Rams Nemesis: DeMarco Murray
In the long history of the Dallas Cowboys there have been games by running backs that have been legendary. Calvin Hill, Duane Thomas, Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith have all at one point in time during their careers had a game or two that has left you in awe. DeMarco Murray was a rookie in the league when he made his one and only start against the St. Louis Rams but it was a performance that was for the record books.
Murray pounded the Rams that Sunday afternoon for a Dallas Cowboys single game rushing record of 253 yards on 25 carries. When asked about what he remembered about that game Murray could only recall how well the offensive line played that day. It is not likely that Murray will rush for a club record as these two teams once again met, but after what we saw last week against the Kansas City Chiefs, something different needs to be done. Not all the blame should be placed at Murray’s feet but there will be opportunities to run the ball here. The Rams defensively at times will play light in the box with their personnel trying to get the safety down late to help. The front is also light on the edges with Chris Long and Robert Quinn, look for Murray and this Cowboys rushing attack look inside of those ends to pop some runs to get things going.
The Weapon: Jason Hatcher
Through the first two games of the 2013 season, it is extremely clear that Jason Hatcher is playing with a purpose. Some will say he is playing for a new contract with the club or the opportunity to move on to another club after the season. Whatever his reasoning, he is getting the job done. In his play, Hatcher has shown quickness and technique but where he has made this biggest improvement in his game is through his use of power. I have always thought the one area that held him back was his lack of functional strength in terms of controlling blockers and getting off blocks at the point of attack.
Hatcher has done a much better job of playing with power and being able to sustain that down-after-down where in the past he would be in the mix for two or three snaps, then you would not see him for the rest of the game. His endurance and play making ability has improved greatly because of it. From what I have observed from Rams’ guards, Chris Williams and Harvey Dahl, this will be a difficult matchup for them to have to deal with Hatcher. These guards don’t move all that well which means they struggle with quickness. Jason Hatcher is playing at the top of his game right now and has an opportunity to control this game inside.
Under The Radar: Dwayne Harris
In this game against the Rams, Dwayne Harris might only get one or two shots at either a kickoff or punt return but it could make a difference in the outcome of the game. The Rams are one of the best in the league when it comes to covering punts and kicks largely because of the job that both Johnny Hekker and Greg Zuerlein do in that area. Hekker is one of the top punters in the league with a 46.7 net average. Last week against the Chiefs, the Cowboys special teams unit did a much better job of blocking to give Harris a chance to find some space.
After studying the tape, Harris left some yards on the field during his 22 yard punt return, when he could have cut it back inside. I don’t expect Harris to make the same mistake this week. This Cowboys special teams group under Rich Bisaccia is starting to develop some core guys to go along with the veterans like Danny McCray, Phillip Tanner and Lance Dunbar that have been on the squad in the past. You are seeing players step up like J.J. Wilcox and Jeff Heath. This group is much closer to making more plays like we saw last week with a big return either on a kickoff or punt return and Dwayne Harris will play a critical role in making that happen.
St. Louis Rams
Cowboys Nemesis: Cortland Finnegan
Finnegan is a non-stop competitor that will fight you during the play and many times afterwards. He has always played the game to the echo of the whistle.
Finnegan has played his entire career under Jeff Fisher, who has always taken a liking to these types of players. He has an edge to his game. Finnegan will line up mainly on the left side at corner and when defensive coordinator Tim Walton goes to his nickel package, he puts Finnegan in the slot and he will cover from there. Finnegan plays with a great deal of quickness and savvy. He will line up very tight and looks most comfortable playing this way but there have been some snaps in the first two games where he and Janoris Jenkins have been asked to play in off coverage or more zone. When he plays tight, there is not as much room or space with him, so you have to be careful attacking him. It is when you can get him in off coverage that you will have the most success. There were some snaps in nickel against the Falcons where they did just that out of the slot.
The Weapon: Tavon Austin
One of my favorite players in the 2013 NFL Draft was West Virginia wide receiver, Tavon Austin. There is a real dynamic to his game, with the explosiveness in which he plays with. He is one of those players that you can line up at any position and he is going to cause the defense problems. He is a fearless player that will go all over the field to make a play.
