Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Thoughts on the Cowboys' starters in preseason opener

Quite a boring game to say the least, but I'm a hardcore football fan, and I love my Dallas Cowboys, so I watched every minute of the game anyway.  I came out a little impressed, given the shutout, but there were
 obviously some problems.


For starters, Carter made a huge mistake on the screen play to McFadden that resulted in a big gain.  He was on the wrong side of the field and should have been watching the RB.  With his speed, it's no doubt in my mind he could have kept that from gaining more than four yards had he made the right play.

On the big McFadden run, Sean Lee didn't attack the line of scrimmage like we are accustomed to seeing him attack.  Played very Bradie James-like on the play, and because of that, it led to a bigger gain than it should have been.  When he looks at the tape, he's gonna wish he had that play back.  I expect him to fix that.  On the interception by Palmer, it was only a two-man route, and it appeared as if McFadden was gonna run a delayed route, but the men up front got a great push up the middle despite the max protection and forced Palmer to throw it before he wanted to.  Palmer probably should have held back and had just taken the sack instead.  Not really a smart throw. 

On the first offensive possession, it started out pretty brutal, in large part due to David Arkin.  He got completely pushed back after the snap and that blew the play up.  I think the rest of the line did a pretty darn good job not getting pushed back, but one guy ruined the play.  That goes to show how vital every single offensive lineman is.  If one screws up, the entire play screws up.  All it takes is one.  That's why chemistry on the offensive line is so underrated and often overlooked.  Oh, and the center position is the most important position on the offensive line other than LT.  If your center gets pushed back as he snaps the ball, forget about the rest of the play.

The play to Dez was a beautiful back shoulder throw, and hopefully a sign of things to come.  On the next play, the hand off to Murray for no gain, I think this was on Murray.  There was a pretty good hole to run through but he didn't hit it hard enough and fast enough.  He danced a little too much, and that allowed Oakland's front enough time to recover.  Looked too much like Felix Jones on the play.  Don't wanna see a lot of that from Murray.  Hit that hole harder.  Dockery also could have done a better job of sealing his man off.

On the next play, Romo had a nice pocket to throw from and overthrew Cole Beasley.  Some of that was Romo's fault and some of that was Beasley's fault.  Beasley has to do a better job of running routes.  He turned his head back too soon looking for the ball.  When you are looking for the ball, you lose your top speed.  Has to do a better job of that.  And Romo still overthrew him.  I think that was a good no-call on the contact.

The false start call on Dockery was a little touchy.  I've seen the replay many times and in slow motion and it appeared to me that Dockery moved as soon as the ball was snapped.  That was a really tough call.  I guess those officials can see in slow motion.  To cap off the drive, the screen pass was dropped by Felix, even though it probably wouldn't have gotten much anyway.

I'd like to point out that Tyron Smith played absolutely brilliant on this drive and in the game.  I don't think Tony Romo is gonna have to worry about his blindside too often this year.  I think that will help him as a QB.  Far too often in the past few years Romo has really had to worry about his blindside, and it's caused him to be more panicky in the pocket.  With Smith over there, I don't think Romo will have to worry as much anymore, and that could mean a big season for Romo.  Should lead to many more throws down the field.

The next defensive possession got off to a good start with Ware making a good play.  A three-yard gain is still too many yards for my liking though.  On the next play, I noticed the Cowboys were in a 4-3 set with Connor, Lee, and Carter all on the field.  Yet neither one of them attacked the line of scrimmage, but that had something to do with it being a draw play.  But I still thought the reaction time was too slow, but it was interesting to see them in a 4-3 set.  Ware probably would have made the play if he wasn't held, and it was called as such.  Pushed the Raiders back 10 yards. 

On the next play, I'm gonna chalk that up as vanilla coverage.  No way Bruce Carter allows Richard Gordon to get that open in a regular season game.  And Carr was playing way off of his man as well.  Ryan loves his corners to play closer to the line of scrimmage.  No way is that completion so easy for Palmer in a regular season game.  Now the defense on this 3rd and 4 is more like what I expect in the season.  The corners were in press coverage and Carter played his zone well.  Carter has a lot of range and that's gonna help this defense, especially in pass coverage.  Palmer had nowhere to go with the football and it resulted in a short run gain for him.  Almost was a sack.

The next play is inexcusable.  The one thing you can not do after your defense makes a stop and it's less than 5 yards for a first down, is run into the kicker.  So the Raiders get a new set of downs.  On 1st and 10, I'm gonna chalk this one up to vanilla coverage as well.  Guys seemed to be just playing zones and there was no blitz whatsoever.  On the next play, Palmer got another clean pocket to throw from, and the coverage was a little suspect.  Jacoby Ford drops the pass.  Carr was beaten, but then again, Carr was once again playing far back, and not pressing Ford.  I don't think Ford gets into that route as easily in a regular season game, and Carr didn't seem to be paying that much attention to him.  You also can't assume that Ford would have caught that pass either because Church was ready to nail him.  Church is the hardest hitter in the secondary by a good margin, and even if Ford caught it, he could have fumbled it or it fell incomplete due to a big hit.  On the next play, Jacoby Ford drops another one.  And this is one he should have caught more so than the the drop on the previous play.  C.J. Wilson didn't have bad coverage, but you can't let the guy get in front of you like that, and if you do, you need to get in on him and bat that ball down.  I wonder how open Ford would have been with Claiborne covering him.  Now, on the next punt on the same drive, they called offsides.  This was a flat out bad call.  Nobody was offsides on that play.  A phantom call.  A new set of downs again. 

