The DC Times

A New Way to Look at the Cowboys, NFL, and Fantasy Football

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys vs. Packers Week 9 Post-Film Study Review: What We Learned About Dallas

Jonathan Bales

  • By my count, Packers cornerback Charles Woodson blitzed 11 times–all on the same play.  Like I mentioned in my post-game notes, outside linebacker Clay Matthews would twist way outside, forcing Marc Colombo to follow him.  Woodson would blitz from the slot into the vacated area.  It took until the final drive of the game for Dallas to realize they should throw hot to the slot receiver.  On the majority of offensive formations, the running back should have recognized the blitz and stepped up.  The reason it worked so well for Green Bay was because this guy had his worst game as a pro. . .

  • Felix Jones.  He played absolutely horribly.  He continually missed assignments in pass protection and got his quarterback killed.  I attributed two of the four sacks to him (the others went to Colombo and Doug Free), but he blew his assignment on a bunch of other plays that just didn’t result in sacks.  He was playing so poorly that he needed to come out of the game in the fourth quarter, only to be replaced by. . .
  • Marion Barber. . .not Tashard Choice.  Despite being told he would receive a “heavy workload” this week, Choice didn’t get into the game until midway through the final quarter.  He received only three carries, all coming with the Cowboys down 38 points.  To me, this is one of the worst mistakes the coaches made this season.  If you don’t want to play the guy, then fine, but don’t tell him he’s going to receive significant playing time.  You never lie to your players.  Choice was reportedly nearly in tears after the game, wondering why the Cowboys didn’t implement the gameplan they installed all week.
  • I won’t say too much about this because I think it is clear now, but Wade Phillips must go.  His car isn’t at Valley Ranch this morning (as of 10 a.m.), so there’s a good chance he’s already been canned.  As soon as I find out more I will post it here.
  • The Cowboys ran only 10 plays in Packers territory, and just five until the last drive.
  • 40 of the 48 offensive plays came with the same personnel package: one tight end, three receivers, and one running back.
  • 35 of the 48 offensive plays came out of Shotgun.
  • Sticking to form, the Cowboys motioned early in the game–on 10 of the first 14 plays.  They motioned only twice in the final 34.
  • Jon Kitna hasn’t been afraid to call audibles.  He checked out of six plays on Sunday night–three passes for 20 yards and three runs for 10 yards.  Two of the three runs were draws, helping to prove that the high frequency with which the Cowboys run a draw play following an audible is a result of Jason Garrett, not Tony Romo.  In my 2009 wacky stats article, I noted that 77.3 percent of Romo’s run audibles were draws.
  • Dallas ran 10 total draws for 33 yards, two playaction passes for eight yards, and six screens for 10 yards.
  • Kitna threw the ball 15+ yards on six occasions, and those plays totaled 86 yards (and an unnecessary roughness penalty on Green Bay).  Maybe the Cowboys want to read this article on throwing the ball downfield.
  • The Cowboys again refused to run counters.  They called one on the first drive.  It was unsuccessful, so they didn’t run another all game.  Nice.
  • I counted seven of Kitna’s passes as being off-target.
  • Jason Witten came out of the game late, but he was in for 25 of the Cowboys’ pass plays.  He went into a route on 15 of them (60 percent).  The ‘Boys yielded three of their sacks when he was in a route.
  • The Packers blitzed or showed blitz on 29 plays, even coming after Kitna up until and including the final drive.  It must have been like child’s play for Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers.  The Cowboys gained only 91 yards on Green Bay’s 20 blitzes, but 71 of those came on two plays.  That means that the Cowboys gained an incredible 20 total yards on the Packers’ 18 other blitzes.
  • One the nine plays that Green Bay showed blitz but didn’t come, the Cowboys gained 37 total yards, giving up one sack and throwing one pick.

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By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys vs. Bears Week 2 Game Plan: How Dallas Can Beat Chicago


Jonathan Bales

You guys know the backbone of DC Times is film study and stat analysis.  Consequently, I will be posting these weekly “Game Plan” segments which will include tidbits about how I believe the Cowboys can use the same film study and stat analysis which drives this site to win football games.

These will come later in the week after I’ve published the “Game Day Manifesto”–a combination of “What to Watch” and “DOs and DON’Ts” for the Cowboys.  Although still film-driven and stat heavy, I will try to refrain from too much game-planning in the Manifesto to prevent unnecessary overlap.  You can read this week’s Cowboys/Bears Manifesto here.

Let’s get to the game. . .

1. Line up in double-tight end sets to pass

There’s a reason I’m listing this objective two weeks in a row–it’s important!  Last week I wrote:

In obvious passing downs, though, it might actually be a good idea to go to a more run-oriented formation–double tights.  The reason is that backup tight end Martellus Bennett will be able to help block Brian Orakpo.  No matter what you think about Bennett, he’s a tremendous blocker.

Why not use Jason Witten in pass protection?  Well, I’ve showed in the past that the 22.9 percent rate at which Witten stayed in to block on pass plays last season was already too much.  Dallas is a better team with him in a route (excluding perhaps 3rd and very long).

Plus, stats show the Cowboys should pass out of double-tight formations more in general.  Actually, the formation from which they had the most passing success last year was ‘Ace.’

Substitute Julius Peppers for Brian Orakpo, and the same holds true for Dallas (even more so).  It will be crucial that they do not allow Peppers to take over the game, and the combination of Doug Free/Bennett or Marc Colombo/Bennett will be the Cowboys’ best shot at containing Peppers.

2. Run outside (powers, counters) from spread formations

The goal is to neutralize Peppers by running right at him.  He’s going to rush upfield no matter the down and distance, so why not run right to the vacated area?  Powers and counters will work well, but tosses won’t.  Think about it. . .27 or 28 toss would send the running back right into Peppers’ path.

Power runs at Julius Peppers are fine. Tosses aren't.

There’s also another reason (or two) to not run inside often: defensive tackle Tommie Harris and linebacker Brian Urlacher.  They’re kind of good, I guess.

3.  Don’t blitz often, but disguise ‘em when you bring ‘em

Cutler is a strong-armed quarterback with serious talent, but he makes some of the worst decisions of any signal-caller in the NFL.  I think that will still be true even if the Cowboys don’t blitz him.

They key, as always, will be getting pressure with four or five rushers.  The Cowboys blitzed their inside linebackers too often last week and it left them susceptible to the big play.  Well, Cutler’s game is actually similar to Donovan McNabb’s.  Cutler has a stronger arm and is probably a better pure dropback quarterback, but he can also use his legs to make things happen.  He’s extremely athletic, meaning the Cowboys better not send a blitz and miss him.

The best way to do that (other than putting pressure on Cutler with as few rushers as possible) is to disguise blitzes.  The Redskins did a tremendous job of not allowing Tony Romo to  make pre-snap determinations about which defenders were rushing, and you saw how well it worked for them.  The ‘Boys would be wise to copy that approach more often.  You know the Bears are going to do it.

4.  Cover tight end Greg Olsen primarily with a linebacker (when not in nickel)

When in their base defense, the Cowboys should put a linebacker (either Bradie James or Keith Brooking) on Olsen.  It may be a slight mismatch, but let’s not forget that Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz has never been fond of utilizing the tight end.

