The DC Times

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

By Jonathan Bales

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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By Jonathan Bales

“22 in 22″ Day 10, Emmitt Smith: “There’s so many people to thank.”

“22 in 22″ Day 10, Emmitt Smith: “There’s so many people to thank.”

Note: This is the 10th part of a 22-part series.  Click to view Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6, Day 7, Day 8, or Day 9.

Some might call it the single most defining moment in a player’s career.  Others might say it’s what it takes to be the best.

But, if you had to pinpoint the single most important quality it takes for you to reach sports highest pinnacle of success–where your dreams could one day become immortalized into the Pro Football Hall of Fame–what would you say it is?

What truly separates the 260+ players on this team from the 20,169 players on all other teams since pro football’s inception in 1892?  Surprisingly, it is not what you might guess.  It’s not ambition, luck, or talent.  The characteristic that defines the crème of the crop and what our own Emmitt Smith is made of is. . .commitment.

The commitment to become an all-time champion. . .

The commitment to defy all odds and win multiple Super Bowls. . .

The commitment to do whatever it takes to surpass the “unbreakable mark” and become the NFL’s all-time rushing leader.

To commemorate Emmitt’s achievement, Dallas Cowboys Times presents “22 in 22″: a tribute to perhaps the single greatest running back in NFL history.

In our “22 in 22″ Series, you will find various pictures, videos, and sound clips from Emmitt that we gathered while covering his Hall of Fame induction.

Per NFL rules, we can only post the video and audio clips for a 24 hour period, so be sure to check back each day as we commemorate the career of Emmitt Smith.

Don’t want to miss a day?  Sign up for our e-mail updates.

Special thanks to Lorei Reinhard and Eddie Canales, both of whom worked with our own Dave Kraft (bio coming shortly) in Canton to garner some awesome and unique footage of Emmitt which you will see over the next 21 days, as well as Nick Reinhard and Chris Canales (co-founder of gridironheroes.org) for their video editing assistance.

Before Emmitt even arrived in Canton, Ohio for the enshrinement ceremony, we participated in a conference call with the Hall of Famer.

———————————————

With so many influential people in his life, Emmitt told us he knew he would forget to mention someone during his Hall of Fame speech.  Who knew it would be the entire University of Florida?

VIDEO REMOVED PER NFL RULES

Note: Per NFL rules, this video will only be available for 24 hours.  Visit NFL.com for more info.

Don’t want to miss an entry? Sign up for our e-mail updates.

—————————————–

“Time Warp 22″. . .Remember when?

December 27, 1998

Against the rival Washington Redskins, Emmitt scores two touchdowns to surpass Marcus Allen as the NFL’s career rushing touchdown leader.  Emmitt ended his career with an astounding 164 rushing touchdowns.

By Jonathan Bales

2010 Preseason NFL All-Pro Team: Offense

Jonathan Bales

Note: This All-Pro team is not a comprehensive list of the league’s top players from last year, but rather a prediction of who will finish the 2010 season as the NFL’s top performers at each position.

QB

Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

To me, the Packers are the Cowboys’ most fierce competition in the NFC.  Like Tony Romo, Rodgers has all of the physical tools, but can he win games in January?  This season, yes.

Tom Brady, New England Patriots

A motivated Brady with seemingly healthy receivers and a shaky defense that could force the team to pass early and often?  Watch out.

RB

Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans

How do you stop this guy?  You can contain him all game long and then, in a blink of an eye, he just crossed the 100-yard mark.

Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens

A revamped Baltimore passing attack could limit Rice’s touches. . .and perhaps increase his efficiency.  Look for him to approach 15 touchdowns this season, particularly if the Ravens trade Willis McGahee.

WR

Andre Johnson, Houston Texans

He’s the best in the game, hand down.  Teams will key in on him, but it won’t matter.

Miles Austin, Dallas Cowboys

81 receptions, 1,321 yards, and 11 touchdowns in only 12 games starting last season.  The addition of Dez Bryant will only help Austin’s numbers, not hinder them.

Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions

Megatron and the rest of the Lions’ offense look superb this preseason.  Johnson has perhaps the highest upside of any wide receiver in the NFL this year.

TE

Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys

He undoubtedly possesses the best combination of pass-catching and blocking skills in the league.  He’ll score more touchdowns this year too.

Vernon Davis, San Francisco 49ers

Davis led the league with 13 touchdown receptions last season.  His blocking is underrated and the scary part of it all is. . .he’s getting better.

