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Dallas Cowboys at Houston Texans Final Film Observations, Player Grades



Jonathan Bales

In case you missed it, check out my Cowboys-Texans post-game observations and “What We Learned” about Dallas in the football game.  Here are my more in-depth film study findings. . .

  • The Cowboys ran a variation of the same play four straight times in the fourth quarter.  They motioned into “Strong” formation and ran a strong side dive.  The only thing that changed was the type of motion.
  • I’m starting to notice that Jason Garrett tends to motion a lot in the beginning of the game, with that trend decreasing as the contest progresses.  The Cowboys have motioned 46 times in the first half as opposed to just 31 in the second half, but seven of those second half motions came in the last nine plays on Sunday (when the ‘Boys already wrapped up the game).  The reason is that the team’s first drive or two are scripted plays.  On the Cowboys’ three opening drives this year, they’ve motioned 14 times (4.7 times per drive).  That’s nearly twice the rate of other drives (2.5 motions per drive).
  • The Cowboys had just five red zone plays on Sunday, but they took advantage of their time in the area.  They ran the ball twice for one yard and a touchdown, and also threw three passes for 32 yards and a score.  Give Jason Garrett props for excellent red zone play-calling all year.

Personnel

Base (TE, 2 WR, RB, FB): Seven plays
2 TE, 2 WR, RB: 18 plays
2 TE, WR, RB, FB: Nine plays
TE, 3 WR, RB: 22 plays
3 TE, RB, FB: One play

Formations

25 formations in Week One, 19 in Week Two, and 19 again in Week Three

3 Wide I (4), 3 Wide Strong Left (2), Ace (3), Double Tight I (3), Double Tight Left/Right I (2), Double Tight Left/Right Strong (2), Double Tight Left/Right Twins Left/Right Ace (2), Gun TE Spread (15), Gun TE Trips (4), Gun TE Trips Empty (1), Gun Trips (1), I Formation (1), Power I (1), Strong (9), TE Trips Empty (1), Trips (3), Twins (1), Twins Right Strong Right (1), Weak Left (1)

  • You may have noticed on television how often Romo checked out of plays at the line of scrimmage.  He’s certainly been given a lot of freedom this season, and he utilized it on Sunday.  He audibled nine times, six times to a run (for 38 yards) and three times to a pass for 14 yards.  Four of the six runs were draw plays.  I noted that last season, 77.27 percent of Romo’s run audibles were to draw plays.
  • Think the Cowboys wanted to run the ball up the middle and to the right?  Check out the chart below.

  • As I stated in my article on What We Learned About Dallas in Week Three, the Cowboys decided to return to an old staple of the running game: the draw play.  After running only six combined draws in the first two games, Dallas ran 10 in Houston for 66 total yards.
  • After throwing 16 passes of 10+ yards against Washington and 13 against Chicago, the Cowboys attempted only nine in Houston.  However, they obviously threw far less passes against the Texans, so the ratio is actually about the same.
  • The Cowboys seven playaction passes totaled just 30 yards.  Five of the seven passes came with exactly 10 yards-to-go.  That trend dates back to last year.  Take a look at these numbers.
  • The Cowboys attempted only one screen pass and it fell incomplete.
  • How awesome was Romo?  He threw two passes which I labeled as “off-target” after throwing 12 such passes last week.
  • Of Dallas’ 30 passes, Witten went into a route on 19 of them (63.3 percent).  That’s lower than last year’s rate.  I still think he needs to be in a route more often.

Player Grades

QB Tony Romo: A

Only two off-target passes all day–about one-fourth of his average from ’09

RB Marion Barber: B

Barber’s best game this season; showed some explosion and good field awareness

RB Felix Jones: B+

Still hesitant on some runs, but looks great on draws; appears to be improved in passing game

WR Roy Williams: A

His hands are back, and his releases were tremendous–all about improved quickness

WR Dez Bryant: B+

Hasn’t been asked to do much, but always seems to make a play

TE Jason Witten:  B

Classic Witten–solid in all aspects of the game

LT Doug Free:  A-

Really held his own against Mario Williams without too much aid

LG Kyle Kosier:  C+

Struggled a bit before going down with knee sprain; not as punishing in running game as usual

