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DOs and DON’Ts for Cowboys vs. Houston Texans

Jonathan Bales

Even though Saturday’s game “doesn’t count,” there are still a lot of things both coaches and fans would like to see from the players.   A variety of training camp battles have yet to reach a conclusion and a handful of injuries will force would-be backups into the starting lineup.

Here is what Dallas should and should not do Saturday versus Houston:

DO give Alex Barron plenty of reps at right tackle.

This appears as though it will be the case, since Barron is probably going to start.  He would have started at right tackle last week had he been healthy.  Robert Brewster, who started at right tackle against the Chargers and did a fine job, will become the swing tackle.

It will be important for Dallas to see how Barron plays on the right side.  Like Doug Free, he is a bit of a “finesse” offensive tackle, meaning his game is probably better suited for the left side.  If he plays well at right tackle, it will give the Cowboys a lot more confidence in their situation at the position.  He better hope Mario Williams doesn’t line up on his side too often.


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

Barber, who lost some weight in the offseason, is supposedly quicker and more explosive this year.  I haven’t seen it.  He still looks a bit sluggish and that “barbarian” mentality we saw a few years ago still hasn’t returned.  I’d love to see Barber get a bunch of touches to prove that he’s truly back.

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

The Cowboys threw just six passes over 10 yards against the Chargers, and only two traveled 15+ yards.  An incredible 18 of the passes were five yards or less.

A lot of that was due to the losses of Kyle Kosier and Marc Colombo, but there are still ways to get the ball downfield without having total confidence in your line.  One is max protection (eight or even nine blockers), and I would expect the Cowboys to use it a few times against Houston so their quarterbacks can have an opportunity to practice throwing the deep ball.

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

This might seem like a strange request, but the last thing the Cowboys want is for Bennett to acquire a sense of entitlement.  With John Phillips out for the year, he knows he’s the surefire No. 2 tight end.  I’m not saying scoring more touchdowns would go to his head, but. . .who knows sometimes with this guy?  Bennett’s primary responsibility is as a blocker, and he needs to remember that.

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

I’ve been extremely impressed with Costa’s play this preseason, but I’d like to see him snap a few more balls out of Shotgun.  The Cowboys figure to use a lot of it this season, and if anything happens to starter Andre Gurode, the ‘Boys should know if they can feel comfortable with Costa providing the snaps.

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

Starting strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh is playing on a one-year deal.  The Cowboys may or may not sign him to a long-term contract, but that definitely won’t be the case if they feel Hamlin is ready to become a starter.

Hamlin will start this week and, although the Cowboys will want to see more of rookies Barry Church and Danny McCray, they have the entire fifth preseason game for that.  Saturday night is about Hamlin and determining if he’s the future at safety.

DO give Dez Bryant plenty of reps.

Not.  Just seeing if you’re still reading!

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

Church has shown to be an excellent tackler and I think he’ll make the Cowboys’ 53-man roster.  However, he needs to show he can become a complete player, and that starts with being rangy in coverage.

The Texans have an excellent backup tight end named James Casey who figures to test Church.  Let’s see how he holds up.

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

The back-shoulder throw has been an obvious point of emphasis for Tony Romo this offseason and he’s already utilized it on completions to Miles Austin and Patrick Crayton in the preseason.  On paper, Roy Williams is the perfect receiver for back-shoulder throws, as he is a big target with (like it or not) excellent body control and hands.

I can’t for the life of me figure out why Romo and Williams still seem disconnected, but it doesn’t appear to happen with Romo and the other receivers.  If they can somehow get it going, the back-shoulder fade can be a big, big weapon in Dallas’ offensive attack, particularly around the goal line.

DON’T keep Bradie James in for nickel plays.

Apart from the fact that James is a veteran and doesn’t need the added playing time, I’d love to see Sean Lee and Jason Williams on the field together.  Williams isn’t guaranteed a roster spot and needs every opportunity to prove he is of worth to the Cowboys.

I’ve been impressed with his run defense this preseason, but he’s made a few mistakes in coverage.  That can’t happen for a nickel linebacker.  Let’s see how the youngsters perform in nickel duties if they are on the field at the same time.  If they can give starters Bradie James and Keith Brooking a breather during the regular season, that could be a huge asset to Dallas.

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Preseason Week Three, Cowboys vs. Texans: 12 Things to Watch

Jonathan Bales

As the fourth game on their five-game preseason schedule, Saturday night’s match-up against Houston will be the closest to a “real game” that Dallas will encounter until September 12 in Washington.  The starters will get significant playing time and will be able to go into the game with nearly the same mentality as that of a regular season game.  In addition to watching if the team comes out with that same regular season-type fire, here are 12 other things to watch. . .

1.  Can Tony Romo get back on track?  Will he be able to play better against the blitz?

By my count, Romo has been off-target on 10 of 28 passes this preseason.  That rate of 35.7 percent is nearly double that of last season, as you can see in my 2009 breakdown of Romo’s off-target passes.

He’s also just three-for-nine against the blitz, with only 36 yards passing and an interception.  That’s a passer rating of 6.9.

Romo is one of the top quarterbacks in the league when facing pressure, though, so these numbers are simply the result of a small sample size.  Romo will be fine, starting this weekend against the Texans.

2.  Will any of the Cowboys’ quarterbacks throw the ball downfield?

With Robert Brewster and Montrae Holland starting on the offensive line against San Diego, it seemed as though the Cowboys made it a priority for the quarterbacks to unleash the ball quickly.  They threw just six passes over 10 yards all game, and only two traveled 15+ yards.  An incredible 18 of the passes were five yards or less.

With added confidence in both Brewster and Holland, the Cowboys may feel more comfortable taking some shots down the field.  That’s especially true against a weak Houston secondary.

3.  Who will start at right tackle, Robert Brewster or Alex Barron?  How will each player perform?

Barron took some reps at right tackle in practice this week and reportedly looked pretty shaky.  Brewster played well against San Diego and will probably get the nod to start.  Still, expect Barron to get some reps at right tackle.  The Cowboys want to see if he will be their swing tackle (once Marc Colombo returns) or just a backup left tackle.

4.  Will left tackle Doug Free hold his own against Mario Williams?

Doug Free has exceeded expectations thus far this preseason.  He played tremendously against the Bengals and Chargers and, although he yielded a sack, decently against the Raiders.

He hasn’t faced a pass-rusher of the quality of Mario Williams, though.  Williams will test Free like nobody he’s faced (outside of DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer in practice).  Let’s see if Free is up to the challenge.

