It happens a lot in the NFL: The dazzling revolutions of September and October — the promise of a new-fangled Wildcat or read-option or run-and-shoot paradigm that will change everything — often fall by the wayside in the bitter rain and snow and cold of January, when football returns to the eternal verities of truth and reality.
So it is this year.
In a season during which passing and scoring records fell, all four Championship Sunday participants (including the one that set those records) relied on the timeless formula last weekend: run the ball effectively, control the clock, play solid defense and make the other team earn every point it scores.
You could see evidence of the back-to-basics approach in every divisional-round game:
- Russell Wilson’s passing was mostly grounded, and the oft-injured Percy Harvin was knocked out of the action with a concussion, but the Seahawks still took down the Saints. Seattle won behind tackle-breaking machine Marshawn Lynch (in postseason Beast Mode, evidently) and a suffocating defense that rattled New Orleans’ top weapon, Jimmy Graham.
- New England, decimated by injuries on both sides of the ball (along with, it has to be said, the murder charge against tight end Aaron Hernandez), has fewer difference-makers than it has had at any time in recent memory. But LeGarrette Blount was the blunt force that the Patriots used to pound the Colts’ defense into submission. Meanwhile, the Pats’ myriad defensive looks frustrated Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck, who threw four interceptions.
- San Francisco won its second road playoff contest in eight days, thanks in large part to a defense that stonewalled Carolina’s running game (Cam Newton was the only Panther to eclipse 20 yards rushing) and snagged two interceptions. Offensively, the 49ers employed a balanced attack: Frank Gore led the charge on the ground while Colin Kaepernick made some timely plays through the air, leaning heavily on veteran gamer Anquan Boldin.
- Denver used San Diego’s own formula from the regular season — control the ball, shorten the game, manage the clock (35:27 of possession) — to keep the Chargers on their heels all day long. Denver’s defense missed Von Miller’s havoc-wreaking presence but stiffened enough to allow the Bolts just 65 yards rushing, less than half of what the Broncos churned out in a winning effort.
Each one of the four divisional-round winners exceeded 125 yards rushing. After setting the single-season record with an astounding 5,477 passing yards, Peyton Manning threw for just 230, with the other three winning quarterbacks failing to reach 200. Glamour QBs Tom Brady and Wilson didn’t even throw a single touchdown pass.
There is, of course, a long tradition of returning to the run game in the postseason. Go back 45 years to the New York Jets’ memorable defeat of the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. New York was led by Joe Namath, who was one season removed from becoming the first quarterback in pro football history to throw for 4,000 yards, but the Jets ran more than they passed on that day (logging 43 carries and 29 throws), to control the clock and the Colts. (A year later, the Kansas City Chiefs — another team known for offensive daring and innovation — rushed the ball 42 times for 151 yards to dominate the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV.)
These things were true 45 years ago, and they still might be true 45 years from now.
In recent years, we’ve seen running backs de-emphasized on draft day. Yet, by the time the playoffs roll around, the best teams almost always have a solid run game in place.
The star of the divisional weekend, Blount, went undrafted out of college and was pawned off by the Buccaneers this past offseason — yet he’s been unstoppable for the Patriots of late. Marshawn Lynch was a first-round draft choice, but the Bills gave up on him before the Seahawks recast him as their most reliable offensive threat. Knowshon Moreno’s demise had been rumored for years in Denver, but this season he’s been a steady all-around back who doesn’t fumble (and a strong blocker, to boot). Frank Gore is a former third-round pick — thanks in part to some injury baggage from college — who has developed a reputation as a tough inside runner, and his efficiency boosts both the passing game and Kaepernick’s devastatingly effective keepers.
So why does this happen so often? Why do the gaudy passing numbers of the regular season frequently get supplanted by the meat and potatoes of old-school football in the new year? Simple reasons, mostly:
Better defense: Playoff teams are generally more accomplished defensively, meaning each opponent has a formidable pass rush. The best way to neutralize this is to have a running game that the defense has to take seriously.
Weather: So Peyton Manning isn’t as good in cold-weather games? Guess what: He’s not alone — not by a long shot. Show me a quarterback who consistently overperforms in freezing temperatures and snow, and I’ll show you an anomaly. Cold weather leads to numb hands, making it very difficult to execute the touch throws that separate the great quarterbacks from the good ones. And while receivers enjoy a slight advantage over defensive backs in terms of footing — because they know where they’re going — it’s much harder to catch a rifled pass in sub-freezing weather than it is on a room-temperature day. (If you’ve never tried it, just trust me.)
Dangerous opposing quarterbacks: You can get away with a quick, drive-killing string of incompletions — or even a turnover — when the quarterback on the other side is an untested rookie/journeyman who lacks pocket presence. But do that in a playoff game against a Manning or Brady, and you’re going to get burned. That’s why it’s all the more important to control the football and minimize mistakes.
Throwback football will be on full display in the NFC Championship Game, as the style fits the personalities of the coaches very well. A physical running game is a large part of the DNA both Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh used to build their respective teams.
