Dallas Cowboys: Breaking Down the Loss To the Philadelphia Eagles

Jonathan BalesAnalyst IDecember 13, 2010

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 12:  Quarterback Michael Vick #7 of the Philadelphia Eagles drops back to pass against Anthony Spencer #93 of the Dallas Cowboys at Cowboys Stadium on December 12, 2010 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Let’s get right into it…

  • As I anticipated, DeMarcus Ware lined up on the left side of the defense more often than usual.  He made a lot of plays over there, including putting a lot of pressure on Michael Vick from his blind side and forcing Vick’s second interception while being aligned there.
  • The Cowboys are running way too many draws following “kill” calls (when Jon Kitna checks out of the first play he called in the huddle and gets the offense into the second play).  If I was an opposing defensive coordinator, I would tell my players that if we line up in a safe-looking coverage and a “kill” call comes, a draw is coming.
  • That’s why the 3rd-and-goal touchdown pass on the Cowboys’ initial drive worked so well.  Kitna “killed” the first play and the Eagles, who weren’t initially showing blitz, immediately moved into position to defend the draw.  Still, the rate of draws following “kill” calls doesn’t need to be so high, even considering the big plays that can come from Kitna’s checks when the team doesn’t run a draw.
  • The Cowboys are running a lot of screens to Felix Jones, which is good, but why are nearly all of them swing passes?  I realize Garrett wants to get Jones on the edge, but the “swing screens” are coming from the same formations and becoming too predictable, as I twice forecasted screens to Jones before the snap in tonight’s game alone.
  • With an early 4th-and-4 at the Eagles’ 39-yard line, why did the Cowboys punt?  I’m not going to bring up the fourth-down chart again, but at 4-8, what is there to lose?  Plus, like it or not, punting is the risky play in that situation.
  • Sean Lee looks better at the point of attack lately.  The linebacker did get lost a couple times tonight, but he’s taking on blocks much better and just looks more comfortable flowing to the football.
  • Bryan McCann now has three fumbles despite a limited number of touches.
  • I thought the roughing-the-passer penalty on Anthony Spencer was bogus.  Yeah, his helmet grazed the bottom of Vick’s, but come on.  Spencer should have been called for a late hit a little earlier, though, so I guess order was restored.
  • With well over a minute left in the first half and the Cowboys at their own 40-yard line, the team showed absolutely no urgency.  They huddled up instead of going into a hurry-up offense, and when Kevin Ogletree later converted a third down, there was only 25 seconds left in the half.  Garrett still needs a lot of work on his clock management.
  • I’m not sure why the Cowboys kicked a 50-yard field goal with a first down and 13 seconds left before halftime.  They didn’t have any timeouts, but I think attempting a quick-hitting out route (with Kitna rolling out) was worth the risk.  There’s a big difference between a 45-yard field goal and a 50-yarder, and rolling Kitna out of the pocket would allow him to throw the ball away with worrying about intentional grounding.
  • David Buehler was impressive on his two field goal attempts, though.  His kickoffs were sub-par (for him, anyway).
  • I absolutely loathed Garrett’s overall play-calling in this game.  Where were the shots downfield?  I will get you the numbers tomorrow, but I’d be shocked if Kitna attempted more than five passes of 15-plus yards all night.  And although I haven’t watched the film yet, big plays appeared available for the taking.
  • I thought the Cowboys should have attempted a two-point conversion after going up 19-14 in the third quarter.  Uninformed fans (and analysts, unfortunately) will tell you “it’s too early to go for two,” but that makes no sense.  No, literally—the sentence is meaningless.  What does it even mean “it’s too early?”  Since two-point conversions and extra point attempts hold roughly the same expected point value, it is never too early to go for two.  Actually, anytime you score a touchdown and are up five points, you should go for two.  At that point, the chances of your opponent scoring a touchdown is far more likely than them kicking two field goals.  And even if they do kick two field goals, you’d only be tied if you kicked an extra point.  A two-point conversion would put you up one point.
  • Here’s the math...suppose the chances of converting the two-point conversion were only 45 percent (which is an extremely modest estimation, since the league-wide conversion rate is closer to 50 percent).  Also presume the extra point conversion rate is 100 percent (which is clearly not the case, especially with Buehler kicking it).  The expected points of the two-point try is 0.9, while the expected points of the extra point is obviously 1.0.  Now the question is how likely it will be that the Cowboys, winning 19-14, will need the “extra” point that comes from a two-point conversion.
  • Let’s suppose there was only 20 seconds left.  Clearly the Cowboys would go for two since the Eagles would only try to score a touchdown—a five-point lead is the same as a six-point lead, for all practical purposes.  Since the expected points of a two-point conversion is nearly the same as an extra point, there’s also no practical difference between 30 seconds left in the game and 30 minutes remaining.  Any minuscule difference in expected points is overruled by the chances of Dallas losing by one point if they choose to go up by six points instead of attempting to go up by seven.  Either way, it’s never too early to go for two.
  • When Orlando Scandrick blitzes, good things tend to happen.  It isn’t that blitzing Scandrick is inherently optimal, but rather it contains an element of surprise for the offense.
  • Terence Newman had a really poor game.  Other than one nice tackle in the open field, he just looked like he lacked all confidence.
  • I loved the decision to go for it on 4th-and-8 at midfield late in the game.  The Cowboys were down 10 points with under six minutes left, and there was no way they could give the ball back to Vick.  Before that, however, the offense should have been in hurry-up mode.  Considering the Cowboys’ new uptempo practices under Garrett, they sure do lack a sense of urgency in crucial times.
  • At the end of the game, the Cowboys’ defense needed to stop LeSean McCoy on the ground.  They knew runs were coming, and they still got gashed.  That was really disheartening.

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