C Andre Gurode:  B

Cowboys ran behind him often, and he’s seemed to have recovered from Week One pass protection woes

RG Leonard Davis:  B

Two false starts (only one called), but great at point-of-attack

RT Marc Colombo:  B-

Still not as high on him as others, but he brings a nastiness to the line

OLB DeMarcus Ware: A+

Only Troy Polamalu may be a better defensive player

OLB Anthony Spencer: C

Similar start as in 2009; sacks will come with consistent pressure

ILB Bradie James:  B+

Still stout against the run but has really come on in pass coverage

ILB Keith Brooking:  C-

Poor day for Brooking, who looks lost in pass coverage lately; team needs to find a true nickel LB

NT Jay Ratliff:  B+

Hustle on Arian Foster fumble was incredible

S Alan Ball: B+

Gets a good grade due to one thing–no big plays

CB Terence Newman:  B+

Jenkins is a bigger play-maker, but Newman is the better all-around cornerback right now.

CB Mike Jenkins: B-

Great coverage, but his tackling is becoming a problem

K David Buehler:  A-

Want to see same distance on kickoffs as in ’09, but have to be thrilled with two long field goals


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Dallas Cowboys at Houston Texans Week 3: What We Learned About Dallas



Jonathan Bales

Breaking down the film last night and today was, as you might imagine, far more enjoyable than the previous two weeks.  The Cowboys played an all-around great game, able to protect the ball and, for the most part, limit drive-killing penalties.  While it is an awesome sign for the future, it also makes you wonder “Where has this team been?”  Read my initial post-game observations for more.

Let’s take a look at my pre-game Cowboys-Texans Manifesto and see how the ‘Boys performed. . .

What to Watch for Dallas vs. Houston

How will the Cowboys attack Matt Schaub?  Will they blitz a lot in an attempt to get sacks and force short throws, or will they sit back in coverage as to not allow you-know-who to beat them deep?

The Cowboys decided to sit back in coverage on most plays, and it worked wonderfully.  They were able to get adequate pressure on Schaub with just four and five rushers, meaning they could always keep a safety over top of Andre Johnson.  Johnson went for just 64 yards.

I’d still love to see the Cowboys disguise their blitzes more effectively, but the rarity of blitzes against the Texans may have contributed to their increased effectiveness.

Will Dallas commit to the run?  Will they attack the middle of the Texans’ defense or try to run outside?

Yesterday’s game is a perfect example of why people tend to overvalue the importance of the running game.  People usually look at statistics ex post facto, noting the correlation between running performance and winning percentage.  The two are certainly correlated, but correlation does not always equate to causation.  In fact, passing performance has been shown to be much, much more indicative of a team’s success than success on the ground.

The reason rushing yards are so closely linked to wins is simple: teams that are already winning run the football.  That says nothing about how that team came to gain a lead, however.

We saw just this yesterday, as the Cowboys actually had much of their success through the air.  Yes, the early efficiency of the running game helped, but it wasn’t until late in the game that Dallas “committed” to the run.  Actually, in the middle of the game (with the game still a one-possession contest), the ‘Boys threw the ball on 21 of 28 plays.  They racked up a lot of their carries and yardage at the end of the contest, as they ran the ball on nine of the final 10 plays.

How will the ‘Boys exploit the absence of the Texans’ starting left tackle Duane Brown?

Simple: put DeMarcus Ware over him and let him do his thing.  Ware racked up three sacks, particularly because the Texans seemed pretty comfortable allowing replacement left tackle Rashad Butler to be on an island.  They even tried to block Ware with Joel Dreessen once, and Ware manhandled him.

Will the Cowboys be able to effectively halt the Texans’ rushing attack, allowing them to force Houston to become one-dimensional?

The Texans actually ran the ball pretty well (22 carries for 124 yards).  Again, you can see that early rushing success doesn’t necessarily equate to wins, as the Cowboys were content in allowing the Texans to record the occasional big run in exchange for not allowing the really big play.  Houston was forced to continually beat Dallas with the running game and underneath routes, and they weren’t able to do it.

Will Jason Garrett dial up more draws?

Running more draws was one of the primary goals in my game plan, and the Cowboys executed that task tremendously.  After calling just six total draws in the first two games, the Cowboys called 10 of them against Houtson for 66 yards.