Plus, leaving James or Brooking on Olsen is better than the alternative–one of them on Matt Forte.  Forte went off for 151 yards receiving last week and figures to be a big-time part of the Bears’ passing attack.  The Cowboys need to do everything possible to limit his production, and placing safety Gerald Sensabaugh on him is superior to an inside linebacker.

There’s a solid chance the Cowboys will be able to effectively halt the Bears’ rushing efficiency.  If that’s the case, they may want to think about playing a lot of nickel, even during early downs.  If they can still stop the run even with the smaller personnel, it would allow for better matchups on Olsen and Forte.

5. Get a press on Johnny Knox and Devin Hester at all times

This will be crucial for Terence Newman, Mike Jenkins, and Orlando Scandrick, whether they are in man-to-man or Cover 2.  Either way, the ‘Boys want to limit the potential for big plays from Chicago, and the best way to do that is to shut down their big play threats. Knox and Hester have game-breaking speed-don’t let them use it.

6.  After acquiring a manageable lead, run 3 Wide Right Liz 26 Power

In my final film observations from the Cowboys-Redskins game, I noticed the Cowboys ran this particular play on more than one occasion.  The Cowboys lined up in a “3 Wide Strong” look with Jason Witten and Martellus Bennett split out wide on the right side.  They motioned Bennett into a traditional tight end position to form the typical “Strong” formation, then running a strong-side power play.

It was one of the few “predictable plays” Garrett called on Sunday night, and I actually think he should do it again this Sunday. . .if Dallas can get a decent lead, that is.  That way, the play will continue to be put on film for future opponents.  When the time is right, the ‘Boys can come back to a playaction pass from the same formation and motion, hopefully for a big play.

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By Jonathan Bales

The Sportstradamus: Week 2 NFL Game Picks

Jonathan Bales

The majority of sports picks you find online are basically useless.  They’re slapped together in minutes and have no real connection to the actual outcome of the games.

So I figured I’d give you some more useless projections.

In all seriousness, I will pick the games and totals each week and compare my results to those of other writers and sports types around the internet.  They’ll be listed in the “Game Picks” tab under the “Gameday” category.  I just want to show you guys how a real statistician does work. . .

Notes before reading

  • An’@’ symbol is listed in front of the home team.
  • Game lines alter slightly based on the source.
  • The winner versus the spread is listed in bold.
  • I don’t advocate gambling.  These picks are simply for fun (and to prove I’m better than 95 percent of “experts” at picking games).

Week 1 Results

9-7 straight up

7-7-2 against the spread

7-8-1 on over/under

Not a great start, but I’ll rebound here in Week 2.

Week 2 Projected Scores

Kansas City 24 (-1.5) @Cleveland 10

Kansas City is quickly turning into one of the more exciting teams in the league.  Their running game should be able to gash Cleveland.

@Green Bay 24 Buffalo 17 (+13)

Buffalo stinks, but 13 points is a lot for anyone to receive.  If they can put up 14 points, their defense should be good enough to hold Green Bay to 27 or less.

@Cincinnati 21 (+2) Baltimore 17

This will be a tough match-up for Cincinnati, but the public is overreacting to each of these teams’ Week 1 results.

@Tennessee 21 Pittsburgh 20 (+5)

I love underdogs against low-scoring teams, such as Tennessee, because the score is generally too low for the favorite to cover the spread.

Philadelphia 28 (-5) @Detroit 17

Philly with a hot Michael Vick versus a Sean Hill-led Detroit offense?  Yes please.

@Dallas 21 Chicago 14 (+7.5)

I do think the Cowboys will win this game, but I’m not sure their offense can get rolling quickly enough to cover 7.5 points.

@Carolina 21 (-3.5) Tampa Bay 14

To me, the quarterbacks and defenses in this contest are a push.  Are Carolina’s special teams and supporting offensive cast worth 3.5 points?  I think so.

@Atlanta 23 Arizona 17 (+7)

My oh my, how far Arizona has fallen.  Even so, seven points is a lot to receive against a mediocre Atlanta offense.

@Minnesota 24 (-5.5) Miami 14

Miami barely held on against the Bills last week.  There’s no way they can score enough points to win this game, especially in Minnesota.

@Oakland 21 (-3.5) St. Louis 17

I was surprised by St. Louis’ performance in Week 1, but this line is once again the result of an overreaction by the public to last week’s games.

@Denver 21 (-3.5) Seattle 17

Repeat after me:  Seattle is not as good as they played last week.  Seattle is not as good as they played last week.

Houston 24 (-3) @Washington 20

In reality, the Redskins didn’t play well against the Cowboys last week.  Dallas lost that game as opposed to Washington winning it.

@San Diego 21 Jacksonville 20 (+7.5)

This game will likely be blacked out in San Diego because they can’t even sell out their home opener, so it isn’t like it will be a hostile environment for the Jags.

New England 24 (-1.5) @New York Jets 17

Perhaps I am overreacting myself here, but I don’t see how a one-dimensional Jets offense will be able to put up many points against the ultimate game-planner in Bill Belichick.

@Indianapolis 31 (-5.5) New York Giants 24

Indy is rarely less than a touchdown favorite at home.  Peyton won’t let Elijah beat him.

New Orleans 24 (-5.5) @San Francisco 17

New Orleans’ offense should get back on track this week after a rare off-night in the season opener.

Over/Under

Kansas City/Cleveland UNDER 39

Buffalo/Green Bay UNDER 43.5

Baltimore/Cincinnati UNDER 40

Pittsburgh/Tennessee OVER 36.5

Philadelphia/Detroit OVER 41.5

Chicago/Dallas UNDER 41.5

Tampa Bay/Carolina UNDER 39

Arizona/Atlanta UNDER 43.5

Miami/Minnesota UNDER 40

St. Louis/Oakland OVER 37.5

Seatlle/Denver UNDER 40

Houston/Washington OVER 43.5

Jacksonville/San Diego UNDER 45.5

New England/New York Jets OVER 38

New York Giants/Indianapolis OVER 48

New Orleans/San Francisco UNDER 44

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By Jonathan Bales

Week 2 Preview: Dallas Cowboys vs. Chicago Bears Game Day Manifesto


Jonathan Bales

During the preseason, I formulated two separate articles called “What to Watch” and “DOs and DON’Ts for Dallas” as game previews for the upcoming contests.  During the regular season, I will combine these two features into a single, more all-inclusive article known (solely to me) as a “Game Day Manifesto.”  You’ll be able to find the “Manifesto” category under the “GameDay” tab above.

Also check back later in the week for a new feature called “Game Plan.”  While the weekly “Manifesto” will contain some Xs and Os, the “Game Plan” will feature in-depth game strategy detailing how Dallas can win that week’s game and how they should go about doing it.  There, you’ll find a lot of analysis of formations, personnel, play-calling, and so on.

Now on to this week’s Manifesto. . .

What to Watch for Dallas vs. Washington

Will Kyle Kosier and Marc Colombo return from injury?  If not, who will start in their places?

