team’s 4th and 3 at the 14-yard line.  Garrett also decided to punt on a 4th and 6 from the Redskins’ 41-yard line while down four points in the fourth quarter.  That was his biggest mistake of all, as the statistics show offenses have historically had just as much success going for it on 4th and 10 in that range as they do punting.

  • If you need more math as to why the graph above (provided by Advanced NFL Stats) is correct, check out the expected points graph below.  Had the Cowboys gained a single yard on their 4th and 1 play, for example, they would have an expected point total of around 4.1 for that drive.  That is, over an unlimited number of trials, an average offense can be expected to score 4.1 points per drive when given a 1st and Goal at the opposition’s eight-yard line.

  • Assuming Dan Bailey is about a 95% kicker from the nine-yard line (giving the offense an expected point total of 3 x 0.95 = 2.85), the offense would need to be successful on around 69.5% of their 4th and 1 attempts for the expected points of going for it to exceed that of kicking the field goal.  Offenses have around a 60% success rate on two-point rushing attempts (from the two-yard line), and even with Dallas’ struggles on the ground, I have to think they can convert on 7 out of 10 tries with a single yard needed.  On top of all that, don’t forget  those numbers assume the Cowboys gain one and only one yard on the 4th down play AND a failed fourth down attempt leaves Washington at their own nine-yard line, whereas a made field goal gives them the ball (realistically) around the 20–a difference of around another 0.5 expected points.

  • One of the most overlooked areas of improvement for the ‘Boys (and the one I think is most responsible for their improved defensive play) is better tackling.  Everyone on this team other than Alan Ball is sticking their nose in there to bring down ball-carriers. . .even Mike Jenkins.  If Jenkins is tackling, you need to as well, Alan.  A nice hit on a defenseless player late in the game doesn’t make up for missing tackles on a consistent basis.

 

  • Terence Newman has a concussion, but he played really well in his first game this season.  When healthy, he’s extremely valuable to the defense.  His presence will allow Ryan to be more creative with his calls.

 

  • Even though the Cowboys ended up kicking a go-ahead field goal, I didn’t like the play-calling to end the final drive.  Garrett called three straight runs in an effort to milk the clock, but there was still plenty of time left for Washington to move down the field.  Why not call a playaction pass against a defense selling out against the run?  Of course, Garrett never could have expected Tashard Choice to run out of bounds, making one of the dumbest decisions I have seen in awhile.

 

  • Despite all of the mental mistakes and lack of execution, the Cowboys got the win and that’s all that really matters.  Having said that, this team is going to have trouble finishing better than .500 if they don’t pick up their level of play in a big way.  Getting healthy should go a long way in aiding them in that process.

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DOs and DON’Ts for Dallas Cowboys vs. Washington Redskins in Week 3

Jonathan Bales

The Cowboys face the Redskins on Monday night in their home opener, and there are a lot of intriguing matchups and things to watch for this one.  For Dallas, the biggest uncertainty is the injury situation.  Dez Bryant, Felix Jones, Phil Costa and Tony Romo are all questionable, with some more likely to go than others.

Whenever the ‘Boys play a division rival, I like to take a look back at some of the pre and post-game notes from the previous season.  If you have time, you should definitely review my 2010 Week 1 Redskins Manifesto, Week 1 Redskins Film Observations, and Week 15 Redskins Film Observations.  There is a lot of cool information in those posts which is relevant to Monday night’s contest.  Here are my DOs and DON’Ts for Dallas this week against Washington. . .

DO run up the middle at London Fletcher.

This is the same “DO” I suggested Week 1 of last year, and the same “DO” the Cowboys failed to accomplish in that loss.  You can see below the Cowboys ran primarily to the left side of the line, away from right tackle Alex Barron.  While I think Dallas needs to run far more counters and tosses, there are some creative ways to run up the middle other than pounding it from “Double Tight Strong.”

2010 Week 1 runs versus Washington

DO run more draws from spread formations.

One of the ways to run up the middle without pronouncing run via the formation is calling draws from spread formations.  In 2009, the Cowboys ran too many draws (this despite being “good” at executing them. . .that is, Jason Garrett simply dialed them up too often).  That season, they called 121 draws, averaging 4.51 yards-per-carry.  In my post on the Cowboys’ 2010 draws, I noted they increased that average to 4.73 yards-per-rush despite being far less effective overall on the ground (they ran 77 total draws, which was probably a primary factor in the increased efficiency).

