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Cowboys vs. Giants Week 10 Film Study Observations

Jonathan Bales

  • In my initial post-game notes, I wrote briefly about a new formation the Cowboys ran against New York.  They called it three times, running the same pass play (below) from it each time.  I’ve named the formation “Double Tight Left Ace.”  It’s actually very similar to “Double Tight Left I,” except there is an extra tight end to the weak side instead of a fullback.

Double Tight Left Ace

  • The first time the Cowboys ran the play, it appeared as though Felix Jones was the primary read on the pass.  The Giants were in man coverage, which meant their linebackers ran with the three tight ends who flooded the left side of the field.  Jones stepped up into the vacated area and Kitna quickly hit him for a 12-yard gain.
  • The other two times the Cowboys ran the play, however, the Giants were in a zone.  Instead of running to the middle of the field, Jones headed out into the flat.  The other players’ routes were the same, meaning Jones probably had an option route on the play.  If New York was in man coverage, he ran the route above.  If they were in zone, he headed out into the flat.
  • After reviewing the film, the Cowboys’ clock management prior to halftime was even worse than I thought.  They had a 2nd and 1 at their own 46-yard line with well over a minute to play and two timeouts.  Instead of using a timeout or going into a hurry-up offense, they huddled.  The decision cost them the opportunity to move into field goal range for David Buehler.
  • I didn’t see too many differences between Paul Pasqualoni’s play-calling and that of Wade Phillips.  Pasqualoni dialed up an exotic zone blitz early in the game, dropping both DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer into coverage and sending Alan Ball after the quarterback.  The play worked well, but the Cowboys didn’t come back to it.  I think Pasqualoni is too similar to Phillips for my liking.
  • I’m not sure what sort of effect the Cowboys’ full pads practices had on the outcome of the game, but Dallas did appear much, much more physical on defense.  They looked genuinely excited to be playing football for the first time since Week Three.  I was particularly impressed with the physicality of players in the secondary, especially Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick.
  • Scandrick had a really good game overall.  He was a step ahead of his normal position on most plays, causing Eli Manning to make difficult throws on a number of occasions.  On Alan Ball’s late interception, Manning had to lead the receiver too far because of Scandrick’s tight coverage.  Now he needs to show consistency.
  • Once again, proponents of the run will claim the Cowboys won because they were more balanced offensively, but that’s simply not the case.  Only 12 of the first 33 plays were actually runs (36.4 percent).  The correlation between rushing attempts and winning is generally due to teams running after they’ve already obtained a lead.  As was the case Sunday, that lead usually comes via big plays through the air.  The Cowboys didn’t win because they ran the ball often–they won because they ran it effectively, allowing for big passing plays downfield to Dez Bryant and Miles Austin.
  • Garrett must simply not like Tashard Choice.  Choice again played just one snap–the 3rd and 22 pass to Roy Williams that went for 27 yards.  It was ALL because of Choice.  Well, not really, but why is Marion Barber still getting so many reps ahead of him?
  • Besides “Double Tight Left Ace,” the Cowboys lined up in another unique formation.  You’ve probably all seen the “Pistol” offense run by college teams like Nevada and Indiana.  If not, see below. . .

  • The trademark of the “Pistol” offense is the running back lined up behind the quarterback in a Shotgun formation.  Generally, the running back is to the left or right of the quarterback.  The reason I love the “Pistol” so much is that it doesn’t allow the defense to obtain a pre-snap key as to the play-call.  When a team is in a regular Shotgun formation, running plays are generally designed to the side of the formation opposite the running back.  In “Pistol,” a running play could go either direction.
  • The Cowboys used a variation of the “Pistol” which I have termed “Trips Right Pistol,” running the ball up the middle for a combined 12 yards the two times they called it.  I drew up the formation below. . .

Trips Right Pistol

  • I didn’t see a significant change in Garrett’s play-calling, but the Cowboys did motion a lot more than usual later in the game.  Generally, Dallas has motioned the majority of the time in the first 20 or so plays of games–the scripted plays.  On Sunday, Dallas motioned 11 times in the second half alone, including five of the first six plays to start the half.
  • Of those five plays, four were passes and they totaled 117 yards (29.3 yards-per-pass).  Let’s see if this trend continues into next week.
  • Dallas lined up in a lot more two and three-tight ends sets, even before securing a large lead.  Of their 49 offensive plays (minus two quarterback kneels), the ‘Boys implemented three or more wide receivers only 14 times.  It may have seemed like more because Bryant was targeted so much, but you’ll be happy to know that he’s effectively replaced Roy Williams as the No. 2 receiver.
  • Jon Kitna checked out of a play four times–two runs for five yards and two passes for 13 yards and a touchdown.
  • After running the ball to the outside of formations quite often to start the season, the Cowboys went back to pounding it up the middle against the Giants (as they did in 2009).  15 of their 24 runs were in either the “1” or “2” hole–right up the center’s butt.
  • I thought the Cowboys would run more draws than they did (three).  Those runs went for 24 total yards, so the few times they dialed up a draw it was effective.
  • The Cowboys didn’t run a single counter all game.
  • The Cowboys ran four playaction passes.  Only one was completed, but it went for 27 yards.
  • Garrett also dialed up four screen passes and they were extremely successful, thanks to Felix Jones (71 yard screen for a touchdown) and Dez Bryant (46 yard screen).
  • It may have seemed like the Cowboys threw the ball downfield much more often than usual, but that simply wasn’t the case.  Only eight passes traveled over 10 yards.  Kitna & Co. were simply effective when they did take their shots.
  • I counted only four passes as being off-target for Kitna.  He had quite the night.  Imagine what Romo could have done with this sort of protection.
  • Garrett made the offensive line’s job easier by calling three designed rollouts–the most in a single game all season.
  • I was shocked with the lack of pressure the Giants brought.  I counted only five blitzes all game, and the Cowboys totaled only eight yards on those plays.  After the initial success the Cowboys had on offense, I thought the Giants would become more aggressive on defense, but it just never happened.