5.  As always, will the offense keep running strong side dives out of “Double Tight Strong”?

Seven times lining up in the formation against San Diego, and seven strong side dives.  That raises the rate of strong side dives from “Double Tight Strong” to 85.7 percent–even more than that which I found in my analysis of the Cowboys’ 2009 usage of the formation.

It is only preseason, of course, so let’s hope Jason Garrett is simply setting up teams for the regular season.

6.  Will the offense continue to run weak side out of “Double Tight I”?

Last season, the Cowboys ran a strong side dive out of both the “Strong” and “I” variations of the “Double Tight Left or Right formation.

This preseason, they are running weak side out of the latter variation (I-formation).   The reason is simple: the weak side lead block for the fullback is easier if he lines up behind the center as compared to lining up between the strong side guard and tackle.  On Saturday night, they lined up in Double Tight Right I Right twice, running weak side both times and losing four total yards.


7.  How about a toss to the two-tight end side of “Double Tight Left Twins Right Ace?”

As I explained in my final film observations from the Chargers game, the Cowboys have lined up in a new formation this year called “Double Tight Left Twins Right Ace” (or vice versa).  The play-calling out of this formation is by no means as predictable as that from “Double Tight Strong,” but I’ve noticed that Dallas has frequently lined up in “Double Tight Right Ace” and motioned the receiver on the Double Tight side of the formation over into a twins set, running a toss to the two-tight end side.  The play, which I (and not the Cowboys) have titled “Double Tight Right Ace Liz 28 Toss” is shown to the left.

8.  Will newly-acquired tight end Martin Rucker get playing time, and can he make a case for a roster spot over the under-performing Chris Gronkowski and Scott Sicko?

Rucker is behind the curve mentally, so he will have to show he’s picked up the offense.  If he can do that, he’ll have a chance to make the 53-man roster, as his competition, Gronkowski and Sicko, haven’t been stellar.

Gronkowski is a fullback but, because I can’t see Dallas cutting starter Deon Anderson, he’ll probably have to take the spot of a tight end to make the roster.  I can’t see that happening, as he’s been absolutely awful as a blocker.

Sicko played well in the Hall of Fame game but, like Gronkowski, needs to improve his blocking.

9.  Will center/guard Phil Costa continue to outperform guard Travis Bright?

Costa holds a big-time advantage over Bright right now because, not only has he been superior on the football field, but he is also more versatile.  Costa will likely be Dallas’ backup center this season (even once Kyle Kosier returns), while Bright, unless he steps up in a hurry, will probably be relegated to the practice squad once again.

10.  Will rookie Sean Lee show why the Cowboys traded up to draft him in his first NFL start?

This may be the most interesting aspect of Saturday night’s game.  Lee had an up-and-down night last week, but showed that he is capable of learning (quickly) from his mistakes.  That’s an important characteristic for any football player.

With starter Keith Brooking nursing a sprained AC joint, Lee will have an opportunity to prove he’s the future for the Cowboys at inside linebacker.  Watch to see how Lee performs in coverage, in particular, as he will almost certainly be Dallas’ nickel linebacker this season.

11.  How will the Cowboys’ secondary match up against one of the league’s premiere passing attacks?

The starters will get significant playing time, so let’s see how Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins take on the challenge of the No. 1 WR on my 2010 All-Pro offense, Andre Johnson.  Jenkins got beat a few times last week, losing his leverage and failing to press receivers, while Newman played superbly.

As always, the success of the cornerbacks will be dependent on that of their teammates–a strong pass rush will allow the ‘Boys to provide safety help over the top, making Jenkins’ and Newman’s jobs much easier.

12.  Safeties Barry Church and Danny McCray may be fighting for the same roster spot.  Who will step up?

I’ve been really impressed with Church.  He’s been okay in coverage, but outstanding in run support.  I think he has the leg up on McCray and Pat Watkins for the final safety spot on the roster.

McCray’s saving grace has been his special teams play, but I don’t think it’s been enough so far.  He blew a coverage last week and hasn’t performed nearly as well on defense as Church to this point.

The battle is still up in the air, though, so a couple of strong performances from McCray in the final two preseason games could win him the job.

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Preseason Week 2, Cowboys vs. Chargers: What We Learned

Note: I am having some trouble securing the game film for this contest.  Hopefully, I will have it by tomorrow.

Jonathan Bales

Before the Cowboys’ third preseason game in San Diego, I gave you 12 things to watch.  Here is what we learned.

1. How much will the starters play?

Fairly long, actually.  Tony Romo was again the first player out on offense, and backup quarterback Jon Kitna got some reps with the first team.  That’s just what I wanted to see and, despite public opinion to the contrary, Kitna is an above-average backup.

On defense, most of the starters played nearly the entire first half.  Shoulder injuries to Gerald Sensabaugh and Keith Brooking may have been blessings in disguise, as it gave us an opportunity to see more of rookies Barry Church and Sean Lee.

2. How will the offense execute against a 3-4 defense?

Terribly.  Dallas’ first team offense (and defense) was dominated.  They did score a red zone touchdown, but it was set up by a fumble return to the San Diego eight-yard line.

The good news is that both Montrae Holland (left guard) and Robert Brewster (left and right tackle) played well.

3. Will Robert Brewster, starting in place of the injured Marc Colombo, step up after a lackluster start to the 2010 preseason? Can he contain Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips?

Well, Merriman ended up not playing, but Brewster still held his own.  He looked really comfortable on the right side of the line.  His footwork was light years ahead of where it was in the Cowboys’ first two games this preseason.

4. With his roster spot possibly on the line, how will receiver Kevin Ogletree respond after two poor games?

Despite a solid week of practice, Ogletree was rather quiet in San Diego.  He did make a nice catch on a terrific comeback route (his best route, in my opinion), but he also got ripped into by special teams coach Joe DeCamillis.  His roster spot isn’t a lock at this point.

5. Will the offense continue to use so much Shotgun?

I will have to watch the film again to know for sure, but Dallas certainly ran less Shotgun plays than last week.

6. Will Dallas be more effective on their draw plays?

Again, I will have to break down the film.  The Cowboys did appear to not lean on the draw play as much in San Diego, though.

7. Will we see the debuts of rookies Sean Lee and Akwasi Owusu-Ansah?  If so, how will Lee perform in coverage and will AOA show something special on returns?

We did see action from both players.  Lee was over-matched initially.  He got called for a (phantom) illegal contact penalty and looked lost at times through the first few quarters.  He did pick it up at the end of the game though, showing why Dallas drafted him when he took on a block, shed it, and made an important tackle.