It is also worth noting the Cowboys gained 5.09 yards-per-carry on draws from spread formations, compared to only 3.56 from tight formations.  That gap (shown below) was even greater in 2009 (note that the 2010 numbers in that chart are through just five weeks).  When the defense is prepared to defend a pass, whether it is due to personnel or the formation, they are less effective against the run.  Thus, when an offense comes out in passing personnel, lines up in a pass-oriented formation, initially shows pass following the snap, then hands the ball off. . .it works.

Part of the reason spread draws can be effective is that they are sometimes run on third down.  Many of you know I love third down runs because they are superior to passes on 3rd and 1 to 3rd and 5 and, shockingly, just as successful as passes on 3rd and 6 to 3rd and 10.  These are not the results of a small sample size contained just to Dallas, but rather representative of league-wide statistics from years of data.  Garrett seemed to take this information into account in 2010, increasing the number of draws the offense ran on third down from 10.7% in 2009 to 18.2% last year.

DO double team Brian Orakpo.

Whether it is on draw plays or, more importantly, in pass protection, limiting Brian Orakpo will be crucial for the ‘Boys.  He is far and away the Redskins’ best player, and he can change the complexion of this game if the Cowboys are not careful.  For this reason, Martellus Bennett would be seeing a lot of snaps on Monday night if I was the coach for Dallas.  Jason Witten is a fine blocker, but with Miles Austin out and Dez Bryant possibly down as well, Witten needs to be a factor as a receiver.  Besides, Bennett is actually a better blocker than Witten.  Plus, Bennett’s presence will allow for the next “DO”. . .

DO pass out of run-heavy personnel groupings and from run-oriented formations.

In my analysis of the Cowboys’ pass rates from specific personnel packages, I wrote the following:

In much the same way that weak side runs can be optimal for an offense, so too can passing the ball out of “untraditional” personnel groupings (or, on the other hand, running the ball from pass-heavy personnel packages).  There’s a reason the ‘Boys have found a ton of success when passing out of “running” formations (and with “running” personnel).

The passing success of the Cowboys out “running” formations is equivalent to the success teams have when running the ball on 3rd down.  There is nothing inherently efficient about running the ball in these situations.  Rather, the success comes from your opponent’s expectations.

Similarly, passing out of “running” formations isn’t an inherently superior strategy to passing with four wide receivers on the field.  Instead, it works because of the defense.

Think of it like this. . .let’s say passing the ball out of a four-receiver set receives a hypothetical score of 80 points (this total is arbitrary and independent of a defense).  Passing the ball out of a double-tight formation, on the other hand, is intrinsically worth just 60 points.

So, why would a team choose the latter scenario–a “sub-optimal” strategy?  Because the strategy is only “sub-optimal” in theory.  In practice, the defense makes substitutions to be able to effectively defend each formation.  To counter the run against the double-tight formation, they knowingly decrease their ability to thwart the pass.

Thus, they may receive a pass defense score of 75 against a four-receiver set, but just 50 against double-tight.  In that case, passing the ball out of double-tight yields a 10 point advantage for the offense, compared to just a five point advantage when throwing the ball out of the “passing” formation.

When analyzing Garrett’s personnel-based play-calls, we see that he is generally improving.  When the Cowboys implement two tight ends, two wide receivers and a running back, they are generally a balanced team, passing the ball 58.6 percent of the time.  This is down from a 71.9 percent pass rate in 2009.

Garrett is also calling more passes from run-oriented personnel packages (such as two tight ends, one receiver and two running backs), and less passes from pass-oriented personnel groupings.  The only exception is the one tight end/four receiver package, which the Cowboys implemented only 25 times all season.

I’d still love to see the Cowboys run the ball more in three-receiver sets and pass more out of 2 TE, WR, 2 RB (one of those “2 RB” is usually a fullback, by the way).  If Garrett finds a way to efficiently run the ball without a fullback on the field and continue to throw the ball well out of two-tight end looks, the Cowboys will take huge strides in becoming a much more unpredictable, and potent, offensive football team.

If you are as strangely interested in playcalling theory as me, here is another analysis on why Dallas should pass out of double tight formations more often.

DO use unique alignments, motions, and shifts to make blocking Orakpo easier.

