The Cowboys will eventually need to play better football as the season winds down, but for now, they’ll take wins however they can get them. Although they got outplayed by Miami for a large portion of yesterday’s contest, Dallas’ 20-19 win is just as good as a 41-0 blowout.
There are a variety of areas in which they can and must improve, though. Here are a few of my other thoughts from the game. . .
Why does Jason Garrett think it is smart to run basic, predictable plays when near the outer portion of field goal range and in position for a tying or go-ahead score?
When down three points or less late in games, Garrett gets ultra conservative once the offense crosses the opponent's 30-yard line. It is like he thinks a field goal is a sure thing (despite Dan Bailey's success, it isn't), and this is particularly detrimental when down just three points and a field goal only ties.
Stay with the normal offense and try to score a touchdown when down three, and at least run somewhat unpredictable plays if down by one or two. It worked out yesterday, but eventually it will come back to bite Dallas. I know this because the plays were–you guessed it–strong side dives from Double Tight Strong.
Although there may have been somewhat of a mix up on each of Tony Romo's interceptions, both of them were really on him. They were on the same route, although one should have been thrown deeper and one should have been back-shouldered.
You might recall that Romo was emphasizing back shoulder throws last preseason, but at this point it still remains perhaps his weakest throw. With Dez Bryant on the team, Romo's improvement in that area could be valuable for the offense.
What the heck is up with Doug Free? He committed three false start penalties, likely in an effort to get a step on Cameron Wake. I called for the Cowboys to double Wake quite often in my pre-game DOs and DON'Ts, but Dallas didn't go overboard with it. Wake had a solid game, and the Cowboys won in spite of his efforts.
Another reason this contest was so close is because the Cowboys really played horribly at cornerback, letting Brandon Marshall go off a bit. Terence Newman had a really weak game, Orlando Scandrick was bad, and Alan Ball was again horrific.
In my opinion, Ball needs to be cut.
I wasn't at all shocked Rob Ryan called so many blitzes, but I was a little surprised he didn't dial up many zone blitzes. I counted just a couple, but I thought he would want to send pressure with Cover 2 and similar looks behind it to limit Marshall.
He probably thinks Gerald Sensabaugh is playing well enough that Cover 1 (man underneath with Sensy free in the deep middle) is a smart coverage, and he's probably right. Even Sensabaugh's best play can't make up for Ball getting continually harassed by players like Brian Hartline, though.
Victor Butler had a really good game, save for one play when he got absolutely embarrassed by Reggie Bush. Bush took a pitch to the left and made Butler look like a fool. Phil Simms was commentating the game and noted Butler "did his job" by forcing Bush inside, but Simms is about the dumbest announcer on television. Sorry Victor, but falling on the ground from a move isn't "doing your job."
Maybe I was wrong on Matt Moore. I thought he wouldn't be able to continually beat Dallas deep, and he did. Better play from the cornerbacks stops that, but offenses will take advantage of a defense's weak link over and over. Until Ball is gone, expect him to get abused.
A week after the Cowboys were incredible on third down, they turned in just a two-for-nine performance on Thanksgiving. A lot of that came because the team got in a few 3rd and very long situations due to penalties. Dallas will be fine on third down moving forward.
DeMarco Murray's efficiency seems to fluctuate based on the types of runs which are called for him. I'm not sure why Garrett didn't call more outside runs yesterday, particularly against a Miami defense that is very stout up the middle.
I realize runs like counters are "riskier" than dives and not necessarily options in short-yardage situations, but Murray has been dominating on the perimeter. Even the dives which were successful yesterday came as a result of Murray bouncing them outside.
Tyron Smith seems to have one bad penalty every game, but he's still doing a nice job on the right side. Surprisingly, his pass protection is what needs the most work, as he's been dominating in the running game.
Kenyon Coleman continues to play really good football, reinforcing the decision to cut Igor Olshansky. He's been the Cowboys' top defensive end in 2011, even outperforming a rejuvenated Marcus Spears.
I still love Dan Bailey.