Owusu-Ansah looked a little hesitant on kick returns and needs to secure the football, but he also displayed great burst on a 45-yard punt return.  It got called back due to a penalty, but his decisiveness on the return has to make the Cowboys happy.

8. How will the linebackers and safeties perform against one of the league’s premiere tight ends?

Not bad.  Gates was held to just one catch for seven yards.  Linebacker Keith Brooking again looked sensational in coverage, running step for step with Gates before he (Brooking) went down with a minor shoulder injury.

We didn’t get to see much of Sensabaugh, but Barry Church needs to work on some things in coverage.  He doesn’t have a particularly quick first step and blew an assignment in the third quarter to yield a huge play downfield.

9. Will nose tackles Junior Siavii and Josh Brent continue to play well enough to force the coaches to contemplate keeping both players?

Yes.  Siavii was awesome again, particularly against the run.  He still needs to show he can get to the passer though.

This was the most quiet game for Brent, but he did get less playing time than usual.

10. It is a make-or-break game for rookie cornerback Jamar Wall. Will he show something?

Not really.  I will watch him more intently once I receive the film, but he sure didn’t make any big plays.  He is getting outplayed severely by Cletis Gordon and Byran McCann.  I would place the odds of him making the team at about 10:1.

11. Will Leon Williams continue to show he deserves a roster spot?

I’m torn on Williams.  He always seems to be around the ball, but he is pretty poor in space.  He showed that on a screen pass where he failed to properly break down and just flew by the ball-carrier.  He also dropped another interception, although this time he got jacked up as he caught it–by teammate Jason Williams.

Overall, Leon’s roster spot is a 50/50 proposition to me at this point.

12. Can David Buehler continue the success he had against the Raiders?

He didn’t really get the opportunity.  No field goal tries and two extra points.  No news is probably good news for Buehler, though.

Check back later for film obervations (hopefully) and final player grades.

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Dallas Cowboys 53-Man Roster Projection, Version 4.0: Will David Buehler kick field goals?


Jonathan Bales

With two preseason games in the books, we’ve actually already learned a fair amount about the Cowboys, in both the Bengals game and the Raiders game.

There have been some great stories, such as the emergence of cornerback Bryan McCann (who I predicted would make the team months ago) and linebacker Leon Williams (who I completely missed on). 

On the other hand, the ‘Boys now know they could be slightly thin at tight end after John Phillips went down with a season-ending ACL tear.  Other players may not be injured, but their poor starts are surprising (Kevin Ogletree and Robert Brewster, for example).

As I altered my last 53-man roster projection to create the one you see below, the key was to not overreact to the Cowboys’ first two games.  There are three to go, which may be a blessing in disguise for a Dallas team that has a lot to sort out on the back end of their roster.

Offense

QB
1. Tony Romo
2. Jon Kitna
3. Stephen McGee

This is a no-brainer.  Barring a devastating injury, Romo, Kitna, and McGee will be your Dallas Cowboys quarterbacks in 2010. 

Didn’t make the cut: Fourth-stringer Matt Nichols could be stashed on the practice squad.

Overall Position Grade: A-

RB
1. Felix Jones
2. Marion Barber
3. Tashard Choice

I have Jones listed on top due to projected touch distribution, not his starting status (or lack thereof).  He is too talented for the Cowboys to not feed him the ball early and often.  Perhaps a running back rotation like this is just what the ‘Boys need.

Altogether, this may be the top running back trip in the NFL.  Check out my grades for their 2009 play.

Didn’t make the cut: Herb Donaldson has shown little explosion in preseason, and undrafted free agent Lonyae Miller has been just average.

Overall Position Grade:  A-

FB
1. Deon Anderson

I’ve explained the importance of Anderson ad nauseam.  He even showed some pass-catching ability against the Raiders (don’t expect much more of that).

Didn’t make the cut: Chris Gronkowski has shown he can be a threat in the passing game, although his blocking is nowhere near the level of Anderson.  He could make the team as a H-Back-type player, even if Anderson is retained.

Overall Position Grade: B-

TE
1. Jason Witten
2. Martellus Bennett
3. Scott Sicko

I just couldn’t see Sicko making the team before Phillips was injured.  Even with a projected increase in three-receiver sets this season, the Cowboys run enough two and three-tight end formations that Sicko’s presence is now needed.

Didn’t make the cut: DajLeon Farr did a commendable job in making no obvious mental errors against the Raiders, despite being signed just two days prior.  Still, he’s a longshot.

Overall Position Grade: B+

WR
1. Miles Austin
2. Roy Williams
3. Dez Bryant
4. Patrick Crayton
5. Kevin Ogletree
6. Sam Hurd

Will the Cowboys keep five receivers or six?  Their decision has a rather large impact on a number of other positions.  I think the possible shift in offensive philosophy means six is the number. 

Didn’t make the cut: Jesse Holley has a really great shot at unseating Hurd, especially since Hurd is due $1.75 million–quite a bit of money for a special teams player.  In the end, I think Hurd gets one more shot.

Overall Position Grade: A-

OT
1. Doug Free
2. Marc Colombo
3. Alex Barron
4. Sam Young

The play of this group will be crucial to the Cowboys’ 2010 fortunes.  Free has looked pretty comfortable at left tackle, but Colombo struggled at right tackle before recently going down with a knee injury.  His 2-4 week absence could force the Cowboys to keep an extra tackle on the roster.  If so, it will probably be Robert Brewster.  Let’s play this one by ear.

Didn’t make the cut:  Like I said, Brewster could make the team by default.  His preseason play has certainly not justified it.

Overall Position Grade: C-

G
1. Kyle Kosier
2. Leonard Davis
3. Montrae Holland
4. Phil Costa

I substituted Costa for Travis Bright because Bright has really struggled in the preseason and Costa’s versatility (he can play center) is valuable.  Yeah, the Cowboys plan to work Kosier in behind Gurode, but the guy hasn’t taken a snap (or given one, actually) from the position in his entire career. 

A Gurode injury would also force the Cowboys to make two alterations to the offensive line–one at center and one at left guard–and I doubt they want to do that.

Didn’t make the cut: Bright has struggled too much in the first two preseason games for me to justify leaving him on the roster.  Don’t count out the possibility of the Cowboys moving Brewster to guard, but his lack of experience there would be quite a risky proposition.

Overall Position Grade: B-

C
1. Andre Gurode

The Cowboys don’t even have another true center on the roster.

Didn’t make the cut:  Kosier, Costa, and even Bright could all get a look at center in the preseason.

