What a nerve-racking and heart-pounding game for Dallas this week in Indianapolis. The ‘Boys were able to overcome a multitude of mistakes to take down Peyton Manning and the Colts, due in large part to their four interceptions of the All-World quarterback. I will break down the game film tomorrow, but take a look at my initial thoughts below.
- Sean Lee was a beast today. The linebacker picked off Manning twice and made a lot of other plays, specifically in the passing game. He can thank Mike Jenkins for his second pick, but the first was a tremendous play by the rookie in what appeared to be Cover 2. It’s clear to me that Lee now deserves the opportunity to start over Keith Brooking.
- Brooking was awful once again today. There are times when he can stick with guys in coverage, but the consistency just isn’t there. Too often he’s getting turned around and beaten in space.
- Dez Bryant has a fractured ankle, and his season is over. It’s a big blow to this offense, but at least it didn’t happen in a season during which the team held playoff hopes.
- Tashard Choice’s early score was sick. The burst he showed is incomparable to that of Marion Barber, and comparing the two is disrespectful to Choice. I truly believe Barber would have been tackled for a loss on that play because, unlike Choice, he dances in the backfield way, way too much. By the way, the move Choice made at the 5-yard line to juke two defenders was nasty.
- You may have noticed the Cowboys used a four-man line for the majority of the game. It was their nickel defensive line: DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer/Victor Butler at defensive ends, and a combination of the regular defensive ends and nose tackles at defensive tackle. Jay Ratliff was on the field for most of the game, but Igor Olshansky, Josh Brent, Jason Hatcher and Stephen Bowen all rotated at the other defensive tackle spot.
- When the ‘Boys weren’t in a "40" front (four-man line), they didn’t line up in their traditional defense. Instead of placing two outside linebackers on the edges of the defensive line, the Cowboys used one of the outside linebackers in a more traditional middle linebacker spot. That player (usually Butler or Spencer) would either rush up the middle or drop into coverage.
- That look gave Indy some trouble early, but I think Manning and the Colts got used to it by the end of the game. Dallas got very little pass rush late in the contest, and I thought it should have switched up its scheme. It was nice to give Manning a look he wasn’t expecting, but you have to constantly adjust because you know he will be doing the same.
- Manning took the Colts into a true no-huddle, hurry-up offense for almost the entire game (as opposed to their usual “muddle huddle”) in an effort to keep Dallas from switching personnel. I think Manning liked the idea of Brooking on the field against any of the Colts’ skill position players.
- On Manning’s first interception, the Cowboys were in Cover 1. That’s man coverage with a free safety deep. It was obvious that Alan Ball was instructed to shade Reggie Wayne’s side heavily, and he did a fair job of doing that. On that pick, Manning forced the ball to Wayne and Ball did a nice job of reading the quarterback and making a play.
- On the Cowboys’ second drive, Jon Kitna checked into a draw play on 3rd-and-5 in Colts territory. The Cowboys converted and I loved the decision by the veteran quarterback.
- On that same drive, Jason Garrett bypassed a 4th-and-1 attempt at the Colts’ 12-yard line for a field goal. Later in the game, the Cowboys punted on 4th-and-less than a yard at midfield. They should have gone for it on both occasions, and the statistics bear that out. Factor in their record, and the decision to be more aggressive becomes a no-brainer to me.
- I think Orlando Scandrick’s pick-six was the result of film study. The Colts love to run combination routes with the inside receiver running an ‘out’ or ‘corner’ route. Scandrick sat on the route and then used his athleticism and instincts to secure the interception and take it for six.
- I have major issues with Garrett’s play-calling and clock management at the end of the half and game. The Cowboys showed very little urgency before halftime this week and wasted precious seconds before using their timeouts. The coach should know whether he will call a timeout or not before a play, not after it while the clock is running.
- I know David Buehler made the game-winning field goal in overtime, but am I the only person that wasn’t comfortable with a 37-yard attempt? Once Dallas was in field-goal range, they ran the predictable strong side dive from “Double Tight Strong,” telling me they were content with the field-goal try. A lot of teams get ultra-conservative in these situations, but why? You can be safe and still try to get the ball into the end zone.
When you combine Buehler’s inconsistency with the limited upside of the plays Garrett was calling, I thought settling for a field goal try in overtime was a lower percentage play than being slightly more aggressive and trying to score a touchdown.
- Speaking of “Double Tight Strong,” the Cowboys ran a strong-side dive from the formation at least six times in the fourth quarter and overtime. Most of them came down by the goal line on their final regulation touchdown drive. Had the offense not been bailed out by the penalty called on Indy during their field goal try, the predictability of the plays would have cost the ‘Boys the game.
- I don’t know why teams don’t use a quarterback sneak more when they have less than a yard to go for a first down or touchdown. Dallas had a second and goal from the half-yard line late in the game and threw a slant to Miles Austin. Why not sneak the ball, then sneak the ball, then sneak the ball again? Are you telling me you can’t gain half a yard in three tries?
- Another major issue I have with the Cowboys’ short-yardage and goal-line play-calling is that it nearly always comes out of tight formations. Sure you have more blockers, but you also force the offense to block more defenders. Ever notice how much more successful the Cowboys appear to be when running the ball out of spread formations? A study on this subject will definitely come this week.
- I loved the call to bring out the punt unit on a 4th-and-short, but then line up in the Wildcat. It forced the Colts to burn a timeout, although I wish they hadn’t, as Dallas ended up making a mistake by punting.
- I think I figured out why Marc Colombo is struggling. He saves his energy during the play so that after it, he can rush to the quarterback and help him up from being sacked by the guy Colombo was supposed to block. I’m sure Kitna appreciates Colombo’s help, but I think he’d appreciate it even more if Marc didn’t get him killed five seconds prior.
- The Cowboys left Doug Free on an island for most of the game, and the left tackle struggled to consistently block Dwight Freeney. It’s such a difficult task to block that guy one-on-one, and Dallas always has to make sure it aids Colombo first. There are only so many guys that can stay in to block, but I thought Garrett should have used Martellus Bennett and Jason Witten to help Free a bit more often.
- The blocked punt appeared to be the fault of Jesse Holley. He just whiffed on his block.
- Most of the “offensive balance” the Cowboys have displayed in their wins has been the result of late runs that came after Dallas had already secured a lead. That wasn’t the case today. The ‘Boys pounded it all day long, including 14 runs on their 18-play touchdown drive near the end of regulation. Good idea to take advantage of a very undersized defense.
More observations to come tomorrow after I break down the film.
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