Dallas Cowboys Week 4 Report Card: Grading Every Unit

Bleacher ReportCorrespondent IIOctober 2, 2011

Dallas Cowboys Week 4 Report Card: Grading Every Unit

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    Total, abject failure. 

    That's what the Dallas Cowboys managed to accomplish in the second half of their complete collapse to the upstart Detroit Lions

    After playing their best half of football all year, the Cowboys simply broke down in every facet of the game after halftime.

    It was an inexcusable, disgrace of a performance that led to the largest come-back loss in Cowboys history. 

    Jerry Jones cannot be happy with his team today.

    It's a good thing for the Cowboys that they are entering their bye week, because they have a lot of things to work on right now.  

Defensive Backs

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    It was a tail of two halves for the Cowboys' defensive backs. 

    In the first half, they shut down the Lions' passing attack as Matthew Stafford started 9-23 for 88 yards and an interception. 

    Both Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins saw time opposite Calvin Johnson in the first half, and they both did a good job limiting his opportunities. 

    Brandon Pettigrew was almost non-existent in the first half. Sean Lee and Gerald Sensabaugh were doing a great job in coverage on him. 

    The entire tenor of the game changed when Sensabaugh got hurt. 

    In the second half, the Cowboys allowed Stafford to complete 12 of 20 passes for 152 yards and two touchdowns. 

    Tony Romo might have let Detroit back in the game, but Rob Ryan's defense didn't do much to make sure they didn't steal it. 

    Dallas' corners started giving too much cushion to Johnson, and Stafford was allowed to fire slants to him for pretty much the entire second half, which eventually opened up the fade route when the Cowboys did try to play press coverage on him.

    Stafford narrowly missed Calvin for a touchdown with the Lions trailing by six early in the fourth quarter, and the Lions had to settle for a field goal on that drive.

    Newman later allowed Calvin a free jump ball for the game winning touchdown. 

    The Cowboys had 12 men on the field on the play, but Newman was the only man covering Johnson and he did a pretty terrible job. 

    Grade: C-


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    The Cowboys came into this game leading the NFL in sacks, but they failed to record one against a leaky Lions offensive line.  

    The pass rush started strong but faded in the second half. 

    Dallas' outside linebackers, especially backup Victor Butler, did a terrific job getting pressure on Matthew Stafford in the first half of the game. 

    Butler and DeMarcus Ware both kept Stafford from getting comfortable in the pocket, as the Cowboys' defense harassed him to the tune of eight hits and seven knockdowns on his 23 drop backs in the first half. 

    Every time Stafford hit the top of his drop back, there was enough pressure from one side or the other to either force an inaccurate throw off his back foot or cause him to try to move around in the pocket to buy more time. 

    Sean Lee had another excellent first half, making plays behind the line of scrimmage in the running game and diving to deflect a pass intended for Calvin Johnson.

    If grades were given at the end of the first half, I would have had no choice but to give this group an A. 

    In the second half, the Cowboys' defense sat on the sideline for an extremely long period of time as Romo threw back-to-back pick sixes, and they seemed to lose their edge when they got back on the field. 

    Brandon Pettigrew started finding holes in front of and between the linebackers early in the second half and that opened up the passing lanes for Calvin Johnson to get going. 

    The ferocious pass rush of the first half was no longer there, and DeMarcus Ware always seemed to be just a half second late in getting Stafford, even though he was abusing left tackle Jeff Backhus to the point that Backhus was removed from the game. 

    Ryan started to get much less aggressive with his defensive play calling once Gerald Sensabaugh was knocked out of the game, keeping more linebackers in coverage instead of sending six or seven rushers at Stafford. 

    This took some of the edge away from the linebackers, and they suffered in the second half. 

    Grade: C+

Defensive Line

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    Like the rest of the Cowboys' defense, the defensive line was much better in the first half than it was in the second half. 

    Jay Ratliff consistently got push up the middle, which was causing Stafford to be uncomfortable in the middle of the pocket.

    He had to move around a lot in the pocket, which led to being hit by Victor Butler and DeMarcus Ware multiple times. 

    Stafford was hit eight times and knocked down seven times on 23 first-half drop backs. 

    This changed in the second half as well.

    Ratliff did not get as much in the middle of the offensive line, and Stafford was able to sit and read the defense at the top of his drop back. 

    Defensive ends Kenyon Coleman and Marcus Spears were pretty much invisible all day. They combined for two tackles.

    In fact, the most notable contribution from a Cowboys' defensive end came on special teams, with Sean Lissemore's big kickoff return. 

    Not a good day for this unit at all. 

    It was so bad that there's not even a picture of any Cowboys' defensive lineman in the Getty images index for this week's game. 

    Grade: C-

Passing Game: Wide Receivers, Tight Ends, Offensive Line

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    Tony Romo is clearly getting his own slide; so I'm going to tackle the rest of the passing game in groups here, without mentioning Romo's interceptions. 