This is another “DO” from 2010, and it worked well for the Cowboys.  Prior to the Week 1 matchup, I wrote the following:

Utilizing double-tight sets is advantageous for Dallas because it doesn’t  allow the Redskins to make a strength call–that is, they can’t set their defense  based on the Cowboys’ alignment.  If that’s the case, Orakpo will probably line  up on the right side of the defense (the quarterback’s blind side) where most  weak side linebackers are most comfortable.  Thus, Dallas can run double-tight  sets (such as “Ace”) with Bennett on the left side of the formation so he’s  already in position.  If Orakpo chooses to line up on the left side of the  defense in “neutral” offensive formations, the ‘Boys can simply switch Bennett’s  alignment.

If all of that doesn’t work, the Cowboys can utilize motions and shifts to put themselves in optimal situations.  Let’s assume the Cowboys line up in “Double Tight Right Ace,” for example.

In that case, Orakpo will line up over Doug Free on the right side of the  Redskins’ defense.  A simple motion of Bennett to that side, however, would put  the Cowboys in a perfect situation to block Orakpo.  The ‘Skins wouldn’t switch  their strength call, and Dallas would have their best-blocking lineman and tight  end on Washington’s top rusher.

For this reason, I think you will see the Cowboys use a lot of two-tight end formations, as well as motion Bennett around the field quite often.  Specifically, I think you’ll see both Bennett and Witten line up at receiver with Bennett eventually motioning into a traditional in-line tight end spot.  The Cowboys ran that look quite often last year against the ‘Skins, calling “3 Wide Strong Right Liz 26 Power” rather frequently.

This week, you might see a variation of this play with John Phillips in the game rather than a true fullback.  If Dallas can establish any type of success with this sort of play, it is a great look from which to run playaction passes later in the game.

DO target Josh Wilson.

This one is pretty simple, as cornerback Josh Wilson is a rare weakness on a Washington defense that is very underrated.  Even if Bryant plays and the Redskins place DeAngelo Hall on him, there will still be ways to get Bryant matched up on Wilson.  The Cowboys can run bunch formations, for example, that may force the Redskins to make “Banjo” calls.  A “Banjo” call (Washington probably has a different name for it) is when a defense audibles out of man coverage due to receivers being lined up close together, as the defenders would likely get picked if they stayed in their man-to-man assignments.

If Washington calls Cover 1 (man coverage with a free safety deep) and Dallas lines up in “Trips Left,” for example, the ‘Skins might audible to Cover 3.  In that scenario, Bryant would draw someone other than Hall if he runs any sort of crossing route.  Look for Dallas to line up in ‘Trips’ with Bryant lined up outside, then run him underneath the other receivers on slants, digs, and other crossing routes.

DO run double moves on DeAngelo Hall.

Whether Bryant plays or not, the Cowboys can still attack Hall.  He is a playmaker, but also one of the most overrated cornerbacks in the league.  He gives up as many big plays as he makes because he jumps routes more than anyone not named Asante Samuel.  I’m in the business of making very specific predictions in this article, so here is another. . .look for Dallas to run slants in the first half, allowing Hall to become impatient before they attack him with a “sluggo” (slant-and-go) in the second half.

DON’T respect anyone but Santana Moss deep.

Cover 1, Cover 1, Cover 1.  It will allow the Cowboys to blitz often in an effort to force bad decisions from Rex Grossman, yet still maintain help over the top against Washington’s only big-play threat.  The counter-argument against this is that Grossman will make mistakes regardless of the defense, so if you play it safe and increase the number of plays on which he must not be a dumbass, he will screw up eventually.

That isn’t the M.O. of this new Cowboys team, though, and it certainly isn’t the philosophy of Rob Ryan.  Plus, the Cowboys are the better team and will benefit from running a lot of offensive plays.  The more time the defense spends on the field, the less time the offense has the ball, decreasing the odds of their superiority winning out due to a smaller sample size of plays.

DON’T place Bradie James on Tim Hightower or Fred Davis.

James has been splitting time with Keith Brooking lately, and I would make sure neither of them are placed on Hightower or Davis (Washington’s newest receiving threat and one who could create much larger problems for Dallas than fellow tight end Chris Cooley).  When the Redskins are in two-tight end sets, James or Brooking should be covering Cooley with Sean Lee and Gerald Sensabaugh matched up on Hightower and Davis, respectively.

DO run a lot more screens.

In last season’s opener, the Redskins blitzed or showed blitz on a ridiculous 60.9% of snaps, confusing the Cowboys offense quite a bit.  You can bet that will happen again, and the screen game could be Dallas’ best friend this week.  Kevin Ogletree will start regardless of Bryant’s status, and his biggest contributions might be in the form of smoke screens, particularly on third down.  Also look for DeMarco Murray to get some targets as well.  By the way, you can expect plenty of screens to follow playaction looks, as always.