Overall Position Grade: B (due to lack of depth)

Defense

NT
1. Jay Ratliff
2. Junior Siavii
3. Josh Brent

Surprised at three nose tackles?  Don’t be.  Brent has shown enough potential that the Cowboys will not be able to put him on their practice squad.  In fact, I’ve gone as far as to guarantee he makes the 53-man roster.

However, the Cowboys probably don’t want a supplemental seventh-rounder being the primary backup to Ratliff, so Siavii will likely make the team.  He’s shown enough (in the run game, anyway) this preseason to justify his stay.

Also, don’t forget Brent could be used at defensive end.  In reality, that’s from where this “extra” roster spot has come.

Didn’t make the cut: Sean Lissemore, the Cowboys seventh-round pick in the April draft, has just been injured too long to make an impact.  His versatility surely intrigues the Cowboys (he can also play defensive end), but his path became a lot more difficult once the Cowboys acquired Brent.

Overall Position Grade: B

DE
1. Marcus Spears
2. Igor Olshansky
3. Stephen Bowen
4. Jason Hatcher

Will Spears still be a starter when he returns?  Bowen and Hatcher have played magnificently in his absence, so it isn’t a sure thing.  Hatcher is actually Spears’ backup, so he’d be the guy.

Could the Cowboys really only keep four players at a position that requires so many substitutions?  The addition of Josh Brent to the roster (at NT) makes me think it is possible.

Didn’t make the cut: As you can tell here, I love Marcus Dixon.  Unfortunately, he has yet to stand out in either preseason game.  He has the requisite skill set and I’m personally rooting for him, but he needs to step up in a hurry.

Overall Position Grade: B-

ILB
1. Bradie James
2. Keith Brooking
3. Sean Lee
4. Jason Williams

James and Brooking look like players in their mid-20s so far this preseason.  They are flying around to the ball and together they comprise the “heart” of the Dallas defense. 

Didn’t make the cut: It is so hard for me to leave Leon Williams off of this roster, but I am having trouble deciding whose spot he should take.  It would be tremendously difficult for the Cowboys to cut Jason Williams, and he would never clear waivers to make it to the practice squad. 

I just can’t see the Cowboys keeping five inside linebackers.  From which position do they “take” a roster spot?  Leon Williams’ future, like that of a lot of players, could strangely be linked to that of Sam Hurd.  Unfortunately, Williams isn’t practice squad eligible.

I’ve also seen a few projections with Stephen Hodge making the roster, but I just can’t see Dallas making room for him.

Overall Position Grade: B

OLB
1. DeMarcus Ware
2. Anthony Spencer
3. Victor Butler
4. Brandon Williams
5. Steve Octavien

I substituted Octavien for Curtis Johnson here.  It is possible the Cowboys keep neither player and just roll with four outside backers, but Coach Phillips loves depth at the position.  If the Cowboys do only keep four outside linebackers, they may very well retain five inside LBs.

Didn’t make the cut:  I don’t think Johnson’s special teams ability is any better than that of Octavien, but Octavien has shown more pass-rush ability.

Overall Position Grade: A (almost A+)

CB
1. Mike Jenkins
2. Terence Newman
3. Orlando Scandrick
4. Bryan McCann

No changes here.  I’ve loved McCann since the Cowboys signed him and he’s done nothing to change my opinion.  He’s shown tremendous athleticism and coverage ability.  If he can continue to prove he can hold up physically, I think he obtains the fourth (and last) cornerback spot.  The versatility of the safeties (Akwasi Owusu-Ansah and Alan Ball) allows the ‘Boys to keep just four CBs.

Didn’t make the cut: Dallas suddenly has a “problem” of depth at cornerback.  I don’t think rookie Jamar Wall is an NFL-caliber player yet, but veteran Cletis Gordon and even track star Teddy Williams could both make the team. 

Williams’ potential in particular is insane, but how do you use a roster spot on a player who hasn’t played football in five years?  Will he make it to the practice squad?

Overall Position Grade: B+

S
1. Gerald Sensabaugh
2. Alan Ball
3. Akwasi Owusu-Ansah
4. Michael Hamlin
5. Barry Church

The big question is whether Dallas will retain five safeties.  I think they will due to the lack of a true strong safety.  Owusu-Ansah is a lock to make the team and Hamlin is probable (although I haven’t been overly impressed with his play this preseason), but both players are strong safeties.  Church is probably the best of the Cowboys’ backup strong safeties.

Didn’t make the cut: No matter how things shake out, I think Patrick Watkins has already played his final season in Dallas. 

Danny McCray also has a chance to nab the final safety spot, but he’s probably better suited on the practice squad.

Overall Position Grade: C-

Specialists

LS
1. L.P. Ladouceur

Overall Position Grade: A

K
1. David Buehler

Buehler has looked pretty good on field goals in the preseason.  He is six-of-seven thus far and he struck the ball very well on Thursday against Oakland.  If the Cowboys do need to bring in another kicker, they will have to release a very good player at another position.

Overall Position Grade: B- (A+ for kickoffs and a giant question mark on field goals)

P
1. Mat McBriar

Overall Position Grade: A

KR
1. Akwasi Owusu-Ansah
2. Dez Bryant
3. Kevin Ogletree

PR
1. Dez Bryant
2. Akwasi Owusu-Ansah
3. Patrick Crayton

Overall Returner Grade:  B+ (Based on potential)

Additions
TE Scott Sicko
G Phil Costa
NT Josh Brent
OLB Steve Octavien

Departures
TE John Phillips
G Travis Bright
DE Marcus Dixon
OLB Curtis Johnson


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Preseason Week Two, Cowboys vs. Raiders: Final Film Study Observations

  • The Cowboys lined up in “Double Tight Strong” (or a slight variation of it) four times, running a strong side dive on two of those plays.  The ability to use the formation was obviously limited by the lack of depth at tight end.  In the first two preseason games, the Cowboys have now lined up in the formation seven times and run five strong side dives.  That rate of 71.4 percent is nearly identical to the 71.6 percent clip at which the team ran a strong side dive out of the formation last season.
  • The Cowboys lined up in “Gun Spread” or “Gun Tight End Spread” on 28 total plays.  Again, this was likely due to the lack of tight ends (and being behind at the end of the game).
  • As I noted in my article on what we learned from the Raiders game, the Cowboys ran just seven two-tight end sets of a possible 67 plays (10.5 percent), compared to 44 plays with three or more receivers on the field (65.7 percent)–including 23 plays with four receivers.  In comparison, the Cowboys ran a two-tight end set 15.9 percent of the time against the Bengals and just 39.1 percent of plays implemented three receivers (and none with four).