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Dallas Cowboys vs. Giants Week 10: What to Watch, Jason Garrett Edition

Jonathan Bales

General Questions

Will Jason Garrett call plays differently now that he’s the head coach?

I don’t think this will be the case, but it is possible that Garrett’s increase in power could result in a shift in play-calling philosophy.  The offensive and defensive coordinators are generally supposed to call plays with the grander overall team philosophy in mind.  A team’s offensive philosophy is intricately linked to its defensive philosophy, and vice versa.  With Wade Phillips out, Garrett is completely free to call plays in whichever manner he deems most suitable.

The reason I don’t see major changes on the horizon is that I think Garrett was already free to call plays as he chose.  Even when Phillips was in town, it always seemed like the Cowboys had two head coaches–one for the offense and one for the defense.  Phillips rarely contributed to the offensive game plans, so I don’t think much will change.

This could still be a perfect opportunity for Garrett to alter his play-calling a bit, though.  Even if he did have free reign over the offense prior to Phillips’ dismissal, he can use the firing as a sort of “excuse” for a shift in philosophy.  Specifically, I’d love to see the offense be much more aggressive with deep throws, fourth down attempts, and so on.

How will Garrett perform with in-game tasks such as challenges, timeouts, and so on?

It will be interesting to see what sort of game manager the Cowboys have in Garrett.  I have a feeling he’s going to be far superior to Phillips, whose in-game decisions left much to be desired.  Garrett is far more detail-oriented than Phillips, meaning I expect better clock management skills and use of timeouts/challenges.

Will we see any lineup changes?

One of the major critiques of the Wade Phillips era was his inability to properly hold players accountable for sub-par play.  In my opinion, this is a valid criticism.  There is no reason on Earth that Marion Barber should still be starting (or Roy Williams, Igor Olshansky, Keith Brooking, etc.).

Garrett now has the power the do as he wants with the Cowboys’ starting lineup, but will he exercise that power?  I have my doubts.  As I argued above, Garrett was basically already the head coach of the offense.  If he wanted Barber out, it would have happened.  I am very eager to not only see if the Cowboys have any surprise lineup changes on Sunday, but also if Garrett yanks players who under-perform during the game.

The season isn’t over, but any hopes of making the playoffs have been squashed.  An alteration in goals should accompany this change in expectations.  Winning is always the top priority, but the Cowboys need to shift the emphasis of when they are trying to win–namely making 2011 the main focus.

That means the Cowboys need to find out what they have in certain players–Sean Lee, Barry Church, Danny McCray, Sam Young, Phil Costa, and so on.  The first step in improving a roster is accurately assessing current talent.  Dallas has yet to do that.

What sort of schematic alterations will we see on defense?  Will the Cowboys be more aggressive?  How about more deceptive in their intentions before the snap?

The largest changes to the Cowboys following Phillips’ departure could come on defense.  I’m interested to see what sort of mindset is employed by interim defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni.  Will he shake up the lineup?  Will he disguise blitzes more effectively than Phillips?  Will he allow the defensive backs to play more aggressively?

The second half of the season is basically a long interview for Pasqualoni, meaning we should see some changes in philosophy.  The starters and scheme the Cowboys used under Phillips weren’t working.  Pasqualoni needs to make changes to survive.

Will the Cowboys regain a sense of pride in their play now that they may feel guilt over Wade Phillips’ departure?

A lot of players, particularly on defense, feel awful about their role in getting their coach fired. . .as they should.  They basically gave up on a guy they all claimed to love.  Their effort was a slap in the face to Phillips.

Now that Phillips is gone, I expect the players to up their level of play.  It shouldn’t take a guy losing his job to spark a sense of pride in the players’ effort, but with how low Dallas has fallen, perhaps Phillips’ leave is a necessary evil.

Will Dallas possess a more aggressive overall philosophy under the “new school” Garrett?

I would be willing to bet that Garrett won’t punt the ball on 4th and 3 at the opposition’s 39-yard line.  He seems to have a rather “new school,” stat-oriented approach to coaching, which is great.  Now it is my job to make sure he’s getting the right stats. . .

Will we see more disciplined play under Garrett?

I think we will, but I don’t know how much of it will be truly caused by Garrett.  Yes, Garrett seems to be more precise than Phillips, but he was already in control of the entire offense in the first half of the season.  They weren’t disciplined under him then, so why now?

The reason the Cowboys will at least appear more disciplined is (once again) regression to the mean.  The Cowboys committed so many dumb penalties under Phillips, how much worse could it get?  They’re likely to improve regardless of Garrett’s tactics.