OT

Joe Thomas, Cleveland Browns

The play of linemen doesn’t fluctuate as much from season to season as that of skill position players.  The play of Thomas doesn’t even fluctuate much from game to game–he’s always dominant.

Jake Long, Miami Dolphins

Long has shown he can be an All-Pro run blocker, and with Miami figuring to air it out more this season, he’ll have a chance to prove he’s a beast in pass protection too.

OG

Jahri Evans, New Orleans Saints

Some people didn’t like that I ranked Evans at No. 18 on my list of the NFL’s top 105 players, but he’s that good.

Chris Snee, New York Giants

Snee will have 14 great games this year.  After all, he has to face Jay Ratliff twice, right?

C

Nick Mangold, New York Jets

This one’s not even close.  No center is even close to Mangold in terms of talent.  He might be the Jets’ MVP, and yes, that includes Revis Christ.

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Check back tomorrow for my All-Pro Defense and Special Teams.


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By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys vs. Chargers Preseason Film Study Observations

Jonathan Bales

I’ve already posted initial game notes, “DOs and DON’Ts analysis,” and what we learned from the Cowboys/Chargers game.  Now that I’ve finally had a chance to completely break down the film, here are my final observations.

Play-Calling/Formation Notes

  • The Cowboys lined up in Double Tight Left (or Right) Strong Left (or Right) seven times on Saturday night, running a strong side dive all seven times. They gained 22 total yards (3.14 yards-per-carry).  I know it is only preseason, but this is getting a bit ridiculous.  However, all seven of the plays came with the backups in the game–perhaps not a coincidence.  Here is my full analysis of the Cowboys’ play-calling out of the formation.
  • Overall, the Cowboys have run a strong side dive out of the formation on 12 of 14 plays this preseason (85.7 percent).
  • 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 (below).

  • 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.
  • 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 below.

  • The Chargers said they would blitz the Cowboys, and they did.  San Diego came after the Dallas’ quarterback 17 times after Oakland blitzed the ‘Boys just five times.  The Cowboys gained only 88 yards on these plays (5.18 yards-per-play).  Unfortunately, Romo was just one-for-five against the blitz for six yards and an interception. That won’t be a trend for a quarterback who is one of the league’s best in the face of pressure.
  • It seemed as though Dallas made it a priority for the quarterbacks to get the ball out of their hands quickly.  They allowed only one sack (Sam Young), but only six passes traveled more than 10 yards in the air, and only two more than 15.  An incredible 18 of the passes were five yards or less.

Players

  • I haven’t been impressed with fullback Chris Gronkowski.  I’ve seen multiple 53-man roster projections with him making the team over Deon Anderson.  You won’t find that in my roster projection.  Sure, Gronkowski is probably more athletic and a bigger receiving threat out of the backfield, but with the weapons the Cowboys possess on offense, does that really matter?  They don’t need another pass-catcher.  They need a powerful lead blocker, and right now Gronkowski isn’t showing that ability on film.  I’ve witnessed him lose his balance and dive at defenders on multiple occasions.
  • I still cannot figure out how Lonyae Miller has not jumped over Herb Donaldson on the depth chart.  Donaldson is extremely hesitant when running the ball and a poor receiver.  Miller has shown a knack for catching the ball and, although inconsistent, has at least shown some burst with the ball in his hands.
  • I’ve been impressed with Phil Costa at center.  Starter Andre Gurode is still one of the most important pieces of the offense, but Costa is making a case that he, and not Kyle Kosier, should be the backup center.
  • After watching more film, I am beginning to like safety Barry Church more and more.  He is never going to be a ball-hawk in the secondary, but he sure can tackle.  He has come flying up from the back of the secondary to make a few extraordinary tackles, yet still maintains control.
  • I was wrong on cornerback Cletis Gordon.  He will be the Cowboys’ fourth cornerback.  The one-handed interception and subsequent return he displayed in the fourth quarter in San Diego was a thing of beauty.
  • For more player observations, check my post-game notes. Player grades coming tomorrow.

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By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys’ Five Biggest Strengths Heading Into 2010 Season

Jonathan Bales

The Cowboys are loaded with talent this season and a popular pick by experts and casual fans alike to be the first team to play a Super Bowl in their home stadium.  The defense ranked No. 2 in the NFL last year and looks even better so far in the preseason.  The offense was second in yards in 2009 and just added a receiving threat that was arguably this draft’s most explosive offensive weapon.