Will Martellus Bennett continue to see a lot of playing time in an effort to effectively block Mario Williams?

He saw an “average” amount of action: 26 snaps.  Of those plays, however, the Cowboys threw the ball on just 10 of them.  Thus, Dallas obviously thought spreading our the Texans’ defense (likely in an attempt to exploit their weak secondary) was more important than the “extra” protection which Bennett could provide.  Kudos to Jason Garrett.

How will the teams’ preseason match-up affect this contest?

The Texans came out with a game plan which was radically different from that in the preseason.  In that game, Houston blitzed Romo on an incredible two-thirds of his snaps.  This week, they rarely came at all.

I counted just 14 blitzes all game for Houston, and they only “showed” it on half of those.  Further, they didn’t show blitz a single time without actually sending pressure.  Washington and Chicago had success doing just that, so I’m not sure why Houston chose the game plan that they did.

DOs and DON’Ts for Dallas

DO run more counters and misdirection plays in an effort to get the running game back on track.

Dallas ran only two counters all game for five yards.  I thought they could be used effectively against a very aggressive Texans defense, but the ‘Boys obviously didn’t.  Note that the “Fail” below is simply representative of their inability to run a lot of counters, not a judgment on whether or not that was a good idea.

Result: Fail

DON’T continue to have David Buehler perform directional kickoffs.

I’m not sure if Buehler is having trouble maintaining his distance on kickoffs, but directional kicking has obviously become a part of his repertoire.

Result: Fail

DO take advantage of the willingness of the Texans’ safeties to sell out against the run.

I loved Garrett’s decision to implement a lot of playaction passes against the Texans.  The Cowboys ran seven of them for just 30 yards, but a few of Romo’s incompletions appeared to still be good play-calls.  I talked about one such call in my initial post-game notes.  I wrote:

In the second quarter, the Cowboys tried a backside screen to Bennett.  It was incomplete due to Bennett falling, but the play looked to be wide open.  Interestingly, the Cowboys motioned from “3 Wide Strong” to a traditional “Strong” formation on the play–something they had been doing earlier, but running a strong side power play from that look (below).  They faked the power, so it was obviously something they had been trying to set up.  Nice call, even thought it didn’t pan out.

Result: Pass

DON’T allow Mr. Johnson to beat you.

Check.  Johnson’s 64 yards has to be considered a big-time “win” for the Dallas defense.  They did it by limiting their blitzes and giving the cornerbacks a lot of help over the top.  They were determined to not let AJ beat them deep, and they executed perfectly.

Result: Pass

DO disguise blitzes more effectively.

The Cowboys actually started to do this early in the game, but got away from it as the contest progressed.  Teams like the Eagles and Steelers have so much success with their blitzes because of how they disguise them.

Result: Fail

DON’T punt so often in opponent’s territory.

I loved the Cowboys calls to go for it on three fourth down plays in Texans’ territory.  They converted on two of them, including a big 4th and 2 pass to Bryant late in the game to seal the victory.  I think the Cowboys are being more aggressive due to their lack of confidence in David Buehler (as opposed to the reason they should be going for it–the math), but I’ll take it.

Result: Pass

DO get Tashard Choice on the field more.

I think we just need to realize that, barring injury, Choice isn’t going to be taking many of Barber’s snaps this season.  He was on the field for only seven plays on Sunday.

Result: Fail

DON’T worry about external points of view–play for each other!

This was the big one–worth more than all of the other “DOs and DON’Ts” combined.  The Cowboys are loaded with talent, and yesterday they showed they are capable of cashing in on it.  They looked genuinely excited to be playing in Houston, and many of the players even said the game was for Coach Phillips.  He passed his father in career victories in the city in which Mr. Phillips (the elder) obtained the majority of his wins.  If the Cowboys can continue to ignore outside attention and play smart, fundamental football, watch out.

Result: Pass



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Dallas Cowboys vs. Houston Texans Week 3 Initial Post-Game Notes, Reactions



Jonathan Bales

Finally!  The Cowboys took down the Texans 27-13, but the game wasn’t even as close as the score indicates.  At last, Cowboys fans have something over which to rejoice.  The Giants also lost, so it’s a good day.