Kosier and Colombo are both practicing today, so things are looking up for the offensive line.  I would say Colombo has a better chance of returning than Kosier, but he isn’t a particularly fast healer.

Holland will start at left guard if Kosier can’t go, as he should.  He played pretty well on Sunday night (I gave him a ‘B’ in my player grades).

The real mystery is who will start at right tackle if Colombo is down.  In my opinion, Robert Brewster should have been starting there in the opener.  Hindsight is 20/20, but Brewster was superior to Barron during the preseason when on the right side.  Barron’s game simply isn’t suited for right tackle (and perhaps not for left tackle, either).

Will the Cowboys continue to blitz often against Chicago’s porous offensive line or will they try to get pressure without sending extra rushers?

I thought the Cowboys would blitz sparingly against the Redskins, but Coach Phillips brought pressure, particularly with the inside linebackers, quite often.  It didn’t really work out, but the Dallas defense still played well.

Let’s see if the ‘Boys employ the same approach on Sunday against Chicago.  Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is known to make poor decisions in the face of pressure, but the Cowboys may be able to reach him without blitzing.  If that turns out to be the case, they’ll have more defenders in coverage to take advantage of his mistakes.

Will the Bears’ aerial attack cause any problems, particularly over the middle of the field, for the Cowboys’ defense?

Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz is going to throw the ball early and often against whoever he plays.  Even without elite weapons outside, Martz will test opposing secondaries.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the Cowboys’ cornerbacks will be able to handle Devin Hester, Johnny Knox, and Devin Aromashodu.  Knox has the potential to get deep, but Alan Ball has shown he is capable of halting any big-play opportunities.

In my opinion, there are two players who could potentially cause problems for the Cowboys: tight end Greg Olsen and running back Matt Forte.  Martz hasn’t utilized his tight ends in the past, but that seems like it may be changing with Olsen–a player who is more like a receiver than a tight end.  Olsen could be a mismatch whether he’s covered by Bradie James, Keith Brooking, or Gerald Sensabaugh.  Dallas will need to monitor him closely.

Forte’s receiving prowess was on display last week when he burned Detroit for 151 yards on seven receptions.  He’s obviously tremendous as a receiver and possibly the Bears’ best opportunity to beat the ‘Boys.  He has the advantage over any Dallas defender that is covering him, so it may be smart to play a lot of zone coverage.  Screens to Forte could be the Cowboys’ kryptonite this week.

Can the Cowboys finally get some takeaways from the league’s most turnover-friendly quarterback?

Sunday night was another classic case of the Cowboys racking up yards without scoring points to show for it.  To have a successful season, it is imperative they improve their points-to-yards ratio.  The easiest way to do that is to force turnovers, creating a short field for the offense.

If the ‘Boys can’t force Jay Cutler to turn over the ball, there’s no hope for them.  Cutler will throw plenty of balls up for grabs, and without much protection up front, Ware, Spencer & Co. should be able to get in position to strip the ball from the Bears’ gunslinger.

Will the Bears take a page from Washington’s playbook and creatively disguise their blitzes?

In my Cowboys-Redskins film study observations, I noted that Washington was able to get pressure on Romo by disguising their blitzes and confusing the Dallas linemen.  You can bet the Bears will try to copy that success.  Linemen always need to be nasty, but this week it is even more imperative that they are cerebral, adjusting to the various defensive looks Chicago is bound to throw at them.

Can the Cowboys’ receivers take advantage of the Bears’ slightly weak cornerbacks Zackary Bowman and Charles Tillman?

Bowman and Tillman aren’t exactly Leon Hall and Jonathan Joseph.  Both are tall, but neither is particularly big (193 and 198 pounds, respectively), meaning the Cowboys’ tall, physical receivers should be able to use their size to not only gain position when the ball is in the air, but also break a few tackles once they make the reception.  Look for Austin in particular to have a field day when running after the catch.

Who will return kicks and punts?

Last week, Dez Bryant and Akwasi Owusu-Ansah took turns fielding punts, while AOA and Kevin Ogletree manned kickoffs.  This week, I think the Cowboys should choose one guy and stick with him.  ‘Kwasi needs to be the guy, at least on kick returns.  He’s strong and decisive.  If they want to leave Bryant back as a punt returner that’s fine, but it doesn’t make sense to continually rotate guys.  The best return man (whoever they decide it is) should be returning all the time.

DOs and DON’Ts for Dallas

DO continue to run outside (right at Julius Peppers).

The ‘Boys ran outside a ton against the Redskins, which isn’t their normal modus operandi.  Actually, 12 of the Cowboys’ 22 runs were outside of the tackles, and only four were inside the guards.  I didn’t think that was a particularly good game plan against the Redskins, but I do think it will work against Chicago.

First, there’s some guy named Brian Urlacher manning the middle of the Bears’ defense.  With help from defensive tackle Tommie Harris, Urlacher could make it quite tough to gain yards inside.

Further, Julius Peppers lines up outside.  Peppers is an insane athlete and one of the league’s top pass-rushers, but he’s not good (or at least inconsistent) against the run.  It’s not that he couldn’t be good against the run, but rather he plays selfishly.  He doesn’t stick with his responsibility, nearly always rushing upfield in an attempt to get to the quarterback.  The Cowboys can take advantage of that by running right at him.

One method by which they can accomplish that task is by doing the following. . .

DO bring back the draw in a big way this week.

The Cowboys ran just three draws against the Redskins after calling nearly eight per game in 2009.  I explained in my Ultimate Guide to Dallas Cowboys Draws that the ‘Boys could maximize the efficiency of draw plays by calling them less often, but this week is an exception.

As I mentioned, Peppers is likely to rush up the field on most plays.  This is particularly true when he sees a play that resembles a pass.  If Doug Free drops into a pass set and Romo drops back as if to pass, Peppers will be gone.  The Cowboys should be able to run right in the vacated area, particularly if they dial up a few five-step draws (as opposed to the more conventional three-step variety).

DON’T leave Doug Free or whoever starts at right tackle on an island versus Julius Peppers.

The Cowboys could accomplish this by leaving Jason Witten in to block, but statistically that’s a poor idea.  The more prudent method, in my opinion, would be to run a bunch of double-tight sets, leaving Martellus Bennett in to block.  Plus, the Cowboys are very successful when passing out of two-tight end looks such as “Ace.”

DO continue to air the ball out, but take some shots downfield.

The Cowboys came out passing on Sunday night, but not as usual.  They called a boatload of screens and other short passes that were really an extension of the running game.  Actually, a couple of the smoke screens they threw were actually designed run plays that Romo checked out of.

This week, Dallas needs to trust their offensive line and get the ball down the field.  With weapons like Austin and Bryant outside, there’s no reason the Cowboys shouldn’t be able to stretch the field to open up the middle for Witten and running lanes for the backs.

DON’T get fooled by inevitable twists and stunts.

As I mentioned above, the Bears are going to try to copy what worked for Washington on defense: disguising their blitzes and implementing a lot of stunts.  Even the Cowboys’ veteran linemen (particularly Gurode) seem to get fooled quite easily by stunts.  They should make pass protection against them a priority this week in practice.

DO continue to get Romo on the move with rollouts.