    Wide Receivers:

    Laurent Robinson is the third best wide receiver on the team. 

    I think that's become pretty clear after this week. In just his second week with the team, Robinson caught seven passes for 116 yards and already clearly has Romo's trust.

    He's earned the right to be the third receiver when Miles Austin comes back from injury after Dallas' Week 5 bye.  

    Kevin Ogletree has no command of the playbook and even less command of the rules of football. KO was seen arguing that his catch should have been a touchdown when neither of his feet were in the end zone at the time of the catch. 

    Dez Bryant had another dominant first half and another disappearing act in the second half. It was eerily reminiscent of his performance against the New York Jets

    Bryant caught another two touchdown passes, but he was nonexistent during the Cowboys' second-half collapse.

    He's clearly a big time talent, but he needed to step up when the Cowboys were struggling, and he was nowhere to be found. 

    The Cowboys sorely missed Miles Austin and his telepathic connection with Romo this week. 

    Grade: B-


    Tight Ends:

    Jason Witten had another typically strong game, catching eight passes for 94 yards and a touchdown. 

    However, he had some uncharacteristic miscommunications with Romo, and it led to some points for the Lions. 

    On a third down in the second half, Romo threw to Witten's back shoulder when Witten thought the route was supposed to be up the seam.

    On another Cowboys possession, Romo was looking for Witten again because there was no high safety, but he threw off his back foot and under threw the ball. Witten didn't even attempt to come back to knock the pass down. 

    Witten also looked hesitant after catching the ball on the Cowboys' final drive. He had that hesitant look against the Jets when only Eric Smith stood between him and the end zone as well, and it returned this week. 

    Martellus Bennett caught a nice screen pass for a first down in the first half; later on in the game, however, he dropped one on the same exact play. 

    He proceeded to get hurt. Might be time to cut ties with Marty B. 

    Grade: B

    Offensive Line:

    Tyron Smith picked a really bad time to give up the first sack of his young career. 

    Smith got blown up by defensive end Cliff Avril on the Cowboys' second to last play, and Romo was dropped hard while the Boys had no timeouts left. 

    The Cowboys' offensive line was nearly flawless in the first half. 

    Romo had 24 first-half drop backs, was hit just one time and wasn't knocked down once.

    The Lions started getting pressure in the second half, especially from Ndamukong Suh and Corey Williams. 

    Romo didn't have nearly as much time to set his feet and throw the football.

    If Suh isn't in his face, the interception on the throw to Witten probably doesn't happen because he can get his whole weight behind the throw and get it over the top of the linebacker underneath Witten's route. 

    Grade: B-

Running Game: Running Backs, Offensive Line

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    Running Backs:

    The Cowboys ran for 113 yards on 27 carries, which makes it look like they had a much more effective rushing attack than they actually did on Sunday. 

    Felix Jones gained just 57 yards on his 16 carries, 19 of which came on the same play, and he failed to get into the open field like he did against the Redskins a week ago. 

    Tashard Choice actually looked like the Cowboys' best back, gaining 39 yards on his six carries, good for a 6.5 yards per carry average. 

    DeMarco Murray has yet to get going in his rookie season, and his four carries totaled just 12 yards. 

    Grade: C-


    Offensive Line:

    The offensive line again failed to get much push in the running game. 

    When called upon to convert on 4th and goal from the Lions' one-yard line with the Cowboys up 7-0, the offensive line couldn't create a lane for Felix Jones and Suh made an easy tackle. 

    In the second half, with the Cowboys leading 27-3, the Cowboys couldn't get their run game going long well enough to not put the game back into Tony Romo's hands. 

    The Cowboys were 28th in the league in rushing yards per game coming into this one for a reason, they're not good at running the football. 

    Grade: D+

Special Teams

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    Dan Bailey is quickly earning the confidence of Cowboys fans. 

    He has a strong leg and seems to hit most of his kicks right down the middle. 

    His booming kickoffs this week would seemingly make David Buehler irrelevant and eminently cuttable, but Jerry Jones loves the guy so I doubt it happens. 

    Mat McBriar had his usual strong game punting the football, even booting one 68 yards for a touchback. 

    The Cowboys' coverage units gave up an average of 25.8 yards per return to Stefan Logan, which is not great but not terrible either. 

    Dwayne Harris did a decent job returning punts and kicks, and Sean Lissemore had a surprising 38 yard kickoff return. 

    Special teams was not nearly the problem for the Cowboys—this unit was solid. 

    Grade: A-

Tony Romo

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    Tony Romo played what I was calling the best football of his career for two quarters and one drive, and then it all fell apart. 

    He started the game 23 of 28 for 234 yards and three touchdowns. 