Of course, refraining from committing penalties isn’t the only manner in which a team can be disciplined.  I fully expect Garrett to employ much more up-tempo practices than Phillips.  That started with yesterday’s full pads practice.

My high school football coach had a saying that I think fits perfectly with the 2010 Dallas Cowboys. . .

Practice doesn’t make perfect.  Perfect practice makes perfect.

The Cowboys aren’t losing games on Sundays.  They’re losing them in the offseason, preseason, and during the practice week.  If Garrett can change the culture of Cowboys’ practices, he’ll reverse their fortunes on Sundays.

Giants-Specific Questions

Will the Cowboys run the ball more frequently in an effort to shorten the game?

The Cowboys are the largest underdogs in the league this week.  When was the last time that happened?  Garrett knows his team is an underdog, so let’s see if he runs the ball more (even if it isn’t effective) to force both teams to call less plays.  Less plays generally means less scoring, i.e. a smaller probability of the Giants pulling out to a big lead.

Using statistics in coaching doesn’t always need to be incredibly complicated.  Shorten the game, and you have a better chance of winning as an underdog.

How physical will the Cowboys be after practicing in full pads this week for the first time since training camp?

As I said above, the ‘Boys were in full pads for the first time since camp.  That’s a tone-setter and I love the move.  It isn’t like an injury is going to be devastating to the team’s playoff hopes.

So will we see a “hungrier” Cowboys defense?  I’m looking at you, Mike Jenkins. . .

Will Terence Newman move into the slot at time to cover Steve Smith (who has continually torched Orlando Scandrick)?

I don’t think this will happen, but I do wish it would.  Scandrick has been abused by receivers all year, and Smith in particular has had his number basically every game they’ve ever been matched up.  Newman has lots of experience playing in the slot, so why not make the move?

Of course, the major problem would be placing either Jenkins or Scandrick outside on Hakeem Nicks.  Scandrick is the better tackler and should probably man up on Nicks if he isn’t in the slot, but both guys are undersized.  Still, I’ll take my chances with Nicks on screen passes over Smith beating Scandrick deep over the middle all game.

Will Dallas place Gerald Sensabaugh on Ahmad Bradshaw at times as they did in the teams’ first matchup?

Lost in the hoopla of the Cowboys-Giants Week Seven contest was the fact that Sensabaugh did a fairly good job covering Bradshaw (when the two were matched up).  Although Bradshaw killed the Cowboys on the ground with 128 yards rushing, he caught only two passes for 12 yards.

None of the Cowboys’ linebackers can hang with Bradshaw.  Sensabaugh is the defense’s best option.

Can the Cowboys’ thinning defense stop the Giants’ running game?

This is going to be a major key to the game.  If the Giants can run the ball as effectively as they did a few weeks ago, their playaction passing game will destroy the Cowboys’ secondary.  The Cowboys simply don’t have the talent or numbers on the defensive line to properly respect run and get to the quarterback on playaction fakes.   Eli Manning could have all day to pass.  No cornerback can cover a guy for more than three or four seconds.

Actually, I think the Cowboys’ pass rush (or lack thereof) has been totally overlooked as a major contributor to the struggles in the secondary.  The first way to make your cornerbacks look good is to get to the passer.

Will Garrett trust the offensive line enough to allow for the occasional deep playaction pass?

The Cowboys will probably need a big play or two.  They aren’t going to get it on screen passes.  The offensive line is probably going to struggle, but from time to time, Garrett just needs to trust them and take some shots downfield.  If it doesn’t work then so be it, but the Cowboys probably won’t be able to consistently move the ball down the field without opening up the offense a bit.

As always, passing out of two-tight end formations can help.  Not only is the defense already in base personnel and anticipating run, but don’t underestimate Martellus Bennett’s blocking ability.  He’s been far superior to Jason Witten in that department all season.

How many draws will the Cowboys run?

I’m saying double-digits, which wouldn’t be a horrible idea.  Draws will allow Dallas to keep the clocking moving and take advantage of the league’s most aggressive defensive ends.

Will Tashard Choice finally get some work?

I sure hope so.  After being told he’d get significant playing time last week, Choice received all of three carries while the Cowboys were down 38 points.  Marion Barber probably won’t be in Dallas next season.  With playoff hopes shot, why is he still starting?  Give Choice at least 10 touches.

Will Dez Bryant continue to get more reps, including in base personnel packages?

Last week was the first time I saw Bryant on the field in a non-three-receiver package.  That’s good news.  You can expect more of the same this week for the rookie who, in my view, is the team’s MVP over the last five weeks or so.  His effort has been noticeably better than the majority of veterans, which is sad.  He deserves more looks.

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Dallas Cowboys vs. New York Giants Week 7 Manifesto: 18 DOs and DON’Ts for Dallas

Jonathan Bales

From last week’s Manifesto:

I’m not one to erroneously label a game as a “must win” unless, mathematically, a team actually must win it to stay alive.

Mathematically, this game is not a “must win” for Dallas.  Emotionally, however, it might be just that.  Can this team truly come back from a 1-4 start to make the playoffs (and not just make the post-season, but win there)?  Of course it’s possible, but realistically, this week’s game in Minnesota is about as close to “must win” as it gets in Week Six.

This week, the Cowboys will have the opportunity to begin to prove me wrong.  While I don’t think the hole they’ve dug themselves is insurmountable, I do think that will be the case if they continue to play as they have thus far.  Can the Cowboys really flip the switch and begin playing disciplined, selfless football?  Monday can’t get here soon enough.