Worried about pass protection issues?  Designed rollouts could possibly be a solution.  Dallas shouldn’t overdo it, but calling a few plays where Romo is on the move (preferably away from Julius Peppers) could not only make Peppers path to Romo longer, but it will also be a defense against Bears defenders who like to rush to a certain spot.

DON’T run many playaction passes.

Rollouts are fine, but playaction bootlegs are not.  Why?  Because Peppers isn’t going to bite on playaction anyway.  There’s really no reason for Dallas to waste their time with playaction (unless a play is perfectly set up).

Notice a theme on who Dallas should be preparing for?

DON’T be afraid to continue running the ball on third down.

I love third down runs.  They are more successful than passes on 3rd and 1-5, and nearly as efficient on 3rd and 6-10 (amazingly).  They will work against the Bears. . .trust me.

DO play Robert Brewster if Marc Colombo can’t play.

This is a no-brainer to me.  Brewster is better-suited for right tackle than Alex Barron.  Period.  And he tries harder.


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By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys at Redskins Week 1: Final Film Study Observations


Jonathan Bales

I’ve already posted my initial game reactions and post-film study Cowboys-Redskins game review.  Today, I will discuss my film study and stat findings in even greater depth.

  • The Redskins’ blitz package was the primary reason the Cowboys had trouble on offense.  As I mentioned in my post-game notes and post-film study review, I thought Jason Garrett’s play-calling was actually pretty good.  However, the Redskins confused the Cowboys’ offensive line with constant stunts and surprise blitzes.  They showed blitz on 27 of 69 plays (39.1 percent) and also blitzed 15 times when they didn’t even show it.  Thus, they blitzed or showed blitz on a ridiculous 60.9 percent of plays.
  • You might be saying, “But Tony Romo is solid against the blitz, isn’t he?”  Yes, but Washington’s blitzes were much more difficult to block than “normal” blitzes.  Nearly every blitz came from players other than who was showing it, creating problems for Dallas and Romo.  Overall, I was really impressed with what I saw on film out of Washington.  I can honestly say that was one of the more innovative single game blitz packages I have seen in awhile.
  • One of my favorite plays of the night was the play the Cowboys ran with Barber, Jones, and Choice all in the backfield (below).  They motioned Jones into the backfield pre-snap to form a Power I, then 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.

Disregard the fact that this diagram looks like it was drawn by a six-year old.

  • I’ve heard a lot of media and fans claiming that Marion Barber would have run for a touchdown on the team’s 3rd and 1 toss play on which Coach Phillips called a timeout.  This is simply not true.  Disregarding the fact that Barber doesn’t exactly have game-breaking speed, it was obvious that he wouldn’t have even broken into the open.  Of course it is impossible to tell if Barber would have broken a tackle, but even if he did, he would have presumably slowed up enough for another defender to reach him.  All in all, it probably would have been, at most, a 10 or 12-yard run.
  • Andre Gurode played well most of the night, but he did yield a sack.  Redskins linebacker Rocky McIntosh acted like he was going to drop into coverage pre-snap, then came on a slightly delayed blitz.  Gurode was fooled and lost his leverage, eventually holding McIntosh–a penalty which Washington declined because he sacked Romo anyway.
  • It appears the Cowboys will shift more this season.  There were three pre-snap shifts on Sunday night after only 15 in all of 2009.
  • The Cowboys called one particular play a few times, including twice in a row near the end of the third quarter.  The personnel is two tight ends, a wide receiver, a tailback, and a fullback.  The Cowboys lined up in 3 Wide Strong (shown below), with Jason Witten and Martellus Bennett both lined up out wide on the same side of the formation.  Bennett then motioned into a traditional tight end spot, and the offense ran a power run to the strong side.

The point of the play was to show a passing look before shifting into a more run-oriented formation, hopefully confusing the defense on their responsibilities in the process.  It also allowed for more “big boys” at the point of attack.

The play can be successful, but the ‘Boys need to be careful not to overdo it.  Look for a playaction pass out of the same formation within the next few weeks.

Random (and perhaps useless) stats

Yards by Down

  • First Down: 33 plays for 187 yards (5.67 yards-per-play)
  • Second Down: 23 plays for 104 yards (4.52 yards-per-play)
  • Third Down: 13 plays for 54 yards (4.15 yards-per-play)
  • Fourth Down: 1 play for 31 yards

Red Zone Play-Calling

  • Inside five-yard line: One run for zero yards, one pass for four yards (TD)
  • Inside 20-yard line: Three runs for 20 yards, three incomplete passes

Personnel

  • Base (TE, 2 WR, RB, FB): Seven plays
  • 2 TE, 2 WR, RB: 17 plays
  • 2 TE, WR, RB, FB: 10 plays
  • TE, 3 WR, RB: 26 plays
  • TE, 4 WR: Nine plays
  • TE, WR, 3 RB: One play

Formations

As you can see below, Garrett did a really nice job of mixing up the formations.  The Cowboys lined up in an incredible 25 different formations on the night.

3 Wide Strong Right (1), 3 Wide Weak Left (1), Ace (4), Double Tight I (1), Double Tight Right Ace (1), Double Tight Left (or Right) Strong Left (or Right) (3), Double Tight Right Weak Left (1), Gun 3 Wide Pro (5), Gun Spread (1), Gun TE Quads Left (1), Gun TE Spread (4), Gun TE Trips (8), Gun TE Trips Empty (9), Gun Trips (4), Gun Trips Empty (1), I-Formation (3), Power I (1), Strong (8), TE Spread (5), TE Trips (1), Twins Left Strong Right (1), Twins Right (1), Unbalanced Ace (1), Weak (4), Wildcat (1)

  • The Cowboys motioned on 33 of 69 plays, gaining 160 yards on those plays (4.85 yards-per-play).  My 2009 study on Cowboys motions shows they weren’t particularly efficient then either.
  • As I detailed in my game recap, the Cowboys ran predominantly to the left on Sunday night (away from Alex Barron).  The chart below details the exact holes in which they called runs.

  • I predicted the Cowboys would run less draws this season, and they dialed up just three against Washington.  They went for a total of 14 yards.  The efficiency of draws will increase this season as they are called less often.
  • The Cowboys’ five playaction passes went for a total of 19 yards and a touchdown.
  • I counted eight of Romo’s passes as being off-target.  In my 2009 study of Romo’s throws, I noted he threw just over seven off-target passes per game.
  • The Cowboys were obviously concerned about their pass protection, because Jason Witten stayed in to block on 15 of the 47 passes (31.9 percent).  That’s up from last year’s rate.

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By Jonathan Bales

NFL Week 2 Power Rankings: Saints Remain On Top


Jonathan Bales

The Week Two Power Rankings are here, and there are some significant changes from the Week One Rankings.

Biggest Risers:  Washington, Kansas City (seven spots)

Biggest Faller:  New York Jets (seven spots)

1. New Orleans Saints; Last Week- 1

The Saints’ offense was stagnant after their first drive on Thursday night, but it is a good sign that the defense held the Vikings to just nine points.

2. Green Bay Packers; Last Week- 3

Clay Matthews was undoubtedly the defensive player of the week in the NFL.  He was all over the place against Philly, and that 3-4 defense is starting to gel.

