IRVING, Texas – Observations from the film room at Valley Ranch:
Starts Up Front
Since the bye week, it has been remarkable how this Cowboys offensive line has come together as a group and the job they have done in these last four weeks. Where there were issues with run blocking and leaky protection in 2012, the changes at center and guard with Travis Frederick and Ronald Leary have paid off greatly.
Doug Free is once again playing at the level that we saw from him three seasons ago and Mackenzy Bernadeau has been steady on the right side working next to him.
The best player on this line and maybe best player overall on the offense is Tyron Smith.
Smith is playing at an elite level, and it is getting him noticed around the league. When I have a chance to visit with scouts from around the league, it’s Smith they want to talk about. In this game against the Packers, he had the job of dealing with Clay Matthews, who was their best pass rusher. In the week leading up to the game, I was getting that vibe that these coaches were very comfortable in allowing Smith to handle Matthews without any help, and that allowed Leary, Frederick , Bernadeau and Free to focus on the other Packers defensive linemen and linebackers.
Smith was so good against Matthews, Dom Capers moved him away from Smith just to give him a shot to try and get some pressure on Romo. No matter how hard Matthews tried to rush, he could not unlock Smith, who has become a much more complete tackle against both the run and pass.
Where this line has been outstanding as a unit is as run blockers. Against the Packers, who play with some powerful men in their base 3-4, they were able to create cracks and gaps, which DeMarco Murray took full advantage of.
To Murray’s credit, he ran the ball with some power and resolve. This line is doing a much better job of working together to secure these blocks. You are seeing more hats on hats with finish. Where this group had their issues earlier in the season, they are doing a much better job of changing or moving the line of scrimmage and giving Murray the opportunities to make the cuts that we have seen from him or just carry the ball play side.
The group has also done a quality job in pass protection. When they have had problems, it has usually come from the coordination of their responsibilities with the running backs. There have been some sacks of Romo this season where it wasn’t on the offensive line and on the backs.
The numbers on Sunday show that the offensive line gave up three sacks and two of them were on the line, but the third was due to coverage down the field. Of those two sacks, one was due to a miss by Frederick, who worked across the pocket in an effort to try and help Bernadeau, but he whiffed and it allowed Mike Daniels to get to Romo.
The next sack was a nice design by Capers when the Packers ran a twist stunt inside with Clay Matthews, and Leary was late getting over to secure the block. Romo had nowhere to go, resulting in the sack.
I thought overall, this group really did a nice job up front, and, in the second half, if Garrett and Callahan wanted to continue to run the ball, this group would have been up to the challenge of blocking this Packers front seven, without any issues.
I was surprised they didn’t attempt to do that.
The Other End
There were not many things that went right for this Cowboys defense in the second half, but one area that did was the play of George Selvie. In the build up toward this game with the Packers, I was calling for DeMarcus Ware to step up and lead this defense to victory, but it was Selvie that was the most noticeable player when I sat down and broke down the game — which was a big surprise to me.
Selvie finished the afternoon with six tackles, one sack, two tackles for loss and one quarterback hurry. Where Selvie was at his best in this games was how he was able to get off the ball. He was attacking the entire game, and his burst off the ball put him in some very good positions to make plays.
The biggest issue for Selvie this year has been dealing with teams that want to run the ball at him, because offenses feel like they can take advantage of his lighter build. Each game, Selvie is giving up an average of 40 or 50 pounds to these tackles and it is making it difficult on him.
Against the Packers, he did a much better job of holding the point attack and not allowing the ball to get over the top of him or to the edge. This was a huge improvement of what happened to him last week against the Bears, where he struggled to defeat blocks and did a poor job of defeating blocks.
If George Selvie is going to have success at defensive end for the Cowboys, this is going to be exactly how he did it in this game — with quickness up the field, using his eyes and playing with leverage, which he was able to do.