This week’s Manifesto consists of all “DOs” and “DON’Ts” for Dallas.  Hey, there’s a lot that needs to change. . .

DOs and DON’Ts

DO blitz a little more this week–but disguise them PLEASE!

This is more of a wish than anything else.  I know Phillips’ defense isn’t going to change overnight into one that invokes all sorts of pre-snap alignments to confuse the defense as to which defenders might be rushing, but I WISH it could be that.

At the very least, I think the ‘Boys can blitz more often this week.  Terence Newman has been shutting down whoever is on him and Alan Ball can help over top of Jenkins.  The key, as it was last week, will be Orlando Scandrick.  If he can handle Steve Smith in the slot, the Cowboys should be able to play the same sort of Cover 1 defense they played against the Vikings:

DON’T worry about Brandon Jacobs–focus on stopping Ahmad Bradshaw.

I wholeheartedly believe Jacobs is one of the worst running backs in the NFL.  He isn’t quick.  He isn’t shifty.  He’s not even a good short-yardage runner, which is sad for a man his size.  Ask any defender who they’d rather tackle in the open field, Jacobs or Bradshaw, and I’d bet nearly every one would choose Jacobs.  Tackling him might hurt more, but it would certainly be easier to accomplish.

Bradshaw is the sort of player with which the Cowboys have traditionally struggled.  He’s extremely shifty and can do a lot of things out of the backfield.  The Cowboys’ oversized linebackers need to be careful to not let Bradshaw get into the open-field.  If he does, it’s lights out for Dallas.  Here’s one way they might be able to contain the little guy. . .

DO place Gerald Sensabaugh, not a linebacker, on Bradshaw.

Let’s face it: Keith Brooking is now a detriment to the defense when he’s in coverage.  I love his attitude and work ethic, but he has terrible hips and is really poor in space.  He has been coming off of the field more and more in nickel situations, which is a good thing.

On 1st and 2nd down, though, the Cowboys should place Sensabaugh on Bradshaw (whenever possible).  In the Cover 1 example above, it’s quite easy to shift the responsibility of Bradie James (or Brooking) and Sensy.  Plus, I don’t find Kevin Boss to be that much of a threat as a pass-catcher.  In my opinion, James should be able to shut him down.  If Sensabaugh can do the same to Bradshaw, Brooking will only be responsible for a fullback or second tight end.

DON’T keep shooting yourselves in the foot with senseless penalties.

I really don’t mind some penalties–sometimes fouls such as illegal contact and offsides are simply the result of an aggressive style of play.  It is the mental mistakes–illegal formations, illegal substitutions, false starts, and celebration penalties–that are so aggravating.

Yes, the excessive celebration penalty called against Marc Colombo because he fell to the ground was garbage, but last week’s celebration penalty on Sam Hurd was needless.  The rule is dumb, but Hurd is a professional football player.  Professionals need to know the rules.

In all four of the Cowboys’ losses this year, they’ve done something so dumb that it alone basically cost them the game.  Playing intelligently (while still maintaining aggression) should be the team’s number one focus for the rest of the season.

Let’s set a goal of five penalties.  More than that and they’ll have a difficult time winning this football game.

DO implement max protection a few times to take shots downfield.

Last week, the Cowboys threw the ball 10 yards or more downfield just THREE times all game.  They threw an incredible 18 passes behind the line of scrimmage.

The Cowboys’ offensive line hasn’t been awful in pass protection this year except against the Titans.  Romo makes it look better than it is, but there’s certainly been enough time for the ‘Boys to take some shots down the field.

This week, the Cowboys’ pass protection duties don’t get any easier.  They’ll have to deal with Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Chris Canty all night long.  If three-receiver sets aren’t working, Dallas needs to implement one or two-man routes to create big plays.  Either way, the ball has to get down the field.

DON’T screw up on kick coverage.

There’s a chance the Cowboys could have two more wins if their kickoff coverage was even average.  The coverage units seemed much improved last year when their faults were simply covered up by David Buehler’s big leg.  Buehler’s power has diminished in 2010 and the coverage units are once again costing the Cowboys football games.

Special teams are more about maintaining responsibility and hustling than talent.  The fact that Dallas’ coverage units have struggled is related to the abundance of penalties: both are due to a lack of discipline.

DO stop the run early so the Giants can’t utilize the playaction pass.

The Giants find success against Dallas when they’re playaction game gets going.  Eli Manning no longer has the luxury of having Plaxico Burress to catch his mistakes, but Nicks, Manningham, and Smith are a formidable trio.  Nicks and Manningham in particular have big-play potential that is often the result of running efficiency–when the Giants are moving the ball on the ground, their playaction passing game can be lethal.

The best way to stop the Giants’ playaction success is to limit their running game early.  If the Giants have no confidence that a play-fake will draw in the defense, they won’t run them.

DON’T blitz up the middle.

The Giants are incredibly strong up the middle with Shaun O’Hara at center and Chris Snee and Rich Seubert at guard.  Brooking and even James will be no match for them.  Plus, the Cowboys just haven’t found much success this season when rushing their inside linebackers.

Instead, the Cowboys should make sure DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer are rarely in coverage and even send Sensabaugh after Eli Manning.  If they do choose to play a lot of Cover 1 and put Sensy on Bradshaw, it will be easier for Sensabaugh to blitz (particularly if Bradshaw stays in to pass protect).