Offensive coordinator, Brian Schottenheimer has lined him up in the slot, out wide and in the backfield as a running back. Schottenheimer has been very creative getting him the ball. Once in his hands, you really hold your breath when on defense because he has that ability to score from anywhere on the field. On tape through these first two games, you can see that opponents are struggling to gage his speed and quickness. For a short player, he does play with power and he can break tackles. Austin can be a nightmare to cover in the open field one-on-one because of his elusiveness. You have to get people to the ball in a hurry to get him on the ground now to not allow him to make those explosive plays.
Under The Radar: Greg Zuerlein
It’s not often that you break down an opponent’s kicker, but here you go. Dallas Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey is just as valuable to the team as Dez Bryant and DeMarcus Ware. What Bailey brings to this squad is nothing short of amazing. When you have a player on your roster that has the ability of Bailey, it takes a great deal of pressure off of the coaches to have to make decisions. Rams kicker, Greg Zuerlein is similar to Bailey in that he is as automatic as they come when kicking field goals. Through two games this season, Zuerlein is a perfect 5-for-5 and is 2nd in the NFL on kickoffs with 75 percent of his kicks travelling out of the end zone.
During the 2012, Zuerlein was able to connect on 7-of-13 field goals from 50 yards plus, so you can see that Jeff Fisher is not afraid to trot him out there once the Rams cross midfield. What has to concern Jason Garrett and this defensive staff, if the score is within three or less points, how do you play defense to not allow the Rams to get in field goal range either at the end of the half or game. It can be a tricky situation to deal with when you have a kicker that can change the direction of the game with one swing of the leg.
IRVING, Texas – He might have taken 18 months off, but Brian Waters is starting to get back in the groove.
It would be one thing for a 13-year NFL veteran to simply pick back up where he left off. But starting with practice last week, and building from the Chiefs game up through this week’s routine, Waters said he’s starting to get re-acclimated.
“I’m getting back into the continuity of the game. These weeks start to add up,” he said. “You know what you want to do on Wednesday, you know what you want to do on Thursday and Friday. As the week goes on, you know where you want to be. I’m starting to get back into that.”
It’s too early to tell what that means for his playing time, however. Waters ceded most of Sunday’s playing time to fellow guard Mackenzy Bernadeau, and that rotational role could continue.
“I’m just going to do whatever coach tells me,” Waters said. “Obviously, I hadn’t played football in a while.”
He might not have played much in the loss, but that didn’t save him from the bombardment of questions about the Dallas Cowboys rushing deficiencies.
Waters knows a thing or two about productive ground games, as he paved the way for Priest Holmes in Kansas City. But the six-time Pro Bowler said moving the ball is what matters most, period.
“During the course of a game, games go differently. I know there’s going to be a lot of emphasis this week with you guys focusing on the running game, but honestly, I want to win the football game,” Waters said. “Our job as an offense is to move the football, any way the play is called. If it’s a pass, we want to move the ball that way. If it’s a run, we want to move the ball that way. If we get into numbers, we’re playing into the defense.”
Rather than focusing on one specific problem, such as the running game, Waters said his goal is to improve himself as completely as possible going forward. One such aspect in need of practice is bound to be footwork, which he said is crucial.
“As an offensive lineman, you have to make sure your feet are right. If not, you’re going to be in some bad situations when it comes to attacking the defensive lineman,” he said. “You’re going to be out of position, your hands are going to be out of place. You want to make sure your feet are positioned properly.”
IRVING, Texas – Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo will likely get another shot for his ribs before the matchup against the Rams this weekend.
Romo, who injured his ribs in the opener against the Giants, got a shot before Sunday’s loss to the Chiefs. He said it already feels better now than it did the last few days, and he imagines it’ll keep getting better as days pass.
“Too early to tell right now, but I think tentatively we were planning on (getting another shot), just because of the nature of it and what we thought,” Romo said. “But we’ll see when we get there.”
Romo went 30-for-42 with a touchdown and no interceptions against the Chiefs, but he also threw three straight incompletions on back-to-back fourth quarter possessions on short passes. He didn’t blame anything from that performance on the ribs.
“I don’t know if that was a part of it,” Romo said. “I’ve gotten shot up before for a rib. That seems like it’s a normal part of playing quarterback in the National Football League.”
He said when a player steps on the field, the only thing that matters is winning, so the ribs aren’t much of an excuse. The shot for the ribs usually works for between three to five hours, according to Romo.
An effective running game could help him from getting in situations where he’s taking more hits to the mid-section. The Cowboys haven’t been able to run the ball consistently since the start of last year.