It is the list of players (and coach) below, however, that makes up the core of the 2010 Cowboys.  Without further ado, the five biggest strengths for Dallas this season. . .

5. Coach Wade Phillips

Wade Phillips as a strength!?  You bet.  You won’t hear much of this on ESPN, but Phillips is the perfect coach for this Cowboys team.  He doesn’t yell a lot, but that’s not a bad thing.  It is actually a misnomer that players respond well to being screamed at. . .the illusion lies in the correlation/causation dichotomy I’ve talked about in the past.

In fact, Phillips non-aggressive approach allows the few times he does yell to actually mean something.  Going off into a tirade isn’t commonplace for Phillips, so when he does it, his message really gets across to the players.

Further, Phillips is one of the best defensive coordinators in the NFL.  The Cowboys were second in the NFL in total defense last season due in large part to Phillips taking over control.  Hopefully, he’s in Dallas to stay.

4. One of the league’s best cornerback trios

I ranked Mike Jenkins and Terence Newman third in my list of the league’s top starting cornerback duos.  Both players had All-Pro seasons in 2009.

I  provided Newman with a “B+” overall grade and Jenkins with an “A-” overall grade, putting them at 10th and 8th on the team in our overall rankings, respectively.

Although nickel cornerback Orlando Scandrick struggled somewhat last season, he is still one of the better third cornerbacks in the league.  Don’t forget that he often gets picked on due to the caliber of play exhibited from Newman and Jenkins.

Scandrick has also been the team’s best cornerback thus far in the preseason.

3. The league’s top set of skill position players

Imagine the frustration of opposing defensive coordinators when they try to game plan for the 2010 Dallas Cowboys offense.  The running game is one of the league’s most efficient, so that must be contained first.  Do you focus on Marion Barber up the middle and in the passing game, or Felix Jones on counters and other misdirection plays?  What do you do about the Tashard Choice/Felix Jones combo in “Razorback” formation?

But won’t selling out to stop the run leave you vulnerable against pass?  Miles Austin’s presence alone, whether he is outside or in the slot, is enough to force defenses to play honestly.  Leave him single-covered and you risk getting beat deep on any one particular play.

How about the rookie?  We still need to see a lot from Dez Bryant, but every sign points to him being a legitimate threat on offense, even in his first season.  If you focus on Austin, Bryant surely has the skill set to beat you.

And then there’s Roy Williams.  Fans were undoubtedly uninspired from his play last season, but believe me when I say this man has regained his “swag.” I explained in a previous article why this isn’t a “new” Roy Williams, but instead, we are finally obtaining a glimpse of the “old” Roy Williams–the University of Texas variety.

Don’t forget Williams also scored seven touchdowns last year and is still a threat on in-breaking routes, such as slants and skinny posts.  His game should actually be a nice complement to that of Austin & Bryant.

So suppose you have the requisite defensive line and linebackers to somehow halt the run without placing a safety in the box.  You can just sit back in Cover Two and stop the outside receivers, right?

Not a chance.  Disregarding the fact that Austin figures to be a terror in the slot this season, the Cowboys also have another pass-catcher roaming the middle of the field.  His name is Jason Witten, and he’s been arguably Dallas’ most reliable receiver over the last few seasons.  He hauled in 94 balls last year and he’s the final guy I’m mentioning. . .pretty scary stuff, huh?  Don’t forget the Cowboys also figure to utilize Witten more in the red zone this season.

2.  DeMarcus Ware & Anthony Spencer

If my “A” and “A-” overall grades for Ware and Spencer didn’t show how important they are to the ‘Boys, perhaps my ranking of the top 105 players in the NFL did.

Either way, the dominance of Ware and Spencer make the jobs of the men at No. 4 on this list much easier.  Ware led the league in pressures (by far) and Spencer set the pace for quarterback hits (by far).

Further, both players are outstanding against the run.  The importance of their presence cannot be overstated.

1. Tony Romo

I’ve used the following Michael Irvin quote a few times in various articles, but it really sums up my feelings on Romo:

Can we get Drew Bledsoe back out here (for) just a week so you guys can really fall back in love with Tony? Let’s put Drew Bledsoe back out here, because sometimes when you have a pretty girl for awhile, you forget how pretty she is. But when you throw the ugly girl next to her, you say, ‘No, I’m really doing well.’ Maybe we need to bring Drew out so we know we’re really doing well.