3. Baltimore Ravens; Last Week-5

It wasn’t pretty against the Jets, but the Ravens will take it.  They’re used to winning games like that.

4. Houston Texans; Last Week- 8

The win over Indy was huge for this organization.  Now they have a tough road game in Washington before taking on the Cowboys.

5. New England Patriots; Last Week- 10

The Pats really dismantled Cincy in all three phases of the game, proving once again they are the most well-coached team in football.

6. Indianapolis Colts; Last Week- 4

The Colts would drop more than two spots, but a few teams ahead of them also lost to inferior opponents.

7. Minnesota Vikings; Last Week- 7

It’s a bad sign that the Vikings were only able to muster nine points in New Orleans.  They should be able to get back on track against Miami.

8. Dallas Cowboys; Last Week- 2

Simply a horrible loss in Washington.  The team shot itself in the foot so many times that they deserved to lose the game.

9. Pittsburgh Steelers; Last Week- 11

It will be really big for Pittsburgh to “steal” a few games like they did Sunday until Big Ben returns.

10. New York Giants; Last Week- 15

I probably underestimated the Giants in my initial power rankings, and now they have a leg up on Dallas in the NFC East.

11. San Diego Chargers; Last Week- 6

The Chargers uncontested reign over the AFC West is over.  The Chiefs are for real.

12. Miami Dolphins; Last Week- 14

The Dolphins looked awful in their win over the Bills.  There’s no way they’ll be able to compete with a team like New England if they continue to play that way.

13. Tennessee Titans; Last Week- 17

If you still think anyone other than Chris Johnson is the NFL’s best running back, you’re flat out wrong.  I’ve been saying it for awhile.

14. Washington Redskins; Last Week- 21

The ‘Skins take the biggest jump in the rankings by taking down the (previously) No. 2 team.  They are division contenders.

15. Kansas City Chiefs; Last Week- 22

The Chiefs are right there with Washington, as they showed their rookie class may be the NFL’s best.  Javier Arenas and Dexter McCluster are fun to watch.

16. New York Jets; Last Week- 9

The Jets’ defense will keep them in games, but without a downfield passing game, this is an 8-8 team.

17. San Francisco 49ers; Last Week- 12

The Niners should really drop even further for their loss to Seattle.  They were absolutely destroyed, and now they get the Saints on Monday night.

18. Cincinnati Bengals; Last Week- 13

Batman and Robin weren’t able to save the Bengals from trouble in New England.  A huge home contest with Baltimore lurks.


19. Atlanta Falcons; Last Week- 16

It is really disappointing for Atlanta that they couldn’t beat a Roethlisberger-less Steelers team.  They are fighting for a wild card spot at this point.

20. Philadelphia Eagles; Last Week- 18

Why does Philly only drop one spot?  Because as long as Kevin Kolb is out, they have a legitimate shot at winning.

21. Chicago Bears; Last Week- 20

The Bears don’t move at all because, although they “beat” the Lions, they really didn’t deserve to win.  Mike Martz will prove again this year he’s the king of significantly improving an offense at the cost of the defense.

22. Seattle Seahawks; Last Week- 27

I’m still not sold on Seattle, but they are always a division contender in the NFC West.  At the very least, they have a veteran quarterback.

23. Arizona Cardinals; Last Week- 25

That was one of the ugliest wins you’ll ever see.  The Cards are not a good football team right now.

24. Jacksonville Jaguars; Last Week- 28

I will be more sold on the Jags if they can go into San Diego this week and pull out another win.  The Chargers are going to be an angry football team.

25. Oakland Raiders; Last Week- 19

Maybe I was wrong on Oakland. . .

26. Carolina Panthers; Last Week- 23

The Jimmy Clausen era could begin sooner than expected.  Matt Moore made bad decision after bad decision against the Giants on Sunday.

27. Denver Broncos; Last Week- 24

Josh McDaniels seems to have no overarching strategy in Denver.  He’s probably best as an offensive coordinator.

28. Tampa Bay Bucs; Last Week- 29

A win over the Browns is nothing to get too excited over, but at least Tampa Bay is on the right track.  They have a chance to start 2-0 with a match-up against the Panthers this week.

29. Detroit Lions; Last Week- 26

Detroit deserved to win in Chicago on Sunday.  Just as this team was headed up, it appears Matthew Stafford will be out for 6-8 weeks.  What a blow.

30. St. Louis Rams; Last Week- 31

St. Louis probably found their quarterback of the future, but they’re still a bad football team.  I feel sorry for Steven Jackson.

31. Cleveland Browns; Last Week- 30

When Jake Delhomme is a significant upgrade at your quarterback spot, you know you’re a terrible football team.

32. Buffalo Bills; Last Week 32

Buffalo held in there longer than I expected against Miami.  Let’s see how long they’ll hold the No. 32 spot.

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By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys at Redskins Week 1 Game Plan: How Dallas Can Beat Washington



Jonathan Bales

You guys know the backbone of DC Times is film study and stat analysis.  Consequently, I will be posting these weekly “Game Plan” segments which will include tidbits about how I believe the Cowboys can use the same film study and stat analysis which drives this site to win football games.

These will come later in the week after I’ve published the “Game Day Manifesto”–a combination of “What to Watch” and “DOs and DON’Ts” for the Cowboys.  Although still film-driven and stat heavy, I will try to refrain from too much game-planning in the Manifesto to prevent unnecessary overlap.  You can read this week’s Cowboys/Redskins Manifesto here.

Let’s get to the game. . .

1.  Throw it early, and throw it often.

I talked about this in my Manifesto:

I actually support a pass/run ratio of about 65:35 (yes, you read that correctly).  Of course every game is different and plays should be called accordingly, but over the long haul, passing has shown to be the most important aspect of a football game and the one that is most closely linked to winning (by far).

I think Sunday night in particular is a good game for the Cowboys to come out passing.  Washington was eighth last season in passing yards yielded per game, but a lot of that was due to the fact that they were losing in most ballgames.  In terms of yards-per-attempt, the Redskins ranked in the middle of the pack–16th.

Further, their rush defense was actually better than advertised.  They allowed only 4.9 yards-per-carry last season–good for eighth-best in the NFL.

The most important reason to come out passing, though, is that it could help jump start a stagnant Cowboys running game.  We’ve all heard the familiar saying that “throwing sets up the run.”  Perhaps that is true, but it goes both ways.  Passing can certainly set up the run as well, and when the Redskins are forced to move back into cover 2 because Miles Austin & Co. are beating their blitz, the big guys up front for Dallas should be able to maul the undersized Washington linebackers in the run game.

In speaking with a reader, I thought of two more reasons the ‘Boys should come out passing: Doug Free and Alex Barron.  The Cowboys’ starting offensive tackles Sunday night are both athletic, finesse players who are prone to being overpowered in the run game.  The Cowboys should be able maximize the effectiveness of both players by not overdoing it on the run.

And I can just see the old-school, traditionalist football fans cringing now.

2.  Run double-tight sets in obvious passing downs.

I’ve talked previously about how the Cowboys should run more three-receiver sets this season and why, in this particular game, Dez Bryant shouldn’t be phased into the offense.  If he’s ready to play, then play him all the way baby.