DO call some designed rollouts OR throw some back-shoulder fades.

The abundance of screens and other short passes this year is evidence that Jason Garrett doesn’t have full confidence in the pass protection-ability of this offensive line.  There are other ways to get the ball downfield without relying so heavily on pass protection, though.

One is getting Romo on the move on designed rollouts, of which the Cowboys have run three all season.  Another are back-shoulder fades which Romo and the receivers practiced diligently in preseason practices and games.  The fades haven’t made their way into the regular season, but perhaps they should.  The Cowboys don’t need a ton of time to throw a back-shoulder fade (or quick fade, or stop route, or whatever you’d like to call it).  Roy Williams’ skill set–tremendous body control and hands– is built perfectly for the route.

DO run right at Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul, especially with counters and draws.

Both Umenyiora and Pierre-Paul have a pass-first mentality.  They fly upfield in search of sacks before fulfilling their gap responsibilities.  I think Dallas can take advantage of that by not only running right at them, but doing it with with counters and draws.  Felix Jones averaged 10.0 yards-per-carry on 22 counters last year.

This year, the Cowboys aren’t running many counters.  They ran only one last week despite totaling 66 yards on five counters in the prior game.

Dallas has also limited their draws this season after running over eight per game in 2009.  The fact that they are limiting them is a good thing, but they should run more this week against a Giants defense that will disregard gap responsibility in search of sacks.  Third down draws will be particularly efficient because both Umenyiora and Pierre-Paul will be in the game.  Look for the Cowboys to run the ball multiple times on 3rd and 2 to 6.

DON’T be afraid to use the short passing game as an extension of the running game this week.

Screen passes in particular could be of use to the Cowboys this week for the same reason draws might work (the eagerness of the Giants’ defensive line to get to the passer).  The Cowboys aren’t a very good screen team, but I think a few traditional screen passes will work this week.

And no, the play below (which the Cowboys ran eight times last week) is not a screen. . .

DON’T keep running the same plays from the same formations.

Last year it was “Double Tight Strong.” When in that formation, the ‘Boys ran a strong side dive on 71.6 percent of all plays.  This year, Garrett has done a much better job of mixing up his play-calling from particular formations.

Last week, however, Dallas ran the same play eight times from a formation called “Twins Right Strong Left”:

This is what I wrote about the play after the game:

Jones was the target on four of the eight passes, but he wasn’t actually the primary read on this play.  I believe the Cowboys saw something on film that made them want to clear out the two receivers on the “Twins” side to hit Jason Witten across the middle.  Witten was actually the intended target on three of the eight plays (and the final one was a scramble).  If that wasn’t open, Romo would dump it down to Jones.

The play was working early.  Two of Witten’s long receptions–one for 30 yards and another for 17–came on this play.  Like I said in my pre-game Manifesto, the Vikings’ linebackers couldn’t hang with Witten or Martellus Bennett.

So how did the Cowboys run this play one time too many?  Well, remember Romo’s second crippling interception that was picked off by E.J. Henderson?  It came on the eighth and final time the Cowboys ran the play.

It appeared as though Henderson was faking a blitz and at the last moment backed into coverage, confusing Romo.  Well, I actually think Henderson was truly blitzing on the play.  When he didn’t get a great jump and subsequently realized what play was coming, he dropped back and made the pick.

Don’t make the same mistake twice.  You can bet the Giants know this play could be coming when they see the formation.  Either don’t line up in “Twins Right Strong Left” at all, or run a different play from it.

DON’T worry about offensive balance–simply stick with what is working.

I personally think the Cowboys can pound the rock early this week, while also mixing in some screens.  They should be able to run the ball effectively to the edges of the Giants’ defense.  That can then set up the playaction pass later in the game.  The Cowboys’ game plan on offense is pretty much the same as what they are trying to halt on defense.  Which team will execute better?

DON’T be afraid to run the ball more often out of “passing personnel.”

It is a good rule of thumb in any football game to pass when the defense expects run, and vice versa.  If the Giants sense pass, they’ll be head-hunting for Romo.  This week is a particularly good one to run out of three-receiver sets (which the ‘Boys haven’t been doing of late) and pass out of double-tight, run-oriented formations.

DO give Tashard Choice some work.

One snap in the last two weeks isn’t going to cut it.  I do think Jones’ increased snaps are a good thing and should continue, but Choice needs to be on the field from time to time.  Barber did an excellent job in short-yardage work last week, but I’m not sure why he’s stolen all of Choice’s reps on third down.

DON’T motion so often unless you are trying to exploit a mismatch.

Motions need to have a significant purpose.  It seems the only purpose motions have in the Cowboys’ offense is to either shift the strong side of the formation or determine if the defense is in man coverage.  We can argue all day about whether those two results are worth the trouble of motions, but what we can’t argue about is the fact that Dallas has traditionally found more success when they don’t motion.

I don’t think the ‘Boys should scrap motions.  Rather, I believe they need to use them more uniquely–much like the Saints.  New Orleans implements shifts and quick motions to gain favorable matchups.  It seems as though Garrett is content in saying “here is what we are going to do, now stop it.”  Instead, he needs to maximize the probability of success by implementing a more significant purpose for each pre-snap movement.

