My initial thoughts on the Dallas Cowboys game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were pretty similar to most people: the defense was lights out, and the o-line was god-awful. I have rewatched the game, taken notes, and graded the players and will use this info to rview how the game played out unit by unit, and see how the film compares to my initial thoughts.
Against what was supposed to be a dominant Giants defensive line, Tony Romo had plenty of time and DeMarco Murray had room to run. Optimism was in the air. I wasn’t sold because the Giants D-line only seems to play well in the playoffs. They were average most of 2011 before turning it up at the end of the season. The Seahawks essentially had their way with Dallas’ line, but that was nothing compared to the shellacking the Bucs just gave them. Doug Free was absolutely horrible, Nate Livings was almost as bad, and Ryan Cook, who had been solid up to this point, had his worst game of the season so far. Berdaneu and Smith were both below average, but not as bad the other three. One thing to note is that they weren’t as bad pass blocking as they were blocking for the run, where they were absolutely horrid. By my count there were 15 bad blocks on 18 rushing attempts for Demarco Murray; that is absolutely horrendous. Tampa Bay’s Michael Bennett, Gerald McCoy, and Mason Foster were outstanding in that department. On the other hand, the Bucs had only 12 pressures on 39 pass attempts. So what conclusion can we reach from all this? That the Cowboys O-line is pretty much average, at worst slightly below average. So far they have been dominated by two excellent defensive lines and played decently against an average one.
Offensive line issues seem to be a pretty common theme around the league. This could be due to a lot of the better athletes going to defense, tight end or wide receiver, ie not offensive line. I thought I’d do some digging on just how bad the Cowboys’ offensive line has been this season, and I was surprised to find that the Cowboys offensive line has given up the 14th most sacks and the 21st most QB hits. This was somewhat unexpected at first, but in reality they played a great game against the Giants, so outside of that game their stats are probably slightly worse. Can we reasonably expect improvement as the season progresses? Yes. Tyron Smith has only played three real games at LT, the interior of the line had played ok before this game, and the general cohesiveness of the group can only improve.
Romo threw an incompletion due to an inaccurate throw 6 times, which is easily his season high, as for whatever reason he was not on form. Romo has made the highlight plays so far this season, but he hasn’t displayed the consistency he needs to. What he needs to realize is that in a game like this one where the defense is owning the opposition’s offense, he can’t make the risky play that could result in a turnover. He threw an interception on a bad decision and fumbled the ball trying to make a shovel pass with a defender draped over him.
This is now 3 straight games in which Jason Witten has played poorly. If it’s an injury, he needs to be benched until his health allows him to play better, and if he’s just in a funk, he needs to get out of it, or he could risk being benched. I don’t care if he is a future hall of famer, or if he’s been a great player for a long time. You play the best players, period.
Other than Witten, the receivers all had nice days.
The defense sustained a key injury Sunday with Barry Church, the starting strong safety, out for the season. Moving into his spot is Danny McCray in the base. In the nickel Mike Jenkins moved in to Carr’s spot and Carr went to free safety. I don’t know if this is how Rob Ryan plans on playing his players going forward.
The three defensive players I graded the highest for this game were Demarcus Ware, Victor Butler, and Tyrone Crawford. This is encouraging for Crawford, because in earlier games he had struggled to anchor against the run.
The whole secondary played very well, although I must note that Josh Freeman is playing very poorly right now. His passes are inaccurate and he looks flustered often. The Buccaneers offensive gameplan tells you all you need to know about him. Mike Jenkins and Brandon Carr were the best of the bunch.
Most of the linebackers and defensive linemen that played were solid, though none really stood out outside of the three already mentioned (somewhat surprisingly).
For the special teams, Chris Jones actually had his worst game of the young season. That is not nearly as alarming as it sounds, though, as he had his first and only badly graded punt by me so far. The onside kick by Dan Bailey was poor as it did not allow any Cowboys a chance to get near it until it had travelled 15 yards down the field. You want that the ball to go right at 10 yards exactly to have a chance at a recovery.
The Chicago Bears are another team with offensive line issues. They rank 25th in yards-per-carry, have allowed the 4th most sacks, and the 5th most QB Hits. This should be a low scoring game and should ultimately come down to which QB turns it over less. That may sound simplistic, but it’s true. Jay Cutler should be good for at least one pick, which should provide a platform for our offense to score some points off of. I doubt we will move the ball on the ground, so draws and the short passing game will be the order of the day. Romo is definitely capable of putting up good numbers here, but in his current form against this good of a defense I highly doubt it.
Cutler throws 3 picks to Romo’s 2 and the Cowboys win a squeaker at home 16 – 13
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