Random Observations

  • I loved the decisions to go for it on fourth down twice on the first drive.  The Cowboys converted once and failed once, but the statistically correct call (even for the 4th and 2 at the 30-yard line) was to forgo the field goal attempts.
  • Late in the first quarter, the Cowboys had a 3rd and 3 in their own territory.  Martellus Bennett caught a pass right at the sticks, got pushed backward, escaped, but didn’t return past the first down marker.  He should have gone down after the initial contact to gain forward progress (which appeared to be past the chains), but it is possible he was unaware of his position on the field.
  • The 3rd and 19 run for a first down by Arian Foster was ridiculous.  The Cowboys overcame it, but the subsequent field goal Houston kicked could have come back to haunt them.
  • On that play, Mike Jenkins completely whiffed on a tackle attempt.  He missed three on the drive.  He really isn’t progressing in run support, and it is becoming detrimental to the defense.  It really makes you appreciate how well-rounded Terence Newman is as a cornerback.
  • The Cowboys had a big screen pass to Felix Jones called back due to a block in the back by Miles Austin.  The play was a tremendous audible by Romo at the line.
  • I will report back on the official numbers tomorrow, but the Cowboys definitely brought back the draw play this week, as I suggested they should.  It really sparked the running game.
  • In the second quarter, the Cowboys tried a backside screen to Bennett.  It was incomplete due to Bennett falling, but the play looked to be wide open.  Interestingly, the Cowboys motioned from “3 Wide Strong” to a traditional “Strong” formation on the play–something they had been doing earlier, but running a strong side power play from that look (below).  They faked the power, so it was obviously something they had been trying to set up.  Nice call, even thought it didn’t pan out.

  • The pass protection was sensational.  Other than one third down play on which Mario Williams came in unblocked, the offensive line, tight ends, and running backs really did a commendable job on Williams and the other Texans defenders.
  • As a team, the Cowboys show poor clock awareness.  There have been multiple plays this year on which players have either stayed in bounds when they should have gotten out, or vice versa.  Marion Barber is the exception.  He always does an excellent job in late-game situations of getting down on the ground to keep the clock moving.
  • Dez Bryant is adjusting well to the NFL, but he got confused on the illegal touching rule in the pros.  The touchdown he scored in the second quarter got called back because Bryant got forced out of bounds before he caught the pass.  It would have been a touchdown in college (because he got forced out), but not so in the pros.
  • The Cowboys didn’t appear to blitz much at all, and I liked it.  They forced the Texans to beat them again and again, and even though Foster had some big runs, the Texans weren’t consistently able to move the football on Dallas.  It also seemed to make the blitzes more efficient when they did bring them.
  • Roy Williams’ first touchdown was beautiful.  He took a hard jab step outside to get an inside release on rookie Kareem Jackson, allowing Romo room to throw the football.  People might start to jump back on the Roy Williams bandwagon, but I’ve been on the whole time.
  • Igor Olshansky was lined up offsides by about a foot on a play late in the third quarter.  I have no idea what he was thinking.
  • Orlando Scandrick still seems to be a step behind everything.  Part of that is the nature of defending in the slot (a lot of crossing routes on which cornerbacks tend to get in a trailing position).  Still, I thought he would take a big step forward in 2010, and while he isn’t playing terribly, he isn’t lighting it up either.
  • I think Keith Brooking is playing too many defensive snaps.  He appears tired at times, and it showed today in his pass coverage.  Whether it is Sean Lee or Jason Williams, it would really help the Dallas defense if someone can win the nickel linebacker job.

  • I know Jason Garrett likes to call two plays (the second of which is run if Romo checks out of the first at the line), but the plays need to come in a little faster.  Romo is consistently snapping the ball with just one second left on the play clock, and it gives the defense an opportunity to jump the snap.  Perhaps Romo can speed up his pre-snap reads as well, although that’s less likely to happen.
  • David Buehler looked awesome today on his two field goals, both of which were fairly long.  One was also in a somewhat high-pressure situation: from 49 yards right before half.  I can’t help but wonder if this is a good thing for the Cowboys, or whether it will simply delay the inevitable.

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

Jonathan Bales

Before the Cowboys’ game in Houston on Saturday night, I published a list of DOs and DON’Ts for the team.  Let’s see how they performed:

DO give Alex Barron plenty of reps at right tackle.