DO throw the ball downfield.

When the Cowboys aren’t screening, they should be taking some shots down the field.  I’ve already shown there exists at least somewhat of a positive correlation between pass length and passing efficiency, and Tony Romo is one of the most highly-rated downfield passers in the NFL.  Take a look at these numbers through most of the 2010 season. . .

Through Week 14

O.J. Atogwe is an above average safety who has some play-making ability, but Laron Landry is stiff in coverage, in my opinion.  The Cowboys can avoid Atogwe regardless of the coverage by simply throwing the other way if the Redskins are in Cover 2, or looking him off if they blitz and he is in the middle of the field.  Either way, the Cowboys’ passing game plan should be screen often, use Witten in the intermediate passing game, and use playaction to set up some shots down the field.  And as I explained the other day, playaction will be effective if the Cowboys run well, not necessarily often.

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“Grading the’Boys,” Week 1: Cowboys at Redskins

Jonathan Bales

The Cowboys’ offense obviously didn’t execute well in Washington, while the defense was just the opposite.  Below are my individual player grades for the game, post-film review.

Player Grades

  • Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips:  C+

He gets an A- as a defensive coordinator, and a D as a head coach.  The Cowboys may have been prepared to play from an ‘Xs and Os’ standpoint, but not from an emotional one.

  • Offensive Coordinator Jason Garrett:  C-

I actually liked the design of most of Garrett’s plays.  The Cowboys lined up in 25 different formations and, for the most part, ran unique, innovative plays out of them.  The reason this grade is low is because 1) the offense put up just seven points and 2) the decision to not take a knee before halftime was horrendous.

  • QB Tony Romo: B

Romo was good, but not spectacular.  He was off-target on eight passes, which is just about equal with his per-game average from 2009.  The decision to flip the ball out to Tashard Choice just before halftime may have been a poor one, but he also led a game-winning drive that turned out to be not-so-game-winning.

  • RB Marion Barber: B

Barber showed more explosion than he did in the preseason and his blitz pickup was solid, as usual.  Most importantly, he seems like he’s regained the fire which characterized his play from a few years ago.

  • RB Felix Jones: B-

I thought Jones would get used more than he did.  He received just 10 touches, and there’s really not much to report.

  • RB Tashard Choice:  C-

Normally I don’t put too much weight on any single play, but Choice’s fumble before halftime was a killer.  Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett should have called a quarterback kneel, but Choice has to play smarter as well.

  • WR Miles Austin: A

For anyone who was concerned about Austin’s play after receiving a big contract extension, Sunday night’s game is proof that Austin is the real deal and here to stay.  His blocking was good, too.

  • WR Roy Williams:  C

I’m convinced Williams is a receiver who can be good, but not in the Cowboys’ system.  He never gets particularly wide open, so he needs a quarterback who can put the ball on him and allow him to adjust.  Romo isn’t that–he scrambles and buys time to allow receivers to work their way open.

  • WR Dez Bryant: B+

I thought Bryant had a really good debut.  I was shocked by how often Romo targeted him, but he displayed his patented hands and excellent body control.  His catches to start the final drive were clutch.

  • TE Jason Witten:  C+

Witten did well in the run game (and in pass protection), but it almost seemed as if he wasn’t a part of the game plan on offense.  For whatever reason, he just wasn’t getting as open as usual.

  • TE Martellus Bennett:  B

Bennett was really solid in the run game, which is primarily where the Cowboys employed him.

  • LT Doug Free:  C+

You didn’t hear Free’s name called too much against the Redskins, which is a good thing.  He got overpowered at times by Brian Orakpo, but he responded by doing what he does best: using his speed and athleticism to lead the way on counters, screens, and so on.

  • LG Montrae Holland:  B

Not a bad night for the backup.  He missed a stunt on one occasion, but I thought he blocked pretty well in the run game.  The running backs ran behind him quite often, too.  He’s really not much of a downgrade from Kyle Kosier as a run blocker.

  • C Andre Gurode:  B+

I know Gurode gave up a sack, but that stemmed from confusion on his assignment (as opposed to getting beat physically).  Neither is better than the other, but Gurode thoroughly manhandled Albert Haynesworth most of the night.  Let’s hope he can keep that up against players who are trying.

  • RG Leonard Davis:  B+

I’ve heard that Davis is old and overrated, but he seems to be the Cowboys’ most consistent lineman to me.