“You’re always trying to run the football effectively and trying to also keep the defense from teeing off on you and attacking the quarterback and things of that nature,” Romo said. “You’ve got to weigh it. I think more than anything, it’s about production. We’re trying to figure out different ways to do some things in the future to continue to get better and better about it.”
Romo said the Cowboys’ mentality is to take what the defense gives them. He said that’s the reason Dez Bryant caught as many passes as he did. Romo intimated he doesn’t want to keep a running play on when the numbers don’t suggest it’ll work.
“It’d be silly just to run the ball to where you can’t block an extra guy,” he said. “That’s part of the game. Some people are doing that and leaving Dez by himself if you’re going to do that. Defenses have to decide what they’re going to give up. Sometimes it can be a big benefit.
“The other point is when you’re trailing late in the game, you’re never going to run the ball as much as you want. When you’re ahead late in the game, you’re always going to get extra runs, more than you probably did throughout the game. Every game’s going to come down to a little bit of that.”
IRVING, Texas – Here are some thoughts on the St. Louis Rams from the film room:
The loss of offensive tackle Rodger Saffold to a knee injury is a big blow to this Rams offense. Saffold for such a large man is an outstanding athlete. He is a right tackle with left tackle feet. In the Arizona and Atlanta games to start the season, I felt like he was better than Jake Long on the left side Saffold is a hard guy to play because he is so long and it was rare to see him out of position run or pass. Joe Barksdale replaces him who they got off waivers from the Raiders. Barksdale is a large man himself but he tends to be very slow out of his stance and will give up the edge much too often.
These Cowboys safeties will have their hands full in coverage with tight end, Jared Cook who will line up all over the place in these Rams formations. I have seen him play as the inline “Y” and arc release up the field against the Cardinals, snatch the ball and head for the goal line with a burst of speed. Would be interested to see if these defensive coaches would try and match up against him more with size than speed. This could be a game where we see Barry Church or maybe even J.J. Wilcox, line up across from him then try and bang him down the field. Will Allen could cover but I don’t believe is physical enough to handle the job.
Michael Brockers was a draft candidate for the Cowboys, two seasons ago as a defensive end in the Rob Ryan 3-4 scheme. For the Rams, he plays as a load inside at tackle. There is a great deal of power in his game and when he is on the move can be trouble to stop because of his strength. Brockers’ best trait is his strength and power but his weakness is that he doesn’t have many pass rush moves. In the Arizona and Atlanta games, there were times on pass plays with he was stuck on blocks and it was difficult to disengage and work toward the ball. Kendall Langford who plays tackle next to him does a much better job of getting up the field and being disruptive from that stand point. He doesn’t have the power of Brockers but he does a much better job attacking the blockers.
Cornerback Janoris Jenkins was a first round talent that scared NFL teams away from him because of some serious off field character concerns. Jenkins started his career at Florida and was only one of two freshmen to ever start at cornerback there but was kicked off the team after he was found with possession of marijuana. There was a thought that Jenkins might try for the Supplemental Draft but instead transferred to North Alabama for his senior season and he finished his career there. At the time of the draft, the Cowboys front office had Jenkins completely off their board and was not considered a draftable player. The Rams took him in the 2nd round and he has been their starter the last two seasons. He is one of those cornerbacks that has tremendous skill and talent. He tends to play with feel and he is not afraid to take a risk or two because he knows that he can recover if he makes a mistake. He likes to gamble for the big play and he can pull it off. He wants nothing to do with the physical side of the game when it comes to tackling but you have to be cautious when you attack him because he will make you pay for a mistake.
Last week against the Chiefs, I thought their linebackers were an outstanding group as a whole and were really the difference in that football game. This Rams group is not as good as the Chiefs but they are better than the Giants. James Laurinaitis, Alec Ogletree and Will Witherspoon are active and will find the ball on the move. Where I feel this group struggles at times is when they have to take on blocks. Their defensive line is an attacking one and get up the field quickly and it tends to expose these linebackers to some blocks. There were several times where they were bounced around one-on-one and were washed out of the play. I didn’t see the stoutness that I saw from the Chiefs who were outstanding playing with this hands, controlling blockers and making the secure tackle. Where this Cowboys offensive line had to biggest issues in the running game was not getting blockers consistently to the second level and securing those blocks. Unblocked defenders tend to lead small gains in the running game. I believe that these Rams linebackers will struggle badly if they have someone in their face the entire game.