DO target Dez Bryant at least five times.

Bryant was targeted twice last week and not once in the first 51 plays.  With the other playmakers on offense, Bryant sees a lot of single coverage, so take advantage of it.

DO play incredibly aggressively.

What is there to lose?  Blitz often, throw it deep, go for it on fourth down, and just have some fun.

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Dallas Cowboys 2010 Quarter-Season Player Grades

Jonathan Bales

In my 2009 “Grading the ‘Boys” segments, I used math and statistics to create as objective of grades as possible for each player.  These grades are a bit different.  Not only have I not had adequate time to collect all useful data on each player, but those numbers would also be quite useless.  Through four games, no player has played enough reps for their statistics to be significant.  Instead, these grades are the culmination of what I have seen on film.

WR Miles Austin:  A

Austin has been the Cowboys’ best player all season, hands down.  No one is even close.  He’s caught the ball, run after the catch, and blocked well.  He’s one of the best in the NFL.

OLB DeMarcus Ware:  A-

He’s a beast.  There’s not really much I can tell you about Ware that you don’t already know.

CB Terence Newman:  A-

A healthy Newman has always been a productive one.  At his best, he’s one of the top cornerbacks in the league.  Mike Jenkins’ tackling makes you appreciate how talented Newman is in that department too.

WR Roy Williams:  B+

Don’t forget that in March I proclaimed my support for Roy Williams, telling you to not give up on the former UT star just yet.  Well, he’s making me look good so far this season.  The ‘Boys are utilizing his strengths by using him on fades and in-breaking routes.  It’s clear he’s regained his confidence, displaying what have always been above-average hands and body control.

WR Dez Bryant:  B+

Bryant’s opportunities have been limited, but he’s made the most of them.  He has yet to drop a pass and he’s looked explosive after the catch.  The Cowboys need to find a way to get the ball to him more often, even if it means stealing passes from another receiver (anyone except Austin).  And let’s not forget his punt return touchdown.

TE Martellus Bennett:  B+

Bennett with a higher grade than Witten?  He’s earned it.  The kid’s blocking has been extraordinary (as it was last year) and he finally seems to be coming along in the passing game.  Don’t forget that if Bennett “gets it,” which appears to be happening, he’s a much, much more athletic version of Witten.

ILB Bradie James:  B+

James has been one of the lone bright spots for Dallas on defense.  He’s been everywhere, and I’m really shocked at how well he’s played when in coverage.  When he was out for a short time against the Titans, you saw how vital he truly is to the Cowboys.  His only weakness has been pass rushing.

LT Doug Free:  B+

Free has been tremendous this season, exceeding my own expectations by leaps and bounds.  I can only imagine how poor this offensive line would be if Flozell Adams was still here.

TE Jason Witten:  B

Outside circumstances have forced Witten to become less involved than usual thus far in 2010.  The Cowboys lost Marc Colombo early, forcing Witten to stay in to block often.  He’s also suffered a concussion and been forced to play fullback in Chris Gronkowski’s absence.  His blocking has been solid, but he has yet to dominate.

OG Montrae Holland:  B

I wasn’t confident in Holland in the beginning of the season, but he’s played well.  He held his own in the opener in Washington and looked really good after replacing Leonard Davis last week (before going down to injury).

NT Jay Ratliff:  B

Ratliff hasn’t played poorly, but he also hasn’t been his dominant self.  I think he’ll have a hell of a second quarter (of the season), as his motor makes it just a matter of time before he breaks out.

DE Marcus Spears:  B

Spears has been really solid against the run.  That’s all that the ‘Boys really ask of him.

QB Tony Romo:  B-

Romo’s play has been quite fluky this season, which is of course never a good thing for a quarterback.  He hasn’t played poorly, but he also hasn’t been the same play-making gunslinger to which we’ve become accustomed in years past.  I have confidence this grade will rise by the end of the year.

S Gerald Sensabaugh:  B-

Sensy has stepped up as more of a vocal leader this year.  He played well against Chicago, but he needs to make more plays.  The Cowboys do view their safeties as somewhat interchangeable, but Sensabaugh is usually put in a position in which he can make more plays than Ball, particularly against the run.

OLB Anthony Spencer:  B-

Spencer has always been great against the run, but this season seems to be a repeat of last: Spencer is getting pressure but unable to get the quarterback to the ground.  Hopefully this season ends as last year’s did as well, with Spencer going off in the second half.

RB Felix Jones:  B-

Jones had a tremendous game last week as the Cowboys finally utilized him in the proper manner: on counters and other misdirection plays.  He did look hesitant in the first three weeks of the season, though.

CB Mike Jenkins:  C+

Jenkins really struggled last week against the pass, which is rare.  Hopefully he doesn’t lose his confidence.  He really, really needs to improve his tackling, and that starts with just becoming more willing to do so.  At this point, it is detrimental to the defense.

LG Kyle Kosier:  C+

Kosier has gotten overpowered at times this year, but he’s been the ‘Boys most consistent lineman behind Free.  That’s sad.  He was the lone lineman to play well last week versus Tennessee.

DE Igor Olshansky:  C

Like Spears, Olshansky is a run-stopper.  He did well in that role last season, but this year he’s gotten blown off the ball at times.  Spears is the superior player at this time.