  • The Cowboys’ offensive line obviously need to perform better.  The first-teamers allowed four sacks in limited action, which is simply unacceptable.  Marc Colombo in particular really struggled.  He gave up two of the sacks and was beat on a few other plays.  I also credited Doug Free, Robert Brewster, and Travis Bright with sacks (and one I put on Romo for holding the ball too long).
  • Five of the Cowboys 19 called runs (26.3 percent) were to the weak side. They ran weak side on 19.5 percent of all runs last season.
  • Dallas ran nine draws for 23 yards (2.56 yards-per-carry) against Oakland.  That brings their preseason draw total to 47 yards on 15 carries (3.13 yards-per-carry).  In my Ultimate Guide to Dallas Cowboys Draws, I explained why they should use the draw less often.
  • The Raiders blitzed just five times on Thursday night.  The Cowboys completed three of five passes for 35 yards and an interception in these situations.  Dallas has struggled mightily against the blitz in the first two games, throwing for just 48 yards on 12 passes and rushing for 15 yards on five carries.
  • Roy Williams looked sharp in limited action on Sunday night, but he was blanketed by the Raiders’ cornerbacks.  He did a nice job of breaking up a would-be interception by Nnamdi Asomugha, but that wouldn’t be a necessity if Asomugha wasn’t in better position to catch the football than Williams.
  • Jon Kitna checked out of a play and hit Sam Hurd down the sideline for a 32-yard gain.  I’ve watched the play multiple times and still can’t figure out what he saw in the defense, but I guess that’s why he’s in the NFL and I’m spending my time writing about him.  Boo ya.

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Preseason Week Two, Cowboys vs. Raiders: What We Learned

Jonathan Bales

Early this morning, I published my initial reactions and game notes from the Cowboys vs. Raiders contest last night.  Since then, I spent about six hours dissecting the game film.  Below are the answers to the 13 pre-game questions I proposed a few days ago.  Pardon any typos, as I am running on three hours of sleep.

1. How much will the starters play and will they erupt against Oakland’s second-team defense?

Wade Phillips said the initial goal was to have the starting offense play 15 snaps (about two series).  Tony Romo and the skill position players ended up on the field for 17 plays, scoring just three points.  Meanwhile, the starting offensive line stayed in the game for another series to block for backup Jon Kitna.

On defense, a few players were on the field well into the second quarter.  After the first two series, Orlando Scandrick and Bryan McCann were in with the first-team defense, but starter Mike Jenkins was the nickel cornerback.

2. Will the first-team offense score a red zone touchdown?

No.  They got their once, but failed to get the ball into the end zone.  I’ve heard some criticism about Jason Garrett’s decision to run a Shotgun pass on first down at the Raiders’ 16-yard line, but I have no problem with the call.  Remember, in a previous article I showed that passing is strategically superior to running on first down anywhere on the field except inside the opposition’s 10-yard line.  At the 16, Garrett was right to pass.

3. What will the Cowboys do at tight end?  Will they run more three-receiver sets and unbalanced lines?

They certainly ran more three and four-receiver sets.  According to my film study, the Cowboys ran just seven two-tight end sets of a possible 67 plays (10.5 percent), compared to 44 plays with three or more receivers on the field (65.7 percent)–including 23 plays with four receivers.  In comparison, the Cowboys ran a two-tight end set 15.9 percent of the time against the Bengals and just 39.1 percent of plays implemented three receivers (and none with four).

The Cowboys didn’t run an unbalanced line per se, but they did line Pat McQuistan up at tight end for about a dozen plays.  He was never an option in the passing game, of course, so this could be thought of as an unbalanced line.

4. Will Doug Free come out on fire as he did in Week One?  Can Alex Barron rebound after a disappointing start to his Cowboys career?

Free played okay, but not great.  He allowed quarterback Jon Kitna to get sacked at the one-yard line and wasn’t particularly devastating in the run game.  Consistency will be key for him.

Alex Barron did not play due to an injured ankle.

5.  How will the starting receivers do against Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha?

Not great.  Tony Romo tested Asomugha once on a comeback to Roy Williams, but it was unsuccessful.  In fact, Asomugha nearly intercepted the pass.  Luckily for the ‘Boys wide outs, Asomugha isn’t on the schedule this season.

6. Will the second-string offensive line perform better on Thursday?

Yes, but not by much.  They allowed two sacks (Robert Brewster and Travis Bright) after yielding four in the Hall of Fame game, but the running game is still dragging.  Robert Brewster is really struggling and has given the coaches no signs that he is ready to even be a reliable backup.  They better hope Alex Barron comes back on fire.

7.  Will Robert Brewster get flagged for illegal formation?

After reviewing film of the Bengals game, I noticed that Robert Brewster was dangerously close to lining up in the backfield on a few plays.  I am fairly certain the coaches noticed this as well and corrected him on it, as he was much closer to the line of scrimmage last night.  In fact, there were a few plays where it appeared he may have lined up too close to the ball.

8. Can Stephen Bowen continue the success he had in Sunday’s game?  How about Victor Butler and Brandon Williams?

Bowen was quiet last night.  After Bowen dominated on Sunday night, it was Jason Hatcher’s turn against Oakland.  Hatcher looked quick on his feet and could be pushing for a starting job.

Butler played well again, particularly in the run game.  We all know he can get to the passer, but his improvement in the run game is one of the largest jumps in ability I have seen from any player this season.

Williams had an average night.  He is explosive off of the ball, but sometimes he runs himself out of plays.  Ironically, I see Butler as the better run-stopper (and overall player) right now.

9. Jamar Wall has struggled all preseason.  How will he play against a less-intimidating Raiders receiver corps?

Wall had an up-and-down night, although probably more down than up.  He allows too big of a cushion in coverage to make up for his lack of speed.  He’s particularly poor at covering out-breaking and deep routes, although he does well defending slants.  In fact, the Cowboys had a chance at a probable game-winning interception that was the result of a deflection by Wall on a slant route.

10.  How will rookies Sean Lee and Akwasi Owusu-Ansah perform in their first live game action?

To be determined in Week Three versus San Diego

11. Will the starting defense contain Raiders running back Michael Bush?

The Cowboys did fairly well in containing Bush.  He had seven carries for 31 yards.  The Cowboys tend to struggle against small, shifty backs.

12. How will David Buehler respond after a shaky start to his NFL field goal kicking career?

Magnificently.  Buehler was one of the lone bright spots for Dallas, as he was three-for-three on field goals and drove the ball near the back of the end zone on all of his kickoffs.  More importantly, he struck the ball really well–something he didn’t do against the Bengals.