And Romo really is the “pretty girl” at the party.  How so?

Well, I could try to impress you with Romo’s 4,483 yards or 26:9 touchdown-to-interception ratio, but the truth is, Romo just needs to do what it takes to win in 2010.

And he’s done that in the past, posting an incredible 38-17 record to date. Of course, as fans, we want playoff wins.   We expect Romo to get to the playoffs.  But let’s not forget that these expectations only result from our overwhelming confidence in Romo.

Did we expect the same for Quincy Carter or Chad Hutchinson?  How about Ryan Leaf? Clint Stoerner?  Drew Henson?   How about the incomparable Brad Johnson, whose three-game stint in 2008 (should have) showed us how important Tony Romo is to the Dallas Cowboys.

This time, let’s not wait for a Romo injury before we realize his importance.  It’s easy to call for the backup when things aren’t going as planned, but true fans–the loyal ones–stick by their guy during times of adversity.  On which side of the fence will you be this season if the ‘Boys stumble out of the gate to a 4-4 start?  Will you be screaming for Kitna?  Or will you support your quarterback, knowing he is the most vital piece to the home Super Bowl puzzle?


By Jonathan Bales

Kyle Kosier Out 4-6 Weeks: How Does It Affect the Cowboys?

Left guard and backup center Kyle Kosier suffered a sprained MCL in this morning’s practice.  He will be out 4-6 weeks, meaning he will be unable to play in the season opener in Washington (and likely beyond).

The multitude of injuries for the Cowboys, particularly on the offensive line, is become a real concern.  Right tackle Marc Colombo is out 2-4 weeks with a knee injury and swing tackle Alex Barron is also out with a sprained ankle.

Kosier’s injury, though, may just be the most devastating.  At age 31, Kosier isn’t a pup anymore.  He could realistically be out the full six weeks, meaning he would miss the first three games of the regular season.

Meanwhile, both Colombo and Barron should be back for Week One.  At worst, Barron, an experienced tackle, would be back and ready to fill in for Colombo.

Montrae Holland will step in as the Cowboys’ starting left guard.  Holland has some experience, but he’s an obvious downgrade from Kosier, a player I believe is one of the Cowboys’ most underrated.  I gave him a “B” in my 2009 Offensive Line Grades, including a “B+” in pass protection.  He allowed only one sack all season.

With the Cowboys’ backup center now likely to miss the first few games of the season, the chance of Phil Costa making the team has increased.  I actually predicted he would make it either way in Version 3.0 of my 53-man roster projections.

An injury to starting center Andre Gurode would be crippling to the Cowboys, as their opening day starters could potentially include just one player from the rather healthy ’09 offensive line (right guard Leonard Davis).

By Jonathan Bales

“22 in 22,” Day Two: Hall of Fame Kickoff Events

“22 in 22,” Day Two: Emmitt Smith Media Session and Hall of Fame Kickoff Hot Air Balloon Media Flight

Note: This is the second part of a 22-part series.  Click to view Day 1.

Some might call it the single most defining moment in a player’s career.  Others might say it’s what it takes to be the best.

But, if you had to pinpoint the single most important quality it takes for you to reach sports highest pinnacle of success–where your dreams could one day become immortalized into the Pro Football Hall of Fame–what would you say it is?

What truly separates the 260+ players on this team from the 20,169 players on all other teams since pro football’s inception in 1892?  Surprisingly, it is not what you might guess.  It’s not ambition, luck, or talent.  The characteristic that defines the crème of the crop and what our own Emmitt Smith is made of is. . .commitment.

The commitment to become an all-time champion. . .

The commitment to defy all odds and win multiple Super Bowls. . .

The commitment to do whatever it takes to surpass the “unbreakable mark” and become the NFL’s all-time rushing leader.

To commemorate Emmitt’s achievement, Dallas Cowboys Times presents “22 in 22″: a tribute to perhaps the single greatest running back in NFL history.

In our “22 in 22″ Series, you will find various pictures, videos, and sound clips from Emmitt that we gathered while covering his Hall of Fame induction.

Per NFL rules, we can only post the video and audio clips for a 24 hour period, so be sure to check back each day as we commemorate the career of Emmitt Smith.

Don’t want to miss a day?  Sign up for our e-mail updates.