In obvious passing downs, though, it might actually be a good idea to go to a more run-oriented formation–double tights.  The reason is that backup tight end Martellus Bennett will be able to help block Brian Orakpo (or even Albert Haynesworth when he lines up at defensive end in the Redskins’ 3-4 defense).  No matter what you think about Bennett, he’s a tremendous blocker.

Why not use Jason Witten in pass protection?  Well, I’ve showed in the past that the 22.9 percent rate at which Witten stayed in to block on pass plays last season was already too much.  Dallas is a better team with him in a route (excluding perhaps 3rd and very long).

Plus, stats show the Cowboys should pass out of double-tight formations more in general.  Actually, the formation from which they had the most passing success last year was ‘Ace’ (below).

3.  Run dive plays out of spread formations.

There are a few reasons for this:

  • London Fletcher is a great player, but very undersized.  The Cowboys’ interior linemen should be able to blow him off of the ball.  This is also Washington’s first season in a 3-4 defense, meaning Fletcher now has just one nose tackle covering him up instead of two defensive tackles, i.e. he will see more blocks from “the big boys” as opposed to fullbacks/tight ends.
  • Albert Haynesworth should play, but how effective will he be?  He may or may not be in “game shape.”  Further, the best way to neutralize a good run defender, particularly a lineman, is to run right at him.

4.  Fix the fullback’s alignment in ‘Strong’ formations.

I really think this is the type of game where Dallas should limit their use of the fullback, but when Deon Anderson (or even Chris Gronkowski) is in the ball game, they can’t give away the play-call with their alignment.

In the preseason, I noticed that the fullback was often lining up about a yard closer to the line of scrimmage and sideline if he was about to run into the flat.  On dive and power run plays, the fullback would line up closer to the tailback.

5.  Don’t blitz too often, but do stunt.

I talked about why Dallas shouldn’t send more than four rushers previously:

Ware and Spencer should be able to get a ton of pressure on McNabb.  Getting pressure with just four rushers is a huge advantage for a defense because it means they can sit back in zone and force the quarterback to make good reads and accurate throws–again and again and again.  There aren’t very many quick scores to be had versus a cover 2 defense.

In fact, the reason the Cowboys were able to dominate the Eagles last season was because they rarely had to blitz.  They made McNabb beat them with his arm–and he couldn’t do it.

Even at age 33, McNabb can still beat you with his legs.  He can also beat you deep with his arm.  But can he consistently beat you underneath with his arm?  I’m not so sure.

Although the ‘Boys outside linebackers should be able to beat Washington’s offensive tackles with just a pure speed rush, there are still ways to “trick” Trent Williams and Jamaal Brown.  Remember, Williams is only a rookie and Brown is playing a new position in a new system, so Coach Phillips may be able to outsmart them.

One way to do so is a stunt, or “twist” from the defensive linemen.  Stunts and twists are generally called in passing situations and are simply a pre-designated adjustment of pass rush lanes.  Will Williams and Brown be able to react properly to twisting linemen?  There’s only one way to find out.

Another way to confuse offensive linemen is with a zone blitz.  Zone blitzes aren’t necessarily “blitzes” at all because the defense still rushes the same number of players.  They appear to be blitzes to the offensive line and quarterback, though, because the usual “blitzers”–linebackers, safeties, and even cornerbacks–rush the quarterback.  Players from other positions, often the defensive line, take their coverage responsibility.

While the ‘Boys need to be careful not to have Anthony Spencer lined up against, say, Chris Cooley, they could cause confusion among the Redskins’ linemen if they can properly execute the zone blitz.  In the diagram below, for example, rushing the weak side linebacker and dropping the weak side defensive end into coverage could be more efficient than the zone blitz which is pictured.

Zone blitzes, such as the one shown above, lower the risk of giving up a big play and can confuse a quarterback and offensive linemen.

6.  Shade Alan Ball to the side of Santana Moss.

This task will become much easier if the Cowboys can get a decent pass rush with just four defenders.  Then, Dallas should be able to sit back in Cover 2, which would allow Alan Ball to have less area to cover (see below).

In Cover 2, both safeties have what is known as “deep half,” meaning they simply can’t let anyone beat them deep on their side of the field.

If Dallas can’t get to McNabb with just four rushers, they will need to blitz, meaning a safety (likely Sensabaugh) would have to come up to either play a zone closer to the line of scrimmage or cover a player man-to-man.  Sensabaugh isn’t exactly Ed Reed in coverage, so the Cowboys don’t want him matched up with a player like Chris Cooley or Devin Thomas too often.

As Sensabaugh’s responsibility changes, so does Ball’s.  The Cowboys like to play Cover 1 (also known as “man-free”) when they blitz, which puts Ball in a centerfield-type position.  He is free to roam, but his pre-snap alignment (usually near the center of the field) makes it very hard to cover sideline-to-sideline (as opposed to Cover 2, where Ball only needs to cover from the middle of the field to one sideline).

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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By Jonathan Bales

Preseason Week Five, Cowboys vs. Dolphins: What We Learned About Dallas

Jonathan Bales

Answers to my pre-game article on what to watch in last night’s Cowboys-Dolphins game. . .

1.  How long will Dez Bryant play?

I asked this questions when it appeared as though Bryant was going to get some reps.  Thankfully, he didn’t get any.  I wrote a blog post about why this was a good idea.  See you in Washington, Dez.

2.  Which starters will get playing time?

My pre-game prediction that only “starters” who are actually backups but are on the first-team due to injuries ahead of them–Montrae Holland, Alex Barron, etc.–came to fruition.  I think this was the smart move by Dallas.  The team will be well-rested and generally healthy heading into the first regular season game.

3.  How will Stephen McGee perform as a starter?

Tremendously.  The kid earned himself a roster spot last night.  He showed off a wide range of physical tools and looked much more comfortable mentally.  From my initial post-game notes:

  • The most impressive player on offense was undoubtedly Stephen McGee.  He played sensationally tonight and locked up a roster spot.  His arm strength and athleticism were never in question, but tonight he made good reads and got the ball downfield.  He stood tall in the pocket in the face of pressure–something he had yet to do on a consistent basis.  His 43-yard touchdown pass to Sam Hurd was a thing of beauty.
  • I also loved the passion McGee displayed tonight.  He got in Jesse Holley’s face when the receiver didn’t run the right route in one play, letting everyone know who was in charge.

4.  Will Jason Garrett call plays differently in an attempt to get the Cowboys on a roll?

Actually, yes.  While he didn’t fully open up the playbook, the Cowboys were undoubtedly a bit less conservative in their play-calling.  They ran their first counter in two games, attempted some playaction passes, and most importantly, aired the ball out downfield on a handful of occasions.

Garrett’s choice to be slightly less conservative was probably not only about getting on a roll, but also seeing what Stephen McGee is made of.  This makes me think McGee’s job really was on the line tonight.  Otherwise, why not give Jon Kitna at least a few reps?