13. Can the Cowboys fix the problems that plagued their punt coverage unit against Cincy?

The coverage units didn’t get an overwhelming number of opportunities (due to a lack of scoring and a lot of touchbacks), but they did well.  Jesse Holley seems to always be the first guy down on punt coverage.

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Preseason Week Two, Cowboys vs. Raiders: Initial Post-Game Notes


Offense

  • I need to break down the film, but the Cowboys didn’t seem to run “Double Tight Strong” much tonight.  That is probably due to the lack of tight end depth.  They did line up in the formation on the first play of the game, however, once again running a strong side dive.
  • Tony Romo actually struggled a little bit tonight.  He definitely held into the ball too long on a few occasions, which he admitted in a fourth quarter interview.  That probably stems from knowing he has limited opportunities in the second preseason game and wanting to make some plays.  There’s no reason to worry.
  • Deon Anderson blocked well again tonight and even caught two passes.  The latter won’t happen much, but the former has become a regularity.
  • Doug Free wasn’t nearly as dominant as he was against Cincy.  He allowed a sack of Jon Kitna and a few pressures.  I will watch him more closely on film and report back to you tomorrow.
  • Kevin Ogletree is having a poor preseason.  He dropped at least one pass tonight (two others he could have possibly caught in traffic) and he isn’t performing particularly well on special teams.  I don’t know if he thinks his roster spot is guaranteed, but it isn’t.
  • Stephen McGee is really having trouble throwing underneath routes.  He is late on check downs and simply doesn’t appear to have great touch even when he is on time.

Defense

  • Bradie James was all over the field.  He looked particularly impressive in pass coverage, which is good news for a Dallas defense that currently sees a struggling second-year player (Jason Williams) and a rookie (Sean Lee) fighting for nickel duties.
  • Orlando Scandrick has really impressed me thus far this preseason.  He was all over Jordan Shipley last week and played well again tonight.  He seems to be more willing throw his body around to make tackles too, which is important since he struggled a bit in run support last season (he missed 12.3 percent of tackles).
  • Bryan McCann continues to impress me.  He has great speed and play-making ability at cornerback and he nearly broke a punt return for a touchdown tonight.  He showed some poor technique at times tonight, but he’s probably the most naturally talented of the three cornerbacks vying for that fourth spot at the position.
  • Leon Williams had an up and down night.  He is tremendous in tight areas, utilizing his strength to be dominant (at times) against the run.  He struggled in space, however, missing a few tackles in the open field and dropping a potentially game-winning interception.
  • I like what I saw from both Junior Siavii and Josh Brent tonight.  Siavii showed some toughness and held up well against the run.  Brent is like the energizer bunny.  He made what was perhaps the play of the night when he chased down Raiders running back Michael Bennett to make a tackle about 20 yards downfield.  I doubt the Cowboys can sneak him on the practice squad at this point.
  • Jason Hatcher looked really good tonight.  He could eventually unseat Marcus Spears as the starting defensive end opposite Igor Olshansky.
  • Keith Brooking looked solid in coverage, staying step for step with Raiders tight end Zach Miller.  He shows you don’t have to possess the natural athleticism of a player like Jason Williams to be a Pro Bowl-type player.
  • Speaking of Jason Williams, he played much better tonight.  Ironically, he is excelling against the run, not the pass.  He did look more comfortable in coverage tonight, though, and his improvement will at least make it somewhat difficult for Sean Lee to secure the nickel linebacker spot.
  • I can’t say enough about how much Victor Butler has improved his run defense.  He is becoming an all-around player, and he has outplayed Brandon Williams in my opinion.  He gives the Cowboys some confidence should Anthony Spencer ever go down.
  • Jamar Wall struggled again at cornerback, but not as much as on Sunday night.  He made a nice drive on a slant route late in the game, breaking up the pass for what should have been an interception.  He has trouble covering out-breaking routes and deep balls, however.

Special Teams

  • David Buehler really looked sensational.  He made all three of his field goal attempts, but more importantly, he struck every ball very well.  That wasn’t the case against the Bengals on Sunday night.  He was also incredible on kickoffs, as expected.  It is nice to see his extra duties aren’t hindering his power on kickoffs.
  • Mat McBriar must be one of the most under-appreciate players in the league.  He punted a ball nearly 70 yards while standing inches from the back of the end zone.  His ability to not only punt powerfully, but also directionally, is so important to Dallas.


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10 Dallas Cowboys Under Most Pressure This Preseason

Jonathan Bales

This preseason is the most intriguing in years for Dallas due to the abundance of position battles and uncertain roster spots.  Many players are under a lot of pressure to perform well in these exhibition games, whether it is for a starting spot or to simply make the team.  Below are my top 10.

10.  FS Alan Ball

Ball’s roster spot is obviously secure.  The same can probably be said about his starting job, although that is still somewhat debatable.  Nonetheless, Ball is under a lot of pressure to prove the Cowboys made the right decision in cutting veteran Ken Hamlin.  He must show he is physical enough to play safety and hold off the up-and-coming second-year man Michael Hamlin. I previously posted an in-depth breakdown of the Ball/Hamlin battle.

9.  LT Alex Barron

Barron probably won’t play tonight against the Raiders after injuring his ankle in the Hall of Fame game.  It is unclear when Barron hurt himself and how that affected his play, but he sure didn’t perform well.  His roster spot isn’t in jeopardy, but fans want to see enough from Barron to know the Cowboys got the best of the Barron/Carpenter trade.

8.  FB Deon Anderson

Anderson’s legal troubles have prompted some to dismiss him from their 53-man roster projections, but I’ve been saying since the end of last season that Anderson is extremely valuable to the Cowboys offense.  He’s in my latest 53-man roster projection, but his chances actually took a slight hit with the John Phillips injury.

Phillips moonlighted as a fullback, but his loss increases the probability of H-Back/TE Scott Sicko and FB/H-Back Chris Gronkowski making the team.  Both players are more versatile than Anderson, but I think the Cowboys value Anderson’s blocking ability enough to retain him.  Still, he needs to play well.

7.  TE Martellus Bennett

Bennett was in a tight battle with John Phillips for the No. 2 tight end job before Phillips was lost for the season with an ACL tear.  In my opinion, Bennett was going to lose that battle.  He is an excellent blocker( I gave him a “B+” in my 2009 Tight End Grades), but Phillips’ blocking appeared to improve enough that he may have overtaken Bennett.