Offensive Coordinator Jason Garrett: C-

Garrett’s play-calling may not look all that different, but trust me when I say it is.  It is far, far less predictable and, despite the outcries of “imbalance,” I actually like the timing of his runs and passes this season.  Note that the offense has not been aided much by the defense.  Still, Garrett’s grade can’t be that high since the Cowboys’ offense struggled mightily in the first two games.

RB Marion Barber:  C-

Barber does the little things like catching the ball out of the backfield and excelling in pass protection, but I just don’t think he’s regained the explosion and power that marked the start of his career.

C Andre Gurode:  C-

Gurode’s been bad.  As usual, he’s struggled with speed rushers inside and seems to get fooled easily by twists.  That’s not good for a player who is supposed to be the “quarterback” of the offensive line.

RG Leonard Davis:  C-

We all know how poorly Davis played last week, and it actually took a lot of guts for the coaches to bench him.  After reviewing the film, it was the right move, but I also think putting him back into the starting lineup is the correct call as well.  He wasn’t horrible in the first three games and hopefully he’ll come back more motivated than ever.

ILB Keith Brooking:  C-

Brooking hasn’t played very well in 2010.  He’s a vocal leader and a personal favorite of mine, but on the field he’s seemed lost.  He’s been just so-so against the run and horrendous in coverage.  He’s also gotten blocked virtually every time he’s blitzed, although I think that has a bit to do with the Cowboys’ predictable blitz packages.

DE Stephen Bowen:  C-

Bowen was incredible in the preseason, but that intensity hasn’t carried over to the regular season.

DE Jason Hatcher:  C-

I thought Hatcher would have a breakout season, but when was the last time you even heard his name called?

K David Buehler: D+

He’s shown the potential the Cowboys love, but the consistency just isn’t there yet.  His kickoffs have suffered as well.

RT Marc Colombo:  D+

Colombo has been awful.  Even before yielding two sacks last week, Colombo struggled against Chicago and Houston.  Even more concerning for Dallas is the fact that he hasn’t looked good in the running game (where he should thrive), to the point that the team has run to the left again and again.

CB Orlando Scandrick:  D+

Scandrick was a candidate to break out this year (for me at least) because he always seemed to be just a half-step behind his man.  Well, he’s still a half-step behind.  Some of that is due to the nature of the nickel cornerback position, but Scandrick has also exhibited poor awareness and ball skills–the two traits he needed to improve most in the offseason.

S Alan Ball:  D+

With the way Coach Phillips’ defense is set up, the free safety will never be the “ball-hawk” fans want.  The responsibility of Ball, and Ken Hamlin last year, is generally to limit the big play.  The Cowboys haven’t done that very well this season, and Ball’s tackling has been poor as well.

Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips: D

I’m one of the few who still supports Phillips, but my patience is wearing thin.  He isn’t properly motivating the players and he’s even struggled some as a defensive coordinator.  He needs to get this thing turned around fast or he’ll be gone by season’s end.

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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.


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

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Five Reasons the Redskins Could Beat Dallas

Jonathan Bales

In my Week 1 picks, I chose Dallas to squeak by Washington tomorrow night by the score of 21-17.  I do think this game is going to be much more difficult for the Cowboys to win than many people realize, though.  Here’s why. . .

1.  It is a nationally televised game on opening weekend.

The most exciting aspect of opening day is that everyone is 0-0.  Theoretically, each team has a chance at the ultimate prize, and that can be uplifting.  That’s particularly true for a team that struggled the previous season.

Further, players bring their all when they know the entire country is watching.  That’s of course true for the Cowboys’ players as well, but any significant increase in emotional play is likely an advantage for the underdog.

And the players aren’t the only ones who will be pumped up.  The Redskins fans will be as rowdy as ever with all day and night to tailgate.  Fed Ex Field is also the league’s second-largest stadium in terms of capacity, so you can bet the 90,000+ drunk fans will have that place rocking.

2.  This is a completely new Washington Redskins team.

How do the Cowboys go about game-planning for this team?  New quarterback, new head coach, new offensive system, new defensive system.  This 2010 version of the Redskins doesn’t at all resemble the ’09 variety.

Most important for the Cowboys will be how they adapt to the Redskins’ new 3-4 defense.  Traditionally, they’ve struggled against 3-4 teams.

3.  Washington’s offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan, coached in Houston last season.

So what, right?  Well, you can bet little Shanny has used his connections in Houston to acquire an extensive scouting report on the ‘Boys, including how the Texans were able to move the ball so efficiently on offense during their preseason game.  Yeah, it wasn’t a “real” game, but there are still aspects of the exhibition games that carry over into the regular season.

4.  Road games within the division are always difficult.

Not much else to say here.  It’s vital for teams to take care of business at home against division opponent’s, and Washington knows that.

5.  McNabb to Moss

I would say priority No. 1 for the Cowboys’ defense is to ensure that the Redskins don’t score quickly.  Yielding an “easy” touchdown is the fastest way to lose to an inferior ball club.

Washington really has one way they can consistently score quickly, and that is Santana Moss.  His speed and overall skill set mesh very well with Donovan McNabb’s big arm.  McNabb isn’t always very accurate, but he can definitely throw the deep ball.

In my Cowboys/Redskins Game Plan, I proposed that Dallas shade free safety Alan Ball to Santana Moss’ side of the field at all times, whether they are in Cover 2 (in which case it would be quite easy) or Cover 1.