5. Will Dallas line up in “Double Tight Left Twins Right Ace” and which plays will they call from it?

I have yet to complete my film study, but I do not recall the Cowboys lining up in the formation at all last night.  I will let you know for sure in my final film observations.

6. Will Danny McCray or Michael Hamlin get reps at nickel linebacker?

Both players got some reps there.  Hamlin looked the best of the two, as he is more natural in coverage.  McCray didn’t make many plays last night, but luckily for him, neither did Barry Church.

7. How will the Cowboys’ defense, which has struggled against the run of late, hold up against Miami’s rushing attack?

With the exception of a 42-yard Ricky Williams run, the Cowboys have to be happy about the way their second-team defense performed against Miami.  They did yield an unimpressive 6.4 yards-per-carry, but only 4.0 if you take out the Williams run.

I know you can’t just make one run disappear to improve an average, but the point is that the Cowboys didn’t get consistently gashed by the running game as they did in the past two contests.  Instead, they performed relatively well with only one hiccup.

8. Can Sean Lee rebound from an awful performance on Saturday night?

Lee certainly played better.  He still needs to work on shedding blocks and not getting trapped inside on outside runs, but he looked improved in pass coverage.  He also showed some really good instincts on a third quarter sack of Tyler Thigpen, initially dropping into coverage, seeing no one threaten his zone, then flying up to nail the quarterback.  He seems to play well when he isn’t “thinking” and just reacting to what he sees.

9. How will fringe players Bryan McCann, Chris Gronkowski, and Travis Bright perform?

McCann was terrible.  I wrote in my post-game notes:

Bryan McCann really struggled tonight.  He got beat continually in man and zone coverage, frequently staying in his backpedal too long. His tackling was also horrendous.  He never wraps up and leads with his head.  Miami knew it and three quick screens at him on one drive.

Gronkowski and Bright, on the other hand, both played their best games of the preseason.  I’ve criticized Gronkowski’s lead blocking a lot, but he really looked pretty good tonight.  Dallas has a tough decision on their hands regarding the status of Deon Anderson, although I do think they’ll keep him.

Gronkowski also adds value to Dallas as a short-yardage runner.  He may be a better option than Marion Barber or Felix Jones on 3rd and 1.

Bright, who was overpowered early in the preseason, showed some explosiveness and better technique tonight.  I still like Phil Costa much more, but Bright may have earned himself a roster spot at a guard position which is rather thin for the Cowboys.

10. Will Cletis Gordon continue to push Orlando Scandrick for possible playing time in nickel packages?

Probably not, at least for a little while.  Gordon had his worst game of the preseason last night (although it still wasn’t that bad).  He needs to be more physical in press coverage and, when he does play off, he is giving up way too large of a cushion.  That’s giving him problems when he has to drive on the football.

Gordon’s ball skills and athleticism are tremendous, so there’s no reason for him to be playing so far off receivers at times.  If he lets receiver eat away his cushion a bit more, he can use his coverage ability and athleticism to defend deep routes, while also then being able to more easily drive on routes such as comebacks, outs, and so on.

Man Coverage with Off Technique

11. Will David Buehler finally get a chance to attempt some field goals and how will he do?

Yes, and incredibly.  To me, Buehler’s play is the most positive sign of the preseason for the Cowboys.  He was four-of-four on field goals last night, including a 51-yarder and a game-winner.  More importantly, he struck every ball really well and his kickoffs are still stellar.  He will open the season as Dallas’ placekicker.

12. Will the team play with more passion?

Yes.  I think a lot of this had to do with who was playing–second and third-string players whose jobs were on the line.  There’s quite a difference between a veteran going through the motions and an undrafted rookie whose only shot at the NFL rides perhaps on just one game, one quarter, or one play.

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By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys 53-Man Roster Projection: The Final Version



Jonathan Bales

A lot has changed since my last 53-man roster projection.  Scott Sicko was released, Patrick Crayton trade rumors have again heated up, Sam Young got injured, and Cletis Gordon has come on strong.

The Cowboys’ final cuts are due tomorrow, and below is my best approximation of what will transpire.

Offense

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

McGee played lights out last night in what may have been a final audition for a roster spot.  He earned it.  The Cowboys learned to not place a promising quarterback on the practice squad with Matt Moore.

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).  I’ve recently argued that Jones should indeed be starting, or at least receiving the bulk of the touches.  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 ran tough last night but has shown little explosion throughout the preseason, and undrafted free agent Lonyae Miller has been just average.

Overall Position Grade:  A-

FB
1. Deon Anderson
2.  Chris Gronkowski

I’ve explained the importance of Anderson ad nauseam.  He’s limited in what he does well (basically just lead block), but he does that very well.

In my last projection, I had Gronkowski being cut but said he could make the team as an F-Back type player.  I thought the Cowboys liked Scott Sicko in that role, but he was released a few days ago.  Gronkowski’s versatility should earn him a roster spot.

Overall Position Grade: B-

TE
1. Jason Witten
2. Martellus Bennett

Didn’t make the cut: Sicko was already cut and I can’t see DajLeon Farr or Martin Rucker making the team.  Rucker has the best shot, but his blocking ability is sub-par and Dallas doesn’t really need another weapon in the passing game.  The presence of Gronkowski as a fullback/tight end hybrid makes retaining just two tight ends possible.

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?  Could they trade or release Crayton or Hurd?  How about Ogletree?

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, and since I don’t see a team giving up more than a late-round pick for Crayton or Hurd, I think they stay.

Here are five reasons trading or cutting Crayton would be a mistake.

Didn’t make the cut: Jesse Holley still has a 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 year.

Overall Position Grade: A-

OT
1. Doug Free
2. Marc Colombo
3. Alex Barron
4. Robert Brewster

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 going down with a knee injury.  Brewster played well enough in his absence to justify a roster spot, particularly with the Cowboys’ possibly placing rookie Sam Young on IR.

Didn’t make the cut: The key here will be if the Cowboys place Young on injured reserve.  He won’t be out for long and the team likes him a lot, but how much playing time will he really get this season?  Perhaps saving the roster spot and preparing him for next year is the way to go.

Overall Position Grade: C-

G
1. Kyle Kosier
2. Leonard Davis
3. Montrae Holland

Last time, I had Phil Costa as the fourth guard.  I’ve since moved Costa to the backup center position.  He’s done really well in the preseason (perhaps the best of any lineman on the team), and I think he deserves to be the backup center over Kyle Kosier.

Costa’s versatility might allow the Cowboys to keep just three guards.

Didn’t make the cut: It is tough to leave Travis Bright off of the roster.  I originally put him on this list, but then realized I had 54 players.  I’m pretty sure the league won’t let Dallas keep one extra player than the other teams, so Bright had to go.  It was between him and Sam Hurd.  Ultimately, the fact that Bright is still eligible for the practice squad (and should make it there) made me choose Hurd over him.

If Pat McQuistan makes this team, I’m trying out next season.

Overall Position Grade: B-

C
1. Andre Gurode
2.  Phil Costa

Like I said, Costa moves to backup center.  I think he has potential as Gurode’s long-term replacement.

