The sky is falling in Dallas. The Cowboys are 0-2 and have looked undisciplined and even unmotivated in their losses. I wrote yesterday why now, more than ever, we need to support our ‘Boys.
While I’m still frustrated over the loss, there’s a substantial difference between my attitude today and my attitude yesterday. I’m now in a more suitable state of mind to perform objective (or as close to it as possible) analysis. I’ve broken down the film and I’m ready to analyze my pre-game Cowboys-Bears Manifesto and Game Plan. Here are my initial post-game notes if you missed them.
Let’s start by answering a few of my “What to Watch” questions. . .
Analyzing “What to Watch” for Dallas vs. Chicago
Will Kyle Kosier and Marc Colombo return from injury? If not, who will start in their places?
Both returned. Kosier got called once for holding, but overall played fairly well. Colombo yielded some pressure, but like Kosier, he didn’t give up a sack. He also got called for two false starts. Both players did okay for their first game back and were significant upgrades over their replacements.
Will the Cowboys continue to blitz often against Chicago’s porous offensive line or will they try to get pressure without sending extra rushers?
This was one of my biggest pet peeves of the game. The Cowboys were putting significant pressure on Jay Cutler early in the game with just four rushers. Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware looked unblockable.
For whatever reason, though, Wade Phillips decided to start blitzing, and it backfired. The touchdown pass to Greg Olsen which got the Bears rolling was against a blitz, as were a few other game-changing Chicago plays.
Will the Bears’ aerial attack cause any problems, particularly over the middle of the field, for the Cowboys’ defense?
Yes. Olsen was obviously a match-up problem for Dallas. So was Matt Forte, who the Cowboys bottled up pretty well until late in the game, when he caught an easy touchdown over Michael Hamlin.
If you remember, Johnny Knox also caught a deep ball over the middle on a crucial 3rd and 15 play early in the game. It was a rare poor game for Mike Jenkins, and a seemingly common poor one for Alan Ball.
Can the Cowboys finally get some takeaways from the league’s most turnover-friendly quarterback?
No. I am thoroughly convinced that Phillips has been sending unnecessary pressure in an effort to force takeaways, but in my opinion, that is the wrong way to go about things. Simply by random luck, the Cowboys could have expected more takeaways this season if they had played exactly the same as last season. If they play sound, responsible defense, the takeaways will come.
Instead, they are pressing the issue, and getting burned in the process. It may seem ironic, but I think the answer to creating more turnovers is to forget about them. Play your assignments (in an aggressive manner), and they will come.
Will the Bears take a page from Washington’s playbook and creatively disguise their blitzes?
Yes they did, and you can bet pretty much every team in the future will be doing the same thing. Tony Romo has shown he struggles when he’s unsure of where pressure might come.
The Bears didn’t blitz nearly as much was Washington, but they did disguise them. Of their 12 blitzes, they only showed blitz seven times, and on multiple occasions they brought pressure from defenders who weren’t showing blitz.
More importantly, the Bears showed blitz 16 times without actually sending extra rushers. This confused the Cowboys’ line and Romo at times.
Overall, Chicago blitzed or showed blitz on 28 of the Cowboys’ 71 offensive plays (39.4 percent), although that percentage is deceiving since the Bears didn’t blitz any of the final 15 plays.
Can the Cowboys’ receivers take advantage of the Bears’ slightly weak cornerbacks Zackary Bowman and Charles Tillman?
Well, Miles Austin did. He’s showing why the Cowboys paid him so much money and why he’s probably a top five receiver in the NFL. Other than that, the ‘Boys weren’t able to do anything too special against one of the league’s worst cornerback tandems.
Who will return kicks and punts?
Bryant showed he should be the Cowboys’ primary punt returner for the remainder of the season. He’s electric with the ball in his hands. Akwasi Owusu-Ansah was up and down on kick returns. He shows good vision and burst, but he needs to hang onto the football or he’ll find himself standing on the sideline.
Analyzing DOs and DON’Ts for Dallas
DO continue to run outside (right at Julius Peppers).
The Cowboys did anything but run at Peppers. I charted the holes they ran through below.
Note: Romo's kneel at the end of the first half was not counted.
Dallas actually looked like they were making an effort to run up the middle, right at Tommie Harris and Brian Urlacher. They ran outside of the tackles on just four plays the entire game.
DO bring back the draw in a big way this week.
Dallas ran just three draws the whole game, and they totaled -1 yards. It is obvious the draw play isn’t going to be a staple of the offense as it was in 2009.
DON’T leave Doug Free or whoever starts at right tackle on an island versus Julius Peppers.
Of the 39 pass plays that Witten was in the game, he went out into a route on 29 of them (74.3 percent). This is a little bit less than last year’s average, but the Cowboys made up for it by utilizing a lot of two-tight end sets. Even before Witten went down with a concussion, Martellus Bennett was on the field for 39 of the Cowboys’ 58 plays. That 67.2 percent rate is nearly double the 38.0 percent rate at which Bennett saw the field in Week One.