It’s a bit different on the AFC side. New England’s commitment to the run is simply Bill Belichick’s adaptation to a roster that’s currently short on difference-making receivers and tight ends. The Pats very well could go back to being a top-five passing attack and the league’s top-ranked offense next season if they can come up with the right group of receivers for Brady. On the other hand, Denver is only committed to the run as long as you stay in a loose shell defense that begs the Broncos to use it.
In each game, though, both teams will look to assert their will by establishing a ground attack. And the ones that do so best will likely meet in New Jersey in February.
IRVING, Texas – A quick look at new defensive tackle Frank Kearse, who the Dallas Cowboys added to their roster earlier this week.
Frank Kearse: 6-4 | 315 | 5.31 40-yard dash | Alabama A&M.
Has spent time with the Dolphins and Panthers before landing on the practice squad of the Titans this season.
Drafted by the Miami Dolphins in the seventh round of 2011 NFL Draft
Game film studied:
Carolina 2012 season against Miami, Kansas City, Atlanta, San Diego.
Will play as a one-technique in this scheme. Might be better suited to play as an end in a 3-4 but gives you some size inside at the one.
Is not that quick-twitch type of player that Rod Marinelli is accustomed to playing with, but his power is impressive.
Gets more push with power and upper body strength than he does with pass rush moves. Can walk blockers back.
Can be difficult to move at the point of attack at times. Able to hold up against double teams. Observed him holding off blocker with one arm.
Is active when it comes to moving down the line and working toward the ball. Showed some mobility.
Was able to redirect and change directions. Not a stiff moving player. Can play the low block and keep balance.
Had a nice sack against the Falcons where he defeated the double team with power, collapsed the pocket on Matt Ryan.
Was very impressed how he battled Max Unger from the Seahawks. In the plays he had, never allowed him to control him in the running game.
There were some snaps where I thought he could have played better with his hands, and when he didn’t that got him in trouble. Would help him shed blockers better.
Jason Garrett press conference: Game breakdown after game film review (23:20)
- How Jason Garrett asserts himself in game time offensive decisions
- Why it’s hard to remain (appear) stubborn regarding the run in running situations
- Any way to defend Tony Romo switching to the pass when a run is called
- What Jason Garrett could have done differently to prevent that (turnover) from happening
- Communication during an actual call in critical situations (run, no pass option veto)
- How often has Jason Garrett told Tony Romo specifically what to do on a play call
- Instead of hindsight, why aren’t adjustment decisions made during the course of the game
- Second guessing Escobar not being in-motion to block the sack on Romo
- Any point in the second half where Jason Garrett was second guessing
- If he feels like he signaled Tony Romo out in the postgame press conference (below)
- Steps to put the “overlay” into decisions during critical situations (situational awareness)
- How ineffective 3rd downs affect decisions with play calling on 2nd downs
- DeMarco Murray’s sideline frustration in 2nd half; disservice to him by not running
- How Dez Bryant decision to leave field was addressed; thoughts on issue
- Was Dez Bryant fined by the team (for leaving the field early)
- Is play calling/game planning being driven by inability to stop teams from scoring
- Is this defense forcing the offense to become more aggressive
- Does offensive gameplan change at halftime when headset goes down; Rookies
- Why was DeMarcus Ware so ineffective in the Green Bay game
- How concerned is Jason Garrett about the secondary; Morris Claiborne
- Was pass rush improvement seen in this game compared to Chicago game last week
- How DeMarco Murray’s run percentage plays are factored in to each game
- The specifics of the play where Cole Beasley was targeted, but resulted in an INT
- What do you say to fans that are looking for reasons to be optimistic going forward
- Sense of urgency factors placed on players/coaches because of recent losses
- Challenges of harnessing the negatives from last two losses; how to move forward
- Dealing with issue of not having top-four linebackers going into the Redskins game
- DeMarcus Ware getting some 1-on-1’s and still not getting sacks; Is he still a stud
- Has DeMarcus Ware lost some of his explosiveness
- Explaining decisions to take Jason Hatcher/Ware off the DL in certain situations/subs
- Biggest reason they have been able to run the ball for the past few weeks
- Recent communication with Jerry Jones regarding job security
- Confidence in veterans and leaders on the team
- Even with the recent losses, who still gives Jason Garrett confidence
- When history has show they haven’t gotten the job done in these loosing situations
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.
Jason Garrett press conference: Game breakdown after game film review (16:39)
- Coming back from loss on a short week
- Evaluation of players focusing on ‘task at hand” vs. Bears on Monday Night Football
- Whether he’s confident that Monte Kiffin is the right man for the job
- (inaudible question) Related to LBs playing in nickel and dime
- Fixing issues or managing recurring issues with this defense
- Jeff Heath and Wilcox rotation at safety
- Analyzing George Selvie’s QB penalty
- Weather blitzing is a part of Kiffin’s strategy.