Some of the pressure was lifted off of Bennett’s shoulders when Phillips went down, but there are still questions about his maturity, work ethic, and commitment to football.  He does appear to be working harder this offseason than in prior ones, but he still needs to show the coaches he can be counted on as the primary backup to Jason Witten.

6.  WR Sam Hurd

Hurd has always been a valuable special teams player in Dallas, but there are some talented wide outs behind him (Jesse Holley, Manuel Johnson, Terrell Hudgins) who may offer more potential on offense.

Further, there is no guarantee the Cowboys will keep six wide receivers.  If they only retain five, Hurd will be battling Kevin Ogletree and the three aforementioned youngsters for that final spot.

5.  NT Junior Siavii

Siavii didn’t perform terribly last season, racking up a tackle percentage that was actually over two times that of Jay Ratliff.  Siavii only racked up two pressures in 189 snaps, however, and didn’t even record a quarterback hit or sack.

The pressure on Siavii just skyrocketed with the supplemental draft selection of Josh Brent.  Brent has a tremendous motor and showed a lot of potential on Sunday night despite just arriving in Dallas.  His play-making ability appears to be greater than Siavii’s.

The Cowboys also selected DE/DT Sean Lissemore in the seventh round of the draft this year, so Siavii has a lot of competition for his roster spot.  If he doesn’t step up, he’ll lose it.

4.  LB Jason Williams

Williams said he learned more in one year from watching Brooking and James than he did in his entire college career.

Williams has so much athleticism and speed that you sometimes wonder if he relies on it too much.  In the NFL, a misstep in any direction spells disaster for any player, regardless of his speed.

Williams did okay in run support in the Cowboys’ first preseason game, but he looked lost in coverage at times.  That is a big problem since he is fighting to become the team’s nickel linebacker.

His battle with rookie Sean Lee will have to wait another week, as Lee is out for tonight’s game against Oakland.  Williams has a big-time opportunity tonight (and the rest of the preseason), and his roster spot is really on the line.  Don’t dismiss the idea of the Cowboys keeping a player like Leon Williams, who has already made some plays this preseason, ahead of Jason.

3.  RT Robert Brewster

Coach Wade Phillips half-heartedly praised Brewster’s play in Dallas’ initial preseason game, but that may have been to boost his confidence.  I intently watched Brewster multiple times on each of his plays, and he really struggled against Cincinnati.  He displayed poor footwork, even at his more natural right tackle position.  At left tackle, he was severely over-matched.

It will be difficult for Dallas to release a second-year player with so little game film, but with roster spots basically guaranteed for Doug Free, Marc Colombo, and Alex Barron, Brewster may be in a competition with rookie Sam Young for a roster spot.  The Cowboys could potentially move Brewster to guard.

2.  CBs Jamar Wall/Cletis Gordon/Bryan McCann

I’ve detailed the fourth cornerback battle in the past.  Gordon is leading the pack right now, but the gap between the three players isn’t enormous.  With Alan Ball and Akwasi Owusu-Ansah at safety, the Cowboys have two “extra” cornerbacks at another position.  Thus, I predict only one of the three cornerbacks listed above will make the final roster.

All three players look uneasy on returns, so the winner of the battle will probably be whoever displays the best combination of coverage ability–both on defense and on special teams.

I personally like McCann to win the job, but his recent injury (along with Gordon’s) has opened the door for Wall (opened the door for Wall, get it?) to step up.  Frankly, Wall has looked awful in coverage in practices and the first game, but the Cowboys did invest a draft pick in him.

1.  K David Buehler

This shouldn’t be a surprise.  In fact, I’ve talked about the pressure on Buehler so much in the past that I’m not even going to add anything here.

If you’re curious about my thoughts on Buehler, click here.  Or here.  Or here.  Or here.

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Preseason Week Two, Cowboys vs. Raiders: 13 Things to Watch

Before reading the Cowboys vs. Raiders preview below, take a look at our initial game notes from the Hall of Fame game, what we learned about the Cowboys, and our final player grades from Sunday night.

1. How much will the starters play and will they erupt against Oakland’s second-team defense?

The playing time for the starters will really be a situation to monitor in every preseason game.  Coach Wade Phillips said the starters’ overall playing time will remain steady despite an additional preseason game.  When you combine that with the fact the Cowboys will be coming off of just three days rest, you probably won’t see the starters too long.  A full quarter is standard for the second preseason game, although it wouldn’t surprise us to see the No.1 guys leave a little earlier than that.

Don’t forget that this is Oakland’s first preseason game, meaning their starters will be out of the game before you know it.  It is very possible the Cowboys’ first team offense (and defense) will still be in the game against Oakland’s second-team defense (and offense).  Expect domination.

2. Will the first-team offense score a red zone touchdown?

They didn’t on Sunday night despite four plays inside the five-yard line.  Roy Williams was targeted on two of the team’s three pass attempts in that area.  Tight end Jason Witten didn’t get a look, although Dallas is sure to use very bland plays in preseason.  In fact, look at some of the trends we noticed from the Bengals game.

3. What will the Cowboys do at tight end?  Will they run more three-receiver sets and offbalance lines?

Sicko probably won’t suit up (concussion), but he hasn’t been ruled out just yet.  If he plays, he will probably get a lot of work. Whether it is this week or next, it will be interesting to see how Sicko performs knowing his chances of making the squad just skyrocketed with John Phillips out for the season.

With John Phillips out for the season, Scott Sicko will need to prove he is a capable blocker to make the 53-man roster.

Backup tight end Martellus Bennett is expected to miss his second straight game with an ankle injury.  Bennett could theoretically more value to the team now than ever, but not so if he is on the bench.

The Cowboys recently signed tight end DajLeon Farr to fill a vacancy at the position.  Farr and Jason Witten are the only tight ends on the roster available to play Thursday.

The big questions is, with Farr having just been signed, how much will Witten play?  It is unlikely the Cowboys will force Witten to play due to a simple lack of depth, so Farr is going to have to learn the offense quickly.  Fullback Chris Gronkowski could also see some time at tight end.

No matter who plays tight end (and how much), expect the Cowboys to run a lot of three-receiver sets and offbalance lines to combat the tight end depth issue.

4. Will Doug Free come out on fire as he did in Week One?  Can Alex Barron rebound after a disappointing start to his Cowboys career?

Free looked sensational in pass protection and strong in run blocking against a worthy adversary in the Bengals’ Antwan Odom. Meanwhile, Barron gave up a sack and struggled on a bunch of other plays.  If Barron plays (he tweaked an ankle on Sunday night), how will he do after losing a ton of ground on Free?

5.  How will the starting receivers do against Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha?

We think Asomugha is the best cornerback in the game.  We even listed him as the fourth-best player in the NFL in our list of the league’s top 105 players.