    He ended it 31 for 37 with 331 yards, three touchdowns and three back-breaking interceptions. 

    Romo was flat out masterful for two quarters and two and a half minutes. 

    He was carving the Lions' secondary to pieces. 

    In fact, his performance was eerily reminiscent of what he did to the New York Jets in Week 1 before all hell started to break loose in that game. 

    Romo was controlling the entire flow of the game in the first half.

    He was getting the Cowboys in and out of the huddle extremely quickly, freeing him to change the play at the line of scrimmage—which he did multiple times in the first half. 

    On the Cowboys' first drive of the game, Romo checked from a pass to a run on 2nd and 13, which led to a Tashard Choice nine yard run. 

    Romo hit Dez Bryant to go up 7-0 on the next play. 

    He did an expert job of varying his snap count in the first half as well.

    He had the Cowboys snapping the ball on two throughout much of the first half, and was later able to draw the Lions offside by going on three late in the first half and catch them off guard by snapping on one soon after. 

    Romo led another great drive to open the second half, working to Laurent Robinson to get right down the field and then finding Jason Witten in the back of the end zone for six points. 

    And then...

    And then, everything started to fall apart. 

    Quite simply, it was the worst half of football I've ever seen Romo play. 

    With your team up 27-3, you simply cannot turn the ball over and let the opposition back in the game. 

    You should not be forcing throws into tight spaces when you don't need to. 

    Romo did everything wrong in the second half, there's no way around it. 

    He handed the game to the Lions, much like he handed the game to the Jets in Week 1. 

    Romo threw a momentum-changing interception to his good friend Bobby Carpenter to give the Lions some life. 

    Then, just when it looked like the Cowboys were going to score and put the game away again, Romo made another inexcusable throw and got picked for six by Chris Houston

    On their next drive, Romo missed a man in the end zone on second and goal which could have put them back up by 17. Instead, the Cowboys settled for a field goal and a 13-point lead. 

    Romo had two big miscommunications with his favorite target Witten, leading to an incomplete pass and his final interception. 

    With the Cowboys still leading by three, there was no reason to attempt to throw over two defenders to Witten off of his back foot.

    It's an absolutely horrible play, and it cost the Cowboys the football game. 

    Romo looked like he may have been able to redeem himself by quickly moving the Cowboys down the field on their last drive of the game, but it was to no avail as he wound up taking a terrible sack on third down and then checking down to Felix Jones in the flat on fourth and 20. 

    This was Romo's worst performance in a long time. 

    Grade: F

Coaching: Jason Garrett and Rob Ryan

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    Jason Garrett:

    Jason Garrett did an atrocious job today. 

    I'd like to credit him for calling a good game in the first half, but it seemed like Romo changed nearly every play call at the line of scrimmage, so I'm not going to.

    Garrett did do a nice job on the two-minute drill play-calling to end the first half, however. 

    The Lions expected the Cowboys to come out and pass in the two-minute drill, so Garrett hit them with a draw and a screen on the first two plays of the drive, which kept them off balance. 

    The best play call of the day was when Kevin Ogletree came on a fake reverse and then re-routed himself to the flat for a pass that nearly resulted in a touchdown. 

    Romo found Witten for a score on play-action on the next play. 

    Garrett's refusal to run the football up 27-3 is inexcusable.

    There is no reason for Tony Romo to have thrown the ball 47 times in a game that the Cowboys led by 24 in the third quarter. 

    It's not like the Lions were shutting down the Cowboys' run game either, they averaged 4.2 yards per carry on the day. 

    Especially once it became clear that Romo was basically trying to give the game away, it made much more sense to run the ball, but Garrett never did. 

    With the Cowboys up 30-27, Garrett called for a pass on first down when all the Boys needed to do was run the ball and waste the clock. 

    Romo might have let the Lions back in the game, but he didn't get much help from his head coach and play caller. 

    Grade: F

    Rob Ryan

    For all of his bragging and trash talk this week, Rob Ryan didn't do very much to back it up. 

    The defense was flat out terrible in the second half. 

    Ryan seemed to get much more conservative with his play calling after Gerald Sensabaugh left the game with an injury. 

    The Cowboys were doing a great job of getting pressure on Matthew Stafford by sending more blitzers than the Lions' leaky offensive line could block in the first half, but Ryan seemed to take his foot off the gas in the second half once Romo let the Lions back in the game. 

    Ryan talked a lot this week about how he wasn't that scared of Calvin Johnson, but he didn't play that way in the second half. 

    The Cowboys' corner backs started backing off Johnson in the second half, which gave Stafford a free lane to fire slants to Johnson. 

    When the Boys' corners stepped back up, Stafford looked for Calvin on fade routes. 

    Rob's defense looked scared and in awe of the Lions in the second half, as opposed to the tough-talking swaggering bunch that showed up in the first half of the game. 

    Grade: F