Dallas Cowboys vs. Detroit Lions: Week 11 Post-Game Recap, Observations

Jonathan BalesAnalyst INovember 21, 2010

ARLINGTON, TX - NOVEMBER 21:  Running back Marion Barber #24 of the Dallas Cowboys carries the ball against defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch #93 at Cowboys Stadium on November 21, 2010 in Arlington, Texas. The Cowboys beat the Lions 35-19.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

These post-game reviews are always so much more fun after the ‘Boys win.  Although they came out of the gate slowly today, Dallas was able to secure enough big plays in the second half to allow fans to breathe easy late in the fourth quarter.  Here are some points of interest I wrote during the contest:

  • It may be getting old, but I don’t understand why Marion Barber is still starting.  Jason Garrett dismissed talk of Barber breaking the team’s new dress code last week, but his absence from the starting lineup then and presence now leads me to believe the former was punishment and not a shakeup of the lineup.
  • I counted three or four times when the Cowboys ran weak side out of "Double Tight I" (below).  As I’ve mentioned before, they tend to do this after motioning Jason Witten across the formation (they start in "Double Tight Left/Right I").  Witten’s motion is probably a decoy because they run to the spot he just vacated.  This run would clearly work best when the Cowboys are anticipating man coverage (as the linebacker/safety assigned to Witten would likely follow him).

  • On the first drive, the Cowboys ran a playaction pass on 2nd-and-goal from the 1-yard line.  I really didn’t like the call, as running the ball from that position on the field is generally better than passing (see chart below).  After the play was unsuccessful, Jon Kitna checked into a fade to Dez Bryant on 3rd-and-goal for a touchdown.  I generally loathe fades by the goal line, but Bryant’s ball skills are forcing me to alter my views a bit.  I’ll have to do a study on the effectiveness of such play-calls.

Courtesy of AdvancedNFLStats.com

  • If I was the coach (which probably only has, like, a five percent chance of happening), David Buehler would be cut.  With his game-changing kick power gone, are we really supposed to believe there isn’t a free agent kicker who couldn’t be as effective as him?
  • Orlando Scandrick is playing really well of late, and the difference in his game is confidence.  It is the top trait a cornerback must possess and his body language alone is a strong indicator that he’s regained his swagger.
  • I loved the Cowboys’ defensive looks in the first half.  They gave the Lions a lot of exotic looks, including a bunch of fake blitzes, which never happened under Wade Phillips.  They also blitzed the “unexpected” guys like Scandrick.  When they do that, good things tends to happen.  Blitzing a nickel cornerback isn’t inherently optimum, of course, but it works because offenses really don’t prepare their protections for it.
  • Jason Hatcher had perhaps his best game as a Cowboy.  He recorded a sack, but more than that his energy and disruption allowed some other guys to make plays.  This was what I was expecting when I made a prognosis about Hatcher in my 2010 Dallas Cowboys bold predictions.
  • You probably noticed that the Cowboys used Anthony Spencer much more often in a traditional 4-3 linebacker spot (as opposed to the usual 3-4 edge position for an outside linebacker).  Spencer (and even Ware a couple times) lined up over the center quite a bit.  You can bet the offense notices this and likely doesn’t prepare much for it during the week.  How would you like to be a center and look up to see Jay Ratliff and Spencer lined up over you?  This unique defensive alignment is something we didn’t see much under Phillips.
  • Late in the first quarter, Spencer sacked Shaun Hill and the Lions were called for holding.  The Cowboys accepted the penalty instead of taking the sack, which looked to be about a five-yard loss.  I have no idea what Garrett was thinking.
  • Any fans still want to talk smack on Kitna?  We can all thank Brad Johnson’s presence a few years ago for Kitna’s now, as the Cowboys put a priority on securing a high-quality backup after witnessing Johnson’s play.
  • Wow, the Cowboys are lucky to still have Bryan McCann.  He followed up his 101-yard pick-six last week with a 98-yard punt return touchdown this week.  I know you’ve all seen the play, and I was most impressed with McCann’s intelligence on it.  The rookie knew that after a Lion touched the ball, nothing bad could happen.  I mean that literally, as even if he fumbled the ball and lost it, the ‘Boys would still retain possession at the spot at which it was initially touched by Detroit.  The kid simply looks like a playmaker...but what’s with getting tackled by the kicker in the open-field?
  • I love Bryant’s effort after making catches, but there are times when he simply needs to go down.  The upside of his run-after-catch ability is limited when there are three guys surrounding him.  Once he’s wrapped up and there are other defenders around, he should end the play.  It isn’t giving up—it is playing intelligently.  He could risk injury, a fumble, or lose forward progress (which has already happened a handful of times).  Again, love the effort and attitude, as long as it is implemented in an intelligent manner.
  • The Cowboys weren’t faced with any crucial 4th-down plays, but the Lions were, and they did Dallas a favor.  With a 4th-and-1 in Cowboys territory, Detroit punted.  I’m not sure of their exact position, but no matter where it was, the decision was a poor one (for Detroit).  See the chart below.

  • I don’t have specific evidence of this, but it seems like Kitna uses a hard count more often than Romo.  He drew the Lions offsides a couple of times today in pretty crucial situations.
  • Felix Jones’ fumble just before halftime was a killer.  That cannot happen in that situation, as the upside of the drive is very limited inside your own 10-yard line with less than a minute remaining.  It’s a shame it took that and an injury to Jones for Tashard Choice to receive snaps.  I thought Choice displayed good vision, quickness and balance when he did get in.
  • At this point, Marc Colombo is a huge detriment to the Cowboys.  He must be one of the league’s worst starting offensive tackles.  He’s slow-footed, horrible in pass protection and not particularly devastating in the run game.  Dallas will need to move on from him in 2011.
  • Sean Lee played pretty well today.  He took nice angles to the ball, using “inside-out” leverage in the open-field to not allow runners to cut back.  He also forced a big fumble in the third quarter.
  • Despite his late interception, Terence Newman had his worst game of the season.  He displayed poor hips on a bunch of plays and once again missed a potential interception just before halftime (which ended up being a touchdown to Nate Burleson).  He even took poor angles and didn’t break down when trying to tackle.
  • The Cowboys gave up a sack on a play in which Barber lined up at fullback, Bryant motioned to tailback, and they faked the ball to both players (a dive to Barer and a toss to Bryant).  I loved the play-call, even though it didn’t work.  The ‘Boys have handed the ball to Barber basically every play he’s lined up at fullback this season, so I think they can come back to the look at a later time.  They used a similar play last year against the Giants and it went for a touchdown.
  • Keith Brooking really isn’t a starting-quality linebacker anymore.  He’s been awful all season in coverage.  It’s Sean Lee time, in my opinion.
  • We saw the Ratliff of old today.  He was incredibly disruptive, utilizing his quickness to terrorize the Lions’ interior linemen.  Perhaps some of his success came from Spencer’s presence behind him on a plethora of snaps.
  • What are the chances of Kitna running for a 29-yard touchdown?  10,000 to 1?  That was awesome.