Asomugha generally mans one side of the field, so Miles Austin, Roy Williams, and Patrick Crayton could all get cracks at him.  Austin played fairly well against Asomugha on Thanksgiving last season.

6. Will the second-string offensive line perform better on Thursday?

Other than Barron, the rest of the second-string linemen were below average as well.  Robert Brewster struggled at both left and right tackle and Pat McQuistan was awful at guard.  Quarterbacks Jon Kitna and Stephen McGee were running for their lives, meaning an injury to any of the starting linemen could spell disaster for Dallas.

In our first “Grading the ‘Boys” segment of the season, we gave Barron, Brewster, Travis Bright, Pat McQuistan, and Mike Tepper grades of D, D, C-, D-, and D, respectively.  Wow.

7.  Will Robert Brewster get flagged for illegal formation?

We noted in our post-film study observations that right tackle Robert Brewster was very close to lining up in the backfield on a few occasions.  Let’s see if the coaches noticed it and correct his alignment by Thursday.

8. Can Stephen Bowen continue the success he had in Sunday’s game?  How about Victor Butler and Brandon Williams?

Bowen was a monster against the Bengals.  He displayed incredible burst and really gave the Cowboys a lot of confidence about their defensive end situation.

The same can be said for outside linebackers Victor Butler and Brandon Williams.  The Cowboys didn’t address the position in this year’s draft because of their confidence in these two players, and it appears to be paying off.  We were particularly impressed with Butler, whose run defense looks much improved.  He made multiple tackles after running across the backfield from the weak side of the formation.  He really had a tremendous night.

Consistency will be key for all three of these players, so let’s hope they carry their success into Thursday night’s match-up.

9. Jamar Wall has struggled all preseason.  How will he play against a less-intimidating Raiders receiver corps?

We would now label Wall a longshot to make the roster.  He hasn’t played particularly well during any phase of the offseason or preseason.  He made poor decisions in coverage, looked less-than-stellar on punt returns, and badly missed a tackle on Jordan Shipley’s long punt return.

He needs to pick up his play immediately to have a chance at cracking the 53-man roster (and perhaps even the practice squad at this point).

10.  How will rookies Sean Lee and Akwasi Owusu-Ansah perform in their first live game action?

Both players will probably suit up after returning to practice.  Pay close to attention to Sean Lee’s coverage, as his primary role this season figures to be as a nickel linebacker.

Meanwhile, ‘Kwasi could return kicks and should see some time at free safety.  Let’s see if the small-school product has NFL-caliber game.

And just because we can’t get enough AOA. . .


11. Will the starting defense contain Raiders running back Michael Bush?

This is important because a few of the starting running backs the Cowboys will face this season are somewhat similar to Bush.  Brandon Jacobs and Larry Johnson are both big, bruising backs who still have decent speed.  The Cowboys’ big 3-4 defense usually comes out on top against those types of backs.

It is small, shifty backs that typically trouble the Dallas defense.  Raiders running back Darren McFadden is out due to a hamstring injury, though, so the ‘Boys might see a bit more of Michael Bush.

12. How will David Buehler respond after a shaky start to his NFL field goal kicking career?

We have predicted Buehler will win all kicking duties and discussed why we think this would be the right move, but Buehler didn’t do much to help his case in Week One.  His kickoffs were again sensational, but his accuracy on field goals (and even his extra point) left much to be desired.  He will get another shot to prove himself Thursday night, but a similar performance would probably force the Cowboys to add a veteran.

13. Can the Cowboys fix the problems that plagued their punt coverage unit against Cincy?

Jordan Shipley’s punt return to the Cowboys’ two-yard line was the result of poor punt coverage and a few missed tackles.  The play of the special teams was a major reason for Dallas’ 2009 success, so that problem has to get fixed this week.

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Cowboys vs. Bengals, Preseason Week 1: Final Film Study Observations

Jonathan Bales

I’ve already posted initial post-game notes and 19 things we learned about the Cowboys after their first preseason game. Below is a collection of post-film study thoughts.  Check back later for final player grades.

  • The playcalling was obviously very bland on Sunday night.  The Cowboys used only four different personnel packages.  They lined up with base personnel (TE, 2 WR, FB, RB) on 31 plays.  In comparison, they lined up with base personnel just 74 times all of last season (4.6 times per game).
  • Dallas lined up in “I-Formation” (or a very close variation of it, such as “Strong” or “Weak”) on 30 plays against the Bengals.  In comparison, they did that just 116 times all of last season (7.3 times per game).
  • Tony Romo has obviously been working on his back shoulder throws.  He attempted a few in his limited action Sunday night, including two that were actually designed run plays.
  • There have been rumblings that Romo will have more freedom at the line of scrimmage this season.  That appears to be the case, as he checked out of two of a possible 13 plays (15.4 percent).  In my study on the effectiveness of Romo’s audibles, I noted that he checked out of plays just 8.0 percent of the time last year.
  • Roy Williams looked really good.  He was quick out of his breaks and made a nice catch in traffic.  He also ran a superb slant on 2nd and Goal but Romo overthrew him.
  • After watching the game film a few more times, it is clear the backup linemen struggled.  Alex Barron, Robert Brewster, Pat McQuistan, Travis Bright, and Mike Tepper all looked over-matched.  McQuistan was absolutely abused by Bengals rookie DT Geno Atkins, who I listed rather high on my 2009 Big Board.
  • I credited Alex Barron, Tashard Choice, Mike Tepper, and Pat McQuistan with yielding a sack.  I believe the official stats only have the Cowboys giving up three sacks, but quarterback Stephen McGee actually lost a yard on a play on which they gave him credit for reaching the line of scrimmage.
  • Robert Brewster was very close to lining up off of the line of scrimmage on multiple plays.  I haven’t heard anyone talk about it, but let’s see if the coaches notice it and move Brewster up a bit this week.
  • Tashard Choice is one of my favorite players, but he actually struggled pretty heavily in pass protection this week.  It is of course very difficult to decipher a team’s blocking assignments, but he appeared to miss one on Sunday night that resulted in a sack of quarterback Stephen McGee.  He also whiffed on two other blocks. Choice was very good in pass protection last year, so I’d expect him to rebound nicely.
  • I just looked back at our 2009 film study database, and the Cowboys ran just 13 designed rollouts all season.  Sunday night, they ran three (nearly four times the rate of 2009).  Moving Romo out of the pocket from time to time is probably a smart idea, so let’s see if the trend continues or we were just the victim of a small sample size.