So with the Raiders getting the ball back again, Palmer is out, and Leinart is in.  The first-team except Church leaves the game.  I'd like to point out that Barry Church laid a big hit on 3rd down to force a third 4th down on the same drive.  I thought the Cowboys did a good job of  stopping the Raiders despite the two penalties extending the drives.  Even though he's not a starter, I'd just like to say that Tyrone Crawford is a very big dude.  Never saw him in a Cowboy uniform before last night, but I have to say, the guy is huge.

So when the offense finally gets the ball back, the drive starts with a QB pressure, thanks in large part to Doug Free.  He was absolutely terrible on this play.  He ruined what possibly could have been a great play.  Everyone else did an outstanding job.  All it takes is one.  Romo did a good job in avoiding the sack but it still resulted in a two-yard loss from Witten.  The next play was all David Arkin.  Completely whiffed.  Absolutely unacceptable.  Romo gets sacked.  A center absolutely can not make these mistakes.  When a mistake like that is made by the center, not even Romo can avoid a sack there.  This drive was completely ruined by high school type pass blocking. 

Okay so the 2nd team defense has another possession where the Raiders drive down the field and misses a FG.  The first-team offense comes out for one more possession.  On the first play, Felix Jones proves true of my criticism of him.  I have always been critical of Felix's vision, and that's in large part the reason why the running game struggled in the past.  This play had good blocking all the way through and Felix runs into the wrong lane, when he had a huge cutback lane with nothing but open space.  Felix ran right into where his offensive line was instead of going to the open area of the field.  A play that gained only one yard when realistically with a cutback and one nice juke move, could have been about 15 yards.  The next play, Romo had a great pocket to throw from and great protection and wasted the down with a throw away.  It was unfortunate because Felix was wide open for a nice check down, and had plenty of room to get positive yardage.  These are the type of plays that don't show up on the stat sheet, and Romo gets too much of a free pass for making these type of mistakes.  Many times during games, Romo just doesn't make the right read or the necessary check down plays.  These are often the type of plays he makes in big games.  Most of the criticism on Romo isn't fair, but some of it is very fair.  He doesn't have a knack for making the right decisions in key moments of games.

On the next play, another Romo error.  It was a completed pass, but it was behind Witten.  When you have to reach behind you to catch the ball, it slows you down(and Witten is slow enough as it is), and because Witten had to slow down, it allowed the defenders the split second needed to recover.  If that ball is placed in the right place, Witten catches it in stride and has a better chance of getting that extra yard.  The NFL is a fast sport, and split seconds mean more than you think it does.  A split second can be the difference between a positive play and a negative play.  And besides that, a simple check down to Felix on the previous play would have ensured this play would've been a first down.  Like I said, these things don't show up on the stat sheet.  This drive went three and out simply because Felix hit the wrong hole as usual, and Romo threw downs away, as usual.  I'm kind of nitpicking the completion to Witten, but the play before was inexcusable.  Felix was wide open for three or four yards.  And after this drive, that wrapped everything up.

Final Thoughts

Tyron Smith looks like he's ready to be an All-Pro tackle, and I don't really wanna imagine how much worse the offensive line would be if(god forbid) he got seriously hurt.  The kid is a stud and I don't think Romo will have to worry about his blindside much at all.  It's probably the first time in Romo's career that he doesn't have to worry about his blindside.  Let's pray he stays healthy.

Barry Church played solid, and looks like he could be a decent safety so far.  I'm not worried about Brandon Carr.  He will be a stud.  I thought the ILB play was about average, but it will get better.  Lee is better than how he played, and I know he's probably a little disappointed in himself.  Bruce Carter moves his feet really well and has great recovery speed.  He's gonna really help this defense if he starts to get it.  Thought Romo played below average.  Free played below average.  Murray was average.  Arkin played like a back up center is supposed to play.  Dez looked good.  Ware was Ware.  Butler looked good.  Albright looked like a monster.  He was everywhere.  Again, Tyrone Crawford is freaking huge.  My goodness.  I hope he becomes a stud.  Just looking at him is intimidating alone.  Scandrick looked better.  It looks like drafting Claiborne and signing Carr has lit a fire under him.  He is playing with purpose, and he had outstanding coverage on the Palmer interception.  Hopefully when Jenkins comes back, he plays with the same type of purpose.

Starter Grades

Offensive Line- Tyron Smith was the biggest bright spot, and Dockery and Bernadeau didn't look bad either.  Free and Arkin lowered the grade.  C

Defensive Line- Got nice push on some plays and on others Palmer had a clean pocket.  Ware saved their grade.  B

Linebackers- Lee and Carter looked a little tentative on some plays, but both looked good in coverage.  C+

Wide Receivers- Dez looked good and the unit looked solid overall without Miles.  I like Cole Beasley.  Think he could be mentored into a decent WR.  B

Tight Ends- Witten nuff said.  B+

Secondary- Nice play by Sensabaugh, Church, and Scandrick.  Didn't see enough of Carr, but when he was on the field, Palmer didn't test him much. A

Special Teams- Not as bad as what those two penalty extending drives indicated.  Played sound coverage, and Bailey made the game-winning FG.  B+

Quarterbacks- Nobody really stood out.  D

Running Backs- D+

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