  • RT Alex Barron:  H

For holding.  In all seriousness, Barron performed better than an ‘H’ grade.  He’s all the way up at ‘F.’

  • NT Jay Ratliff:  B-

Ratliff was good, but he got nailed for two costly penalties that really hurt Dallas.  You still want to see him keep his aggression up, though.

  • NT Josh Brent:  C-

Brent actually got a lot of snaps, but he didn’t make too much of an impact.

  • DE Marcus Spears:  B+

There’s a reason Spears is still starting.  He’s crucial to Dallas’ run defense.

  • OLB DeMarcus Ware: A

Ware was all over the place before going down with a neck strain.  Thankfully he’s okay.

  • OLB Anthony Spencer: C

The Redskins really didn’t double-team either outside linebacker that often, meaning Spencer had a rare off-night.

  • OLB Victor Butler:  C-

In his limited snaps, Butler was overpowered in the run game.

  • LB Keith Brooking:  B+

A high grade just for this.

  • LB Bradie James:  B

I’m not really sure why Coach Phillips blitzed the inside backers so often, but it didn’t seem to work.

  • CB Terence Newman:  B

Newman gave up a few completions to Santana Moss, but overall he played pretty well considering how much the ‘Boys blitzed.

  • CB Mike Jenkins:  B-

An ‘A’ in coverage and a ‘D’ against the run.  He’s quickly becoming Deion Sanders (kind of).

  • CB Orlando Scandrick:  B-

The entire secondary looked pretty good.  Scandrick still seems to be just a half step out of position, though.  He’s on the brink of a big-time game.

  • S Gerald Sensabaugh:  C

Sensy struggled some against Chris Cooley and wasn’t particularly devastating in run support.

  • S Alan Ball:  B

As was the case with former Cowboy Ken Hamlin, there really isn’t much to report on Ball.  He didn’t let anyone get deep, which is his primary objective, but he didn’t make any big plays either.

  • K David Buehler:  D

No touchbacks and 0-1 on field goals.

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Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins: What We Learned


Jonathan Bales

Last week, I published my Week 1 Gameday Manifesto–a combination of “What to Watch” and DOs and DON’Ts” for Dallas in last night’s game.  Let’s review.  . .

What to Watch

How will Dallas use Dez Bryant and what sort of impact will he have?

The Cowboys didn’t phase Bryant into the offense at all, and that was a good thing.  He was targeted 13 times last night–the most of any player on the team.  While that won’t continue, it’s good to see the Cowboys aren’t afraid to use the rookie early in his career.  He’s NFL-ready right now.

Who will return kicks and punts?

The Cowboys used both Bryant and Akwasi Owusu-Ansah on punt returns, although I think they should choose one guy and stick with him, which I talked about in my initial post-game notes.

The same thing is true on kick returns, with AOA and Kevin Ogletree lining up back deep.  AOA is undoubtedly a better return man.

Will Redskins offensive tackles Jamaal Brown and Trent Williams be able to slow down DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer at all? Will Washington leave Chris Cooley or Fred Davis in on some passes to help them in protection?

Brown and Williams actually did a decent job on Ware and Spencer, considering the circumstances.  Ware had a sack and was all over the field all night, but Spencer was effectively contained most of the game.

I was surprised by how little the Redskins helped their tackles in pass protection.  Fred Davis stayed in to help a few plays and the running backs’ first read seemed to be outside (which is “backwards”), but the ‘Skins didn’t overdo it in protection.

Will Doug Free be able to contain Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo?

Sort of.  Free had an up and down night, as expected.  Orakpo bull-rushed him on a few plays and he’ll certainly be susceptible to that throughout the year.  The Cowboys really didn’t call any pass plays down the field until the second half, though, so Free’s job in pass protection wasn’t that difficult until then.

It isn’t going to get easier for Free in the next two weeks, as he’ll square off against Julius Peppers and Mario Williams.  Yikes.

Will Albert Haynesworth play?

He played, but not that well.  Andre Gurode really dominated him much of the night.  Let’s see how Gurode plays next week to determine if his solid play last night was due more to him or Haynesworth’s possible lack of effort.

How much will we see the dreaded “Double Tight Strong“?

Great news Cowboys fans.  The Cowboys lined up in the formation three times, but didn’t run a strong side dive once (after doing so nearly three-fourths of plays last season).  In fact, the first play they called from “Double Tight Strong” appeared to be a strong side dive, but Marion Barber ended up attempting a pass.  The play was unsuccessful, but I really like unique play-call.  It shows Garrett is aware of his tendencies from last season and trying to fix them.

