The Dallas Cowboys head to Seattle this week to take on the Seahawks. Every Sunday morning, I am going to try to write a list of the specific things I will be looking for as I watch the game. Most of them will be posed as questions. If you can answer any of the questions, feel free to email me [email protected] and I may include your contribution in my post next week. In no particular order:
1. Will Head Coach and Play Caller Jason Garret make more of an effort to get the ball into the hands of rookie undrafted free agent WR Cole Beasley? This kid is dangerous when he has the ball in space. Can Garrett do anything more creative than the obvious end-around? It would be nice to see a few bubble screens to Cole so that he has some space and some blockers to work with.
2. Remember when just about everyone was lambasting Dallas Cowboys Owner and GM Jerry Jones for not resigning WR Laurent Robinson? I thought the Jaguars overpaid for Laurent. It seemed obvious that Robinson benefited from defenses focusing on Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, and Jason Witten. Robinson had 5 catches for 66 yards last week; Kevin Ogletree had 8 catches for 114 yards and 2 TDS. I will be watching to see if Ogletree can continue to be a reliable third option. Specifically, can he continue to run that slant route from the slot and show near perfect timing with Romo?
3. The Offensive Line played better than many anticipated against the formidable pass rush of the New York Giants. Romo was sacked twice, but as CowgirlCas continually points out, Romo’s magician-like ability to escape tacklers makes the offensive line look much better than they really are.
RB DeMarco Murray (The DMM Express) also makes the offensive line look much better than they are. His 20 rushes for 131 yards sounds like a dominating day by the line, but if you eliminate that one big run which was not the work of excellent blocking by the line, his numbers are more average (19 carries for 83 yards and a respectable 4.4 yards per carry).
I will be watching to see how the center holds up, and whether he is consistently getting pushed back into the pocket, depriving Romo of the room to step-up.
People should not be too concerned about each individual lineman occasionally losing one-on-one battles; it is bound to happen from time to time. I will be watching to see if they appear to be blowing assignments and whether they are allowing blitzers to come free at Tony Romo.
4. I will be trying to determine: how much better is The DMM Express than Marshawn Lynch. Two of the qualities that make Murray such a successful back is that he has great vision, and he is patient. Lynch lacks vision and he rarely shows the patience required, so it will be interesting to compare the two RB’s running styles.
5. I have printed out the charts from CowgirlCas’ article about Garrett’s predictable play calling, so I will be watching to see how predictable he is in some of those situations. One of the comments in Cas’s story brought up the point that being predictable doesn’t matter if you are almost always successful. So in addition to watching to see if Garrett’s play-calling is predictable, I will be paying closer attention to his success rate when he opts to run a completely predictable play.
1. Will Victor Butler continue his campaign to be the best non-starter on the defense? Butler played 6 snaps against the Giants, he rushed the QB 5 times, and he registered one QB hit. Will be get more plays, and can he continue to be so effective at getting to the QB?
2. Will Rob Ryan continue to sit DeMarcus Ware on the occasional 3rd down when it is a passing situation? That happened at least twice against the Giants. I have to wonder whether Rob Ryan was playing games with the Offensive line coach of the Giants. It was so obvious that the Giants were shifting a TE to Ware on almost every play and that their entire protection package was based on locating and planning for Ware. I wonder if Ryan thought it might be confusing for the Giants line if Ware was not in there to base their plan around.
3. Will OLB Anthony Spencer continue to prove that Jerry Jones was smart to not let him get away in free agency? The vast majority of fans and sports writers were convinced that franchising Spencer was a huge mistake. I wrote a three series article explaining that Spencer was much much better than most people gave him credit for. Spencer had a great game against the Giants. Early in the game, the Giants had first and goal inside the Cowboys 5. Spencer made a nice tackle for a very short gain on one of the plays, and then on 3rd down he pressured the QB enough to cause an incompletion. Forcing the Giants to settle for a FG after starting their possession inside the 5 was enormously important to the game. Spencer had 4 QB hurries in just 18 snaps rushing the passer.
4. Will CB Mike Jenkins see much action? If so, will he be used in the slot or on the outside? Will he be willing to tackle, or will concern about the shoulder make him tentative? If he plays in the slot, will he show anything to suggest that he could become the regular slot back against 3 WR sets, or will Orlando Scandrick be able to keep that job?
5. How much will they miss NT Jay Ratliff who will not play again this week due to injury? Both Sean Lissemore and Josh Brent played fairly well against the Giants. If they continue to play reasonably well, will that affect how Rob Ryan uses Ratliff when he gets back? Many people have been arguing that Ratliff should be used as a DE sometimes, and that he should play less on running downs, so that he can stay fresh for the end of the games and the end of the season. Can the Cowboys afford to give Ratliff a much reduced role without the overall defense suffering, or at least little enough that it would be outweighed by his increased effectiveness last in the games in passing situations?
6. Who will get more sacks: ILB Sean Lee, often confused with Superman, or his understudy ILB Bruce Carter? Say what you want about Seahawks’ Center Max Unger, but they are extremely weak and vulnerable in the middle. Expect to see both Carter and Lee used on delayed blitzes through the middle regularly. They should have QB Russell Wilson on the run all day.
7. Will DE Jason Hatcher have a career day rushing the passer? It is fantastic to see a player who is starting his 7th season in the NFL at age 30, and yet he still improves every year. He is quietly becoming a play-maker for Rob Ryan’s defense. He rushed Eli Manning 29 times; he tallied a sack, a hit, and 4 hurries. Using the rudimentary statistic I developed in the series about Spencer’s pass-rushing efficiency, Hatcher created a “QB Disruption” every 4.8 times he rushed the passer. That is a higher efficiency rating that any of the league’s best rushers maintained for the entire season last year. The Seahawks are vulnerable in the middle, with Ware drawing double teams most of the time, Jason Hatcher will be able to win his one-on-one match-up fairly frequently. DeMarcus Ware rushed Manning 26 times on snaps; he recorded 2 sacks and 3 hurries, so his “QB Disruption” stat would be 5.2. Will Jason Hatcher have a multi-sack game?
8. When will we start to see the exotic formations and complicated pre-snap movement that Rob Ryan used to be so well-known for? Ryan used very few odd formations against the Giants; he also didn’t use anything that would be called an “exotic” blitz. Most noticeably, there was very little pre-snap movement by the defense. Will that change, or is Rob Ryan starting to evolve as a defensive coordinator? Could this be a switch from razzle-dazzle smoke and mirrors to solid fundamentals?
9. When will Rob Ryan start having the confidence in his DB’s to start getting a little reckless with the blitz? It will be interesting to see how aggressive he gets if the Cowboys can get an early lead. If they can open up a 10 or 14 point lead early, how relentless will Rob Ryan be in blitzing the rookie QB?
10. Will the revamped Cowboys defense, now able to pass-rush properly with 2 solid corners in rookie Morris Clairborne and free agent Brandon Carr, be able to hit rookie QB Russell Wilson so frequently that they remove him from the game for his personal safety?