The Cowboys used Bennett to help out in pass protection instead of “wasting” Witten, and it actually seemed to work pretty well. The Cowboys didn’t yield a sack all game.
DO continue to air the ball out, but take some shots downfield.
At first glance, it appeared the Cowboys took more shots down the field against Chicago (as compared to the Redskins game), but that actually wasn’t the case. Romo attempted five passes of 20+ yards in both games, but he actually threw three more passes between 10 and 20 yards against the Redskins. Further, he actually threw two more passes overall against Chicago.
DON’T get fooled by inevitable twists and stunts.
The pocket for Romo was by no means perfect, but I thought the line (and Bennett) did a commendable job in pass protection. Romo, as always, eluded a few sacks with his mobility, but it wasn’t like he had no time to throw back there.
DO continue to get Romo on the move with rollouts.
Jason Garrett didn’t call a single designed rollout against Chicago, and I still cannot figure out why rollouts aren’t a part of the offense.
DON’T run many playaction passes.
I suggested that Dallas not run playaction passes because I thought the Bears’ defenders (specifically Julius Peppers) wouldn’t bite on the run fake anyway, so it would basically be a wasted motion.
Nonetheless, the Cowboys ran 12 playaction passes for 80 yards (6.67 yards-per-attempt).
A side note: Jason Garrett loves to run playaction with exactly 10 yards-to-go (either on 1st and 10 or after an incomplete pass on first down). On Sunday, 10 of the Cowboys’ 12 playaction passes were from this distance. The trend dates back to last year. Take a look at these numbers.
DON’T be afraid to continue running the ball on third down.
I counted seven third downs during which the Cowboys could have realistically run the ball (3rd and 5 or less), and they did so on four of those plays. They converted on all four runs, while only one of the three passes went for a first down.
Analyzing the “Game Plan”
1. Line up in double-tight end sets to pass.
The Cowboys’ play-calling made me feel as if they had read my “Game Plan.” While that’s wishful thinking, the Cowboys did employ two tight ends on 24 of their first 34 passes. That was by no means a coincidence, and I would presume they did it for just the reason I anticipated: so they could provide ample protection for Romo with Witten still in a route.
2. Run outside (powers, counters) from spread formations.
As I wrote above, Dallas ran outside of the tackles just four times on Sunday, and only one of those was from a spread formation. That play went for seven yards, while the three outside runs from tight formations totaled -3 yards.
3. Don’t blitz often, but disguise ‘em when you bring ‘em.
I spoke above about why I thought blitzing Cutler so often was a mistake, but regardless of when the Cowboys bring blitzes, they need to disguise them better. We’ve seen how the Redskins and Bears have found success against Romo by tricking the Cowboys with their pre-snap alignment. The ‘Boys offensive line really has no idea who is coming.
That’s not the case with opposing offensive lines. The Cowboys generally make it painfully clear who is going to be blitzing on a certain play, and that needs to change.
4. Cover tight end Greg Olsen primarily with a linebacker (when not in nickel).
The Cowboys did this for the most part, and it actually worked fairly well. Olsen’s lone big play came when the Cowboys blitzed both Keith Brooking and Bradie James, leaving Olsen as the hot read over the middle for a touchdown that was way, way too easy. That one play deserves a “fail.”
5. Get a press on Johnny Knox and Devin Hester at all times.
Knox’s big play came on a 3rd and 15 in which the Cowboys appeared to be in Cover 3. Mike Jenkins underestimated Knox’s speed and Ball bit up on a crossing route, leaving Knox wide open down the middle of the field.
Cover 3 isn’t an ideal situation in which to press, but it can be done. As you can see below, each cornerback has “deep third” responsibility, or the deepest guy in their third of the field. This means they are to play “safely”, as there is no safety help in that area.
Perhaps the Cowboys should implement more press-bail coverage where the cornerback jams the receiver but then bails into his safe zone responsibility. A lot of other teams do this (Dallas doesn’t use it much), and it can sometimes trick a quarterback into misreading coverage. It also allows a cornerback to disrupt a receiver’s route, while still “playing it safe.”
6. After acquiring a manageable lead, run 3 Wide Right Liz 26 Power
Well, they never acquired a “manageable lead,” so this play wasn’t really necessary. They didn’t run it at all.
Conclusions: The Cowboys passed only three of my eight “DOs and DON’Ts” and just one of five applicable notes in my “Game Plan,” meaning if they were a junior high student, the teacher would be recommending them for special education.
In all seriousness, the ‘Boys did do some things well, and if they can manage to limit the self-inflicted mistakes (penalties, turnovers, and so on), they have a good chance to win this week in Houston. Their backs are up against the wall, so let’s see if they come out swinging.
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