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 pretty well in his absence, but the defense missed Spears’ presence against the run.  If the Cowboys do make a move, 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: Leon Williams has been solid at times this preseason and he has a chance to make the team, 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 and Patrick Crayton.  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

I removed Steve Octavien from my last projection.  Keeping just eight total linebackers in a 3-4 system is risky, but I think the Cowboys like their depth at both spots, particularly this one.

Didn’t make the cut: I don’t think Curtis Johnson’s special teams ability is any better than that of Octavien, but Octavien has shown more pass-rush ability.  If the Cowboys keep a fifth man at OLB, it will probably be Octavien.

Overall Position Grade: A (almost A+)

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

I’ve loved McCann since the Cowboys signed him and, although he struggled a lot last night, I still think he’ll make the team.  He’s shown tremendous athleticism and coverage ability.  The versatility of the safeties (Akwasi Owusu-Ansah and Alan Ball) could allow the ‘Boys to keep just four CBs, however, in which case McCann would be gone.

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 Dallas could try to place him or track star Teddy Williams on their practice squad.  I think both guys would make it, although Wall could get scooped up by a Cover 2 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?

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 six safeties.  If so, Danny McCray will make the team as well.  Of course, only the top three safeties are guaranteed a roster spot, so McCray could make it even if Dallas retains just five safeties.  Church has shown more promise on defense, though, so I don’t think McCray’s special teams ability will be enough to save him.

Didn’t make the cut: McCray will be on the practice squad if he doesn’t make the 53-man roster (assuming no one signs him).

Overall Position Grade: C-

Specialists

LS
1. L.P. Ladouceur

Overall Position Grade: A

K
1. David Buehler

Buehler has looked outstanding on field goals in the preseason.  The Cowboys saw just what they wanted from him last night, as he was four-for-four on field goals, including a 51-yarder and a game-winner.  He has locked up all kicking duties, at least to start the season.

Overall Position Grade: B- (A+ for kickoffs and still a 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 since last projection
FB Chris Gronkowski
OT Robert Brewster
CB Cletis Gordon

Departures from last projection
Sam Young (IR?)
TE Scott Sicko (released)
OLB Steve Octavien

Practice Squad Projection
S Danny McCray
G Travis Bright
TE Scott Sicko
RB Lonyae Miller
WR Jesse Holley
DT/DE Sean Lissemore
LB Brandon Sharpe
CB Jamar Wall

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**UPDATE:  Obviously this list was formulated before the Cowboys traded Crayton.  I am now projecting the team to retain just five receivers, along with guard Travis Bright.  For me, it comes down to Bright and Danny McCray, but I just can’t see the team keeping six safeties.


By Jonathan Bales

Preseason Week Five, Cowboys vs. Dolphins: Initial Post-Game Notes



Jonathan Bales

The Cowboys did a lot of great things tonight and, although the starters didn’t play, they can feel a little more confident heading into the season-opener in Washington.  Here are my initial reactions from tonight’s game:

Offense

  • The most impressive player on offense was undoubtedly Stephen McGee.  He played sensationally tonight and locked up a roster spot.  His arm strength and athleticism were never in question, but tonight he made good reads and got the ball downfield.  He stood tall in the pocket in the face of pressure–something he had yet to do on a consistent basis.  His 43-yard touchdown pass to Sam Hurd was a thing of beauty.
  • I also loved the passion McGee displayed tonight.  He got in Jesse Holley’s face when the receiver didn’t run the right route in one play, letting everyone know who was in charge.
  • Phil Costa had one semi-poor Shotgun snap tonight, but other than that he was really solid again.  You don’t hear his name much, which is a good thing for a center.
  • Pat McQuistan is bad.  Really, really bad.
  • Tashard Choice is Dallas’ most complete running back.  His balance and vision are incredible.  If I could only have one back on the team, it would be him.  Yes, even over Felix Jones.
  • Montrae Holland had a poor game.  He committed two false starts and got beat on some other plays.  He’s making fans realize just how important Kyle Kosier is to this offense.
  • I don’t know why the Cowboys don’t switch Robert Brewster (left tackle) and Alex Barron (right tackle).  Brewster is slow-footed and not very athletic, but he’s shown he can play well on the right side.  Meanwhile, Barron simply isn’t nasty or strong enough to excel at right tackle.
  • I’ll talk about this more once I study the film, but I noticed the Cowboys’ fullback lines up about a yard closer to the line of scrimmage if he is running into the flat.  It is rather easy to predict run/pass based on his alignment.
  • There is a legitimate chance that Kevin Ogletree gets cut.  He’s very limited in the routes he runs well (outs and comebacks), isn’t a willing blocker, and has shown poor field awareness all preseason.  He nearly cost Dallas three points when he caught a pass late in the second quarter and ran up the field instead of going out of bounds.  He’s a poor situational football player.
  • Chris Gronkowski looked better tonight.  His lead blocking still leaves much to be desired, but his ability to move the pile as a ball-carrier in short-yardage situations could be quite valuable to Dallas.
  • I’m still not totally sure, but I think Travis Bright will probably make the team.  He’s shown improvement the last two games, and I think there will be an extra roster spot open if Dallas places Sam Young on IR.
  • Jason Garrett’s play-calling was still conservative, but, as I expected, he did open up the playbook a bit.  The Cowboys ran their first counter in two games and let McGee air it out on a few occasions.

Defense

  • Victor Butler had his best game of the preseason and, in my opinion, has been the team’s MVP thus far this year.  That’s big praise for a second-string player, but he’s shown incredible burst off the edge as a rusher and, much to my surprise, his run defense is vastly improved.
  • Akwasi Owusu-Ansah actually looks more comfortable at safety than at his more natural cornerback position.  He is fine in man coverage, but he still needs to get accustomed to his drops in zone coverage.  He is having trouble identifying who can threaten his area and isn’t getting enough depth.  He showed some good range at safety, though.
  • Cletis Gordon got some reps against Brandon Marshall.  He did pretty well on him, but later struggled against Miami’s less talented receivers.
  • Bryan McCann really struggled tonight.  He got beat continually in man and zone coverage, frequently staying in his backpedal too long. His tackling was also horrendous.  He never wraps up and leads with his head.  Miami knew it and three quick screens at him on one drive.
  • Michael Hamlin showed improvement in coverage.  On one play, he demonstrated an awesome speed turn, making the quarterback think he was beat when he was in perfect position, then deflected the pass away.
  • Sean Lee appears to play well when he lets his instincts take over.  I think he’ll eventually be okay because right now his problems are arising from thinking too much, not from a lack of talent.  He still needs to work on shedding blocks, but he did well as a pass-rusher tonight.

Special Teams

  • The Cowboys must be thrilled with David Buehler.  He was four-for-four on field goals tonight, including a 51-yarder and a game-winner.  This was something I said I wanted to see in my pre-game analysis, and Buehler came through.  In case you missed it, I’ve completed a study on just how important kickers are to a team’s win total.
  • Buehler’s touchbacks are also incredibly valuable to the Cowboys.  The field position is nice, but the biggest pro is that opposing teams don’t have the opportunity to pick up a quick score.  That will help Dallas beat the teams they should beat.
  • A big part of the reason Akwasi Owusu-Ansah will be solid on returns is his strength.  He has the potential to break a lot of tackles.

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