The other two plays from the formation were a weak side power and a strong side toss.  The Cowboys also ran another weak side counter from “Double Tight Strong” but it got called back due to penalty.

How will Jason Garrett distribute touches among the running backs?

According to my numbers, Barber was on the field for 28 snaps and had eight carries for 39 yards.  Jones played 22 snaps and had eight carries for 38 yards, and Choice played 11 snaps and had five carries for 18 yards.  All three backs had two receptions.

The coolest play Garrett called all night was the option look with all three backs in the game at the same time.  The Cowboys motioned Jones into the backfield into a Power I.  They handed the ball off to Choice on the weak side with Barber lead blocking.  Meanwhile, Jones was trailing Choice as a pitch man.  Choice ended up hanging onto the ball for a six-yard gain, but the ‘Boys could come back to that play down the road.  I will examine it more in my final film observations.

With either Marc Colombo or Kyle Kosier suit up?

No, and it obviously hurt the Cowboys.  Enough said.

Will Andre Gurode be okay at guard if Dallas needs him?

They didn’t.  Other than one play, Gurode played really well.

DOs and DON’Ts for Dallas

DO run right at linebacker London Fletcher.

Surprisingly, the Cowboys didn’t run up the middle very often.  I have posted a graph below detailing how many times the Cowboys ran in each hole.

Obviously the Cowboys made it a priority to run outside against Washington.  I think you’ll see that trend continue against other teams as well, although I thought Dallas could have been slightly more effective last night running up the middle.  They averaged 4.68 yards-per-carry.

Result: Fail

DON’T blitz too frequently.

The Cowboys’ defense played well, but I was quite surprised at how often they brought pressure.  It wasn’t as much as Washington, but Dallas blitzed often on third down.  I still need to finish the defensive film, but a lot of the Redskins’ big plays in the first three quarters came against the blitz.

Now, the Cowboys didn’t get as much pressure with four rushers as I thought they might, so blitzing became a necessity at one point.  Coach Phillips came out blitzing, though, meaning it was part of the game plan.

Result: Fail

DON’T game-plan at all for any quarterback other than Donovan McNabb.

McNabb was declared near-1oo percent in the beginning of the week, so the ‘Boys surely didn’t game plan for anyone other than him.  They likely wouldn’t have done so even if McNabb’s status was more iffy.

Result: Pass

DO throw the ball early and often.

The Cowboys threw the ball on 47 of their 69 plays (68.1 percent).  They also came out of the gate throwing, attempting a pass on 12 of their first 14 plays.  I thought this was a really good strategy that, for whatever reason, simply didn’t work out.

The “whatever reason” may have been the variety of passes the Cowboys attempted–screens, rollouts, and other quick-hitting passes.  Actually, the Cowboys attempted eight screen passes on the night, including six of the first 13 plays.

This was obviously an attempt to compensate for a porous offensive line, but it severely limited the upside of the passing game.  Dallas obviously drifted away from this plan as the game proceeded.

Result: Pass

DON’T phase Dez Bryant into the game.

As I mentioned above, Bryant’s 13 targets led the team.  He will be a major factor this season.

Result: Pass

DO spell DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer with Victor Butler.

I still need to tally Butler’s total snap count, but it wasn’t very high.  When he was in, he got overpowered in the run game–something that didn’t happen much in the preseason. It is still imperative for the Cowboys to find a way to get Ware and Spencer some rest.

Result: Fail

DON’T try anything too risky.

Attempting a pass play from your own 36-yard line with four seconds remaining in the first half isn’t exactly the most conservative of calls.  There’s nearly zero upside in running a play, while the downside is monumental.  The worst-case scenario for Dallas came to fruition, and it was the primary reason the Cowboys deserved to lose last night’s football game.

Result:  Fail

Conclusions: Although the Cowboys obviously played very sloppily, they did some good things.  Garrett’s play-calling was actually pretty solid.  At the very least, it was less predictable.

They were only three-for-seven in my “DOs and DON’Ts,” though, and ended up losing the game because of it.  They say you can’t lose a game because of one play, but that’s simply untrue.  I would go as far as to say that most games are decided by one play.

For the Cowboys, that “one” play was actually quite a few plays, but that list is headlined by the Cowboys’ decision to pass the ball in their own territory with just four seconds remaining in the first half.  Kneel the ball, and you win the game.


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I will finish reviewing the tape ASAP and provide my final film study observations by tomorrow, so check back then.

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