Special thanks to Lorei Reinhard and Eddie Canales, both of whom worked with our own Dave Kraft (bio coming shortly) in Canton to garner some awesome and unique footage of Emmitt which you will see over the next 21 days, as well as Nick Reinhard and Chris Canales (co-founder of gridironheroes.org) for their video editing assistance.

——————————

Below are two Dallas Cowboys Times exclusive videos from Hall of Fame weekend.  The first is a short segment from Emmitt Smith’s media session in which Emmitt talked about his “underdog” status.  He said:

History would tell you there’s no way the Dallas Cowboys should have picked Emmitt Smith.  There’s no way Emmitt Smith should be playing in the National Football League.

Watch the following video, shot by Dallas Cowboys Times correspondents Dave Kraft and Lorei Reinhard, to find out what else Emmitt told us.

Note: Per NFL rules, this video will only be available for 24 hours.  Visit NFL.com for more info.

Don’t want to miss an entry? Sign up for our e-mail updates.

VIDEO TAKEN DOWN PER NFL RULES

The two videos below are from the Hall of Fame Balloon Classic Invitational for media members.  The first is personal footage from Dave Kraft, and the second is the Balloon Classic from a grander perspective.  Enjoy.

“Time Warp 22″. . .Remember when?

With the 17th overall pick in the 1990 Draft, the Dallas Cowboys went “outside of the box” and selected a running back who was “too small and slow” for the NFL.  Smith went on to rush for 937 yards and score 11 touchdowns in his rookie season.

Emmitt’s Road to Canton

Finally, check out some pictures we took of Emmitt getting a bit teary-eyed in Canton. . .

By Jonathan Bales

“Grading the ‘Boys”: Preseason Week Two, Cowboys vs. Raiders

Jonathan Bales

My film study of the Oakland game is complete.  Thus far, I have posted my initial game reactions, things we learned from the contest, and final film study observations.

In my first “Grading the ‘Boys” from the Bengals game, I explained that it would be impossible for me to study every player as closely as I deem necessary for grading.  Instead, I watch a select group of players in great detail and report back to you on their performance.

WR Miles Austin:  A

Made a highlight catch and even got action on an end-around

NT Josh Brent: A-

Motor is second to none; I personally guarantee he makes this team

OT Robert Brewster: D-

Yielded another sack and looks over-matched at both left and right tackle

OG Travis Bright: D

Play must make Dallas extremely nervous about backup guard situation

LB Keith Brooking: A-

Lined up on tight end Zach Miller out wide and blanketed him

K David Buehler: A+

Looked sensational on field goals and kickoffs; struck the ball really well on all kicks

OLB Victor Butler: B

A small dip in production from Cincy game, but still solid outing

RT Marc Colombo: F

Gave up two sacks and didn’t dominate in run game

RB Herb Donaldson: C

Didn’t do much “wrong,” but lacks explosiveness

TE DajLeon Farr: B

Signed two days prior to game and no noticeable mental errors

LT Doug Free: C

Let Jon Kitna get sacked (although Kitna could have stepped up); must be more consistent

DE Jason Hatcher: B+

Really nice game after Stephen Bowen stood out against the Bengals

WR Jesse Holley: B

Stood out on special teams; always near the ball-carrier

LB Bradie James: A

All over the field, particularly against the pass

WR Manuel Johnson: D

Dropped pass led to pick-six in crucial situation

QB Jon Kitna: B

Getting flack, but did a fine job; made great audible to hit Sam Hurd on 32-yard pass

P Mat McBriar: A

So under-appreciated

CB Bryan McCann: B

Still shows poor technique at times, but looks natural in coverage; solid job on returns

QB Stephen McGee: C-

Leaves pocket too early; fails to hit check down in time; looks to be “thinking” too much

WR Kevin Ogletree: D

Two drops and poor field awareness once again

QB Tony Romo: C

Poor outing for Romo; held onto ball too long and missed a few open receivers

CB Orlando Scandrick: A

Has been Cowboys’ best cornerback through two games

NT Junior Siavii: B+

Showed toughness and plays the run nicely

CB Jamar Wall: C-

Can only play certain routes well; no way he makes 53-man roster in my opinion

LB Jason Williams: B+

Ironically flourishing in run support, but played pass better than Week One

LB Leon Williams: B+

Outplaying Steve Octavien and Curtis Johnson right now for roster spot

WR Roy Williams: C

Blanketed all night, but did face Nnamdi Asomugha

By Jonathan Bales

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.

By Jonathan Bales

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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