Despite Robert Brewster’s solid play during the Chargers game, Barron got the start at right tackle.  He played there until near the end of the third quarter–about 30 plays.

I think Dallas got about what they expected from Barron.  He was okay in pass protection but showed pretty poor leverage and power at the point-of-attack in the running game.  He’s by no means a “mauler” like starter Marc Colombo.  I’d love to see more of both he and Brewster at right tackle on Thursday.

Result: Pass

DON’T take Marion Barber out of the game too early.

Barber rotated in and out of the game with Felix Jones until near the start of the fourth quarter.  According to my stats, he was on the field for just 11 plays, though.  That had a lot to do with the fact that Dallas simply could not move the football on offense.

I have Barber at five carries for -2 yards.  Not exactly lighting it up.  Despite all of the reports that Barber’s weight loss has given him some much-needed explosion and burst, I don’t see it.

Result:  Pass

DO implement “max protection” so the quarterbacks can throw the ball downfield.

The Cowboys did utilize max protection quite often against Houston.  Tight end Jason Witten stayed in to block on 10 of 20 pass plays–far beyond his normal rate of pass protection.  However, the Cowboys really didn’t attempt too many passes downfield.  Of the 10 pass plays that Witten blocked, only one resulted in a pass attempt over 20 yards, and Dallas attempted only two such passes the entire game.

Result: Fail

DON’T throw the ball to tight end Martellus Bennett in the red zone.

This was a strange request, but I actually think it is better for Bennett to not score during the preseason so the success doesn’t go to his head.

Dallas quarterbacks targeted him three times on the night–all on the Cowboys’ side of the field.

Result: Pass

DO run a lot of Shotgun with Phil Costa at center.

The Cowboys did run a lot of Shotgun with Costa at center–by default.  The team was down so much late in the game that they went to their hurry-up offense with Stephen McGee at the helm.  They ran eight straight plays out of Shotgun to close the contest.

Nonetheless, Costa got a lot of work and all of his snaps looked good.  In my opinion, he’s earned the right to be the Cowboys’ backup center.

Result: Pass

DON’T take safety Michael Hamlin out of the ballgame too quickly.

They didn’t, although Hamlin didn’t really show much.  He wasn’t terrible, but he also didn’t really make any big plays–just a quiet night.  That might be a good thing for a free safety, but probably not a strong safety.  He’s been outplayed by Barry Church this preseason, in my opinion.

Result: Pass

DON’T put safety Barry Church solely “in the box.”

Church didn’t really get enough reps for this result to be statistically significant, although Dallas did use him deep in a cover 2 when he was in the ballgame.

Result: Pass

DO throw a back-shoulder fade or two to Roy Williams.

Tony Romo did attempt a back-shoulder throw to Williams, but Williams wasn’t prepared for it.  Romo anticipated Williams cutting off his “go” route since he hadn’t beaten the defender off of the ball, but it never happened.

With all of the film I watch, I still cannot figure out what is the cause of the disconnect between these two.  Romo doesn’t seem to have this problem with any of the other receivers, but I don’t think Williams is entirely to blame.

Like Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas, I believe the two are simply a bad match.  Williams isn’t the type of receiver who is going to get wide open.  He uses his size, great body position, and normally solid hands to beat defenders, so he really needs an extremely accurate quarterback.

Romo is accurate in certain situations and on specific routes, but unfortunately they aren’t the routes which Williams runs best–slants, skinny posts, and digs.  Romo is better at making things happen with his feet and allowing receivers to find their way open, not necessarily using his arm to throw them open when they are initially covered.

Result:  Pass, sort of

DON’T keep Bradie James in for nickel plays.

James over-pursued the ball-carrier on a couple of runs, but he showed that he is still a valuable weapon in the nickel package.  He’s been all over the place in coverage this preseason.

Having said that, I wanted to see more of Jason Williams and Sean Lee in coverage.  We know James is a veteran and will get the job completed, but both Williams and Lee need more reps.

Result: Fail

Conclusion

Seven passes and two fails.  As much as fans think this was a “wasted game,” the ‘Boys really learned a lot about themselves on Saturday night.

Lesson No. 1:  If you don’t bring maximum effort to a football game, even in the preseason, you will get blown out.