Limiting the impact of Moss in this game is so crucial for Dallas, I’ll repeat what I said earlier:

If the Cowboys do end up blitzing and playing Cover 1, Ball should shade the side of Santana Moss very heavily. Moss is the one player on Washington who can beat Dallas deep (sorry, Devin Thomas) and, as I explained earlier, the ‘Boys cannot give up quick, easy scores on Sunday night. Ball needs to make sure he is in position to stop Moss, regardless of the coverage. . .even if it means leaving the opposing cornerback on an island. I’ll take my chances with either Terence Newman or Mike Jenkins on Joey Galloway.


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Should Marion Barber still be starting?

Call me crazy, but I think Jerry Jones has quietly become one of the better GMs in the NFL.  He learned a lot from Bill Parcells during The Tuna’s stay in Dallas, and that success continued even after Parcells left.  Coach Wade Phillips is certainly a solid evaluator of talent, but Jones has been the permanent fixture in Dallas’ personnel decisions throughout the decade.

Now, amidst Phillips and Jason Garrett declaring that it is important for Marion Barber to start football games, Jones isn’t necessarily agreeing.  When referring to if he likes Barber starting, Jones said, “I don’t, but our coaches do.  Bill Parcellsdoesn’t.  Parcells thinks that Barber’s the finisher.  Save him and wear ’em down at the end.  But our coaches like to use him early, that physical part, to establish that.”

The Cowboys’ coaches think Barber’s punishing running style sets a tone for the rest of the game.  The only problem?  Barber hasn’t exactly been that punishing since 2008.  In my opinion, Barber still looks sluggish and indecisive on runs this preseason, despite losing some weight.

Phillips isn’t discouraged.  “You can’t change a guy’s running style,” he said. “He’s so strong, so powerful, he can ignite your team early in a game — and late in a game.”

I couldn’t disagree more with the latter assessment.  No, you can’t change Barber’s running style, but that’s the exact reason he can’t be used effectively throughout the ball game.  He simply can’t hold up.

Now, if the team decides to start Barber, then only use him intermittently (my suggestion has been third downs) until the fourth quarter, than I am perhaps more on-board.  But that doesn’t appear like it will be the case.

We’ve talked before about how riding the hot hand (in terms of the distribution of touches among running backs) could be a worthwhile strategy for Dallas.  With this method, the optimal distribution would be nearly optimized throughout the course of an entire season.  And it would also probably mean less touches for Barber. 

So while cynics will blame Jerry Jones for the lack of postseason success over the last 15 or so years, I think he’s become one of the better evaluators of personnel and overall talent in the league.  And like a lot of his opinions over the past few years, I tend to support this one as well.

I’ve previously proposed this more unconventional distribution of touches:

  • Felix Jones: 50 percent
  • Tashard Choice: 30 percent
  • Marion Barber: 20 percent

In my “Grading the ‘Boys”: Running Backs segment, I wrote the following in defense of the above ratio:

“Some may argue that we have given up on Barber too quickly, but now is not the time to wait on players.  The Cowboys are built to win now, and the most productive players should play.

These percentages could be attained by starting Jones and letting him play two series for each of Tashard Choice’s one. We would also use Tashard Choice on short-yardage runs, including a bit more Wildcat.  Barber would come in to spell Jones and Choice, particularly on third down, and to finish out games. In baseball, closers are only successful because they haven’t pitched all game.  The same is true for Marion Barber.  By saving his energy, he could effectively return to the “closer” role, creating the most efficient Dallas Cowboys backfield possible.”


New DC Times Blog

Jonathan Bales

For those of you who are regular readers, you know Dallas Cowboys Times is primarily based on film study and statistical analysis.  Not to be conceited, but the articles published on the site are generally of high quality and take quite a bit of time to complete.  I personally believe this extra effort is what makes the site so unique and, hopefully, of enjoyment to you.

There are times, however, when I want to mention little tidbits concerning the latest Cowboys happenings that simply aren’t detailed enough to deserve an entire post on the site.

Therefore, I have created this little blog area, which I plan to update quite regularly, to provide you with the latest Cowboys information and my thoughts regarding it.  This way, when the Cowboys make a “minor” trade or a fringe player goes down with an injury, I can let you know as soon as I know.  Hopefully, this will give you a reason to stop by DCT even more often than you already do.

You’ll be able to find the blog under the “DC Times Blog” tab above and to the right.  All blog posts will also show up under the “Recent Entries” box to the right.

And don’t worry. . .the in-depth film study and stat analysis which you love and which comprises the majority of the website won’t be compromised.


Cowboys vs. Texans Live In-Game Blog, Game Updates

I will be posting live updates on our Twitter account (widget embedded below) during tonight’s game in Houston. These will include specific bits about what I observe regarding play-calls, specific formations, and certain players.

In particular, I will focusing on the 12 things I told you to watch in tonight’s game and the DOs and DON’Ts for Dallas.

The game starts at 7 p.m. Central. Go Cowboys!


Cowboys vs. Raiders Live In-Game Updates, Observations

For the 95 percent of Cowboys fans who will be unable to watch the Cowboys game tonight, I will be posting live updates on our Twitter account (widget embedded below).  These will include specific bits about what I observe regarding play-calls, specific formations, and certain players.

In particular, I will focus on the 10 players I listed as under the most pressure this preseason.  Go Cowboys!