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Preseason Week Four, Cowboys vs. Texans: Initial Post-Game Notes

Jonathan Bales

The Cowboys got their butts handed them tonight.  They obviously played very “vanilla,” running very basic plays on offense and blitzing basically never on defense.  Nonetheless, there is really no excuse for a lack of passion.  Here are my initial reactions from the game:

Offense

  • Tony Romo continues to struggle.  The offensive line isn’t making his life easy, but he’s been off-target on more passes than I can remember.  His interception was a poor decision in which he attempted to fit a ball into very tight coverage.  Still, I’m not at all worried about his ability to be ready for the regular season.
  • It was interesting to see fullback Chris Gronkowski rotating in and out of the first team offense with Deon Anderson.  The Cowboys probably wanted to see if Gronkowski can hold up against a first team defense, but he should probably prove he can play well against the second and third teams first.  So far, he hasn’t.  I don’t see him making the 53-man roster.
  • Andre Gurode had a horrible night–one of his worst I can remember.  He got beat for two sacks, one of which came on a stunt.  He’s really struggled with stunts and twists in the past.  I need to check the film to make sure the defender was his responsibility, but either way, he played very poorly.  He also had two bad snaps (one of which was from Shotgun).

  • The offense ran a few strong side dives from “Double Tight Strong.”  Last week, all seven of the plays from the formation came once the first team left the game.  That wasn’t the case tonight.
  • I have never seen Jason Witten line up in an obvious pass protection stance. . .until tonight.  On a third down play, Witten lined up like an offensive tackle.  I don’t like that design by Garrett because the defense automatically knows Witten isn’t a receiving threat on the play.  That can be a big advantage for a linebacker or safety.
  • People don’t bring this up a lot because he’s so good in other areas, but Witten needs to limit his false starts.  He commits a lot of “dumb” penalties–almost as many as Flozell Adams, believe it or not.
  • The Cowboys continued to run weak side out of “Double Tight I” to make the lead block for the fullback easier than that in “Double Tight Strong.”  I talked about it in great depth last week.

Defense

  • Mike Jenkins needs to improve his tackling.  He had a tough match-up against Andre Johnson tonight, but he still can do more in run support.  His technique is awful right now.  He needs to show vast improvement if he wants to be considered an all-around cornerback.  He missed 14.6 percent of tackles last year.

  • Orlando Scandrick, on the other hand, showed that his tackling has improved.  He doesn’t use textbook form either, but he’s been getting the job done anyway this preseason.  He did give up a touchdown to Jacoby Jones, but it appeared as though he was expecting help over the top from safety Alan Ball.  I’ll check the film, but the coverage appeared to be “Man-Free” or “Cover 1”–man coverage underneath with a “centerfield” safety deep.  Thus, both players were probably at fault.
  • Bradie James’ pass defense has been outstanding this year.  He did take a poor angle or two tonight in pursuit of ball-carriers, but his coverage was once again superb.  He should stay on the field during nickel situations for Dallas.
  • After tackling well last week, Alan Ball struggled tonight.  He overran the ball-carrier on a few occasions, particularly on an 18-yard run by Arian Foster on which he was completely out of position.  His improvement is imperative to Dallas’ success on defense.
  • Rookie Sean Lee got absolutely dominated tonight.  Every play I watched him, he was getting pushed backwards.  He also showed poor pursuit on a screen pass–something I never thought I’d see from him.  He needs to become accustomed to NFL speed.
  • The Cowboys must keep three defensive tackles.  Siavii’s run defense and Brent’s long-term upside are too great to unleash.

Special Teams

  • Akwasi Owusu-Ansah’s kick returns were a rare bright spot for Dallas.  I’m most impressed with his decisiveness.  He sees a seam and hits it full speed.  The Cowboys haven’t seen that from a return man in awhile.  Bryan McCann and Kevin Ogletree also returned kicks.
  • I don’t agree with the team’s decision to put Patrick Crayton back deep for punt returns.  They already know what they have in him.  He doesn’t really need the practice, so why not see more of McCann, ‘Kwasi, or someone else?
  • Cowboys fans should appreciate the special teams trio they have in David Buehler (kickoffs), Mat McBriar, and L.P. Ladouceur.  They are extremely consistent and the effect they have on field position cannot be overstated.



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