- Are Hatcher and Ware healthy enough to influence pass rush
- Ware’s self critical statement and how JG see’s his impact
- Is outscoring DAL D (points yielded) a part of the game plans going into each week
- How the offensive run game graded vs. Bears; aspects to build on
- How the offensive passing game graded vs. Bears
- Can you win by running the ball against teams that are having success throwing
- Evaluation of FB Tyler Clutts and his role in the run game success vs. Bears
- Mental aspects of scoring right before the half, regarding either team
- Necessary to “win out” in order to get into playoffs
- Reputation for JG teams to continually fight, regardless of score. That done on MNF?
- Are the issues with this years defense the scheme or the personnel?
- When defensive scheme was changed to 4-3, how long was adjustment expected to take
- Acclimating new players coming in from the streets
- What makes JG feel confident in Kiffin’s ability to get defense competitive
- How many times can a DC be given a chance to bounce back from bad performances
- Morris Claiborne status and if Sterling Moore will be nickel CB
- Harris/Carter status after re-tweaking hamstring vs. Chicago: Sean Lee’s neck injury
- Addressing hamstring issues; conditioning staff and what can be done
- Team and player responsibility for staying warmed up and stretched.
- Injury analysis on team vs. other teams in NFL
GAME FILM BREAKDOWN | Week 14 | Dallas Cowboys vs. Chicago Bears (4:03)
Three key plays from Monday night’s game against the Chicago Bears (Watch this Video)
IRVING — The guys at Pro Football Focus analyzed the tape. And in the end, Jeff Heath’s performance in the Dallas Cowboys blowout loss to New Orleans was as ugly as everybody thought it was after witnessing it. In Week 10, Heath turned in the second-worst game among NFL safeties, according to the website.
“I did have a few bad plays,” said Heath, an undrafted rookie from Saginaw Valley State. “I had a couple of good plays as well. Sometimes, when you have bad plays, those good plays go unnoticed by everyone. But I learned a lot from the film.”
As he reviewed the game he saw that he missed four tackles and allowed five of the six passes thrown his way to be completed for 104 yards and three touchdowns. In other words, Drew Brees produced a perfect passer rating while targeting Heath.
“There were some things in that ballgame and other games that he obviously has to get better at,” head coach Jason Garrett said. “Some of those are the result of him not being in those situations before. Hopefully, he’ll learn from them. There have been some plays down the field where he hasn’t made them a few times in the last few weeks. He’s got to do a better job of that.
“He didn’t tackle as well in this game. He’s tackled very well, both as a team’s player and when playing safety. He didn’t tackle quite as well in this ballgame and we’ll look at the reasons why and hopefully he can learn from the experience.”
Heath, though, may not get the chance to redeem himself as a starter. The Cowboys brought in several safeties for a workout, including Irving native Michael Huff.
“It’s never as bad as you think. It’s never as good as you think,” Heath said. “It’s all fixable, coachable things. I’ve just got to work hard and improve in those areas.”
Jason Garrett press conference: Game breakdown after game film review (15:42)
- Overall impression of offensive level of efficiency
- Lack of offensive balance with running game
- What they saw defensively that dictated weather to run or not
- Persistence and patients with running game
- Factors that go into analyzing run statistics
- Team commitment and roles to effectively running the football
- Decisions to put Dunbar and Randle in game at times; Murray sidelines
- Success with Romo’s play-action passing technique
- Bruce Carters improvement recently; promotion back to starter
- Ronald Leary’s production through first 9 games as starter
- Mackenzy Bernadeau grade after replacing Brian Waters at right guard
- Decision for DeMarcus Ware and Miles Austin to play before bye or after
- Doug Free blocking grade on weak side vs. Vikings
- Scandrick’s evaluation and grade; specifically why he got a game ball
- Brandon Carr’s grade out after game film review
- Decisions on Vikings gameplan – predetermined to throw or pass more
- Control Tony Romo has to change from run to pass or vice versa
- How is vertical passing game affected by commitment to running game
- Running the ball gives favorable opportunities to throw the ball down the field
- Grind of job as a head coach (John Fox and Gary Kubiak) regarding health concerns
- Weather it’s easier to find balance in game plans or balance in life as a coach
- Philosophy on beating team with winning record and making a statement
- Jarius Wynn become more than ‘next man up’ player with Marinelli’s Misfits
- Credit to Rod Marinelli and Leon Lett for getting linemen ready for gameday
- Marvin Austin back injury
- Third-and-one assessment from Vikings vs. Cowboys film review grades
The Dallas Cowboys continue to add defensive linemen who were former highly regarded draft picks.
Defensive end Everette Brown, a former second-round pick in 2009, was signed by the Cowboys, who released defensive end Jason Vega to make room on the roster.
Brown, a former Florida State defender, appeared in 28 games and made three starts during his two years with the Carolina Panthers, who drafted him. He recorded 35 tackles, six sacks, an interception and three forced fumbles before going to the Chargers in 2011.
He was released in March 2012 and signed with Detroit later that month, but he was released at the end of training camp and spent that year out of football. Brown was released by the Eagles during final camp cuts this year.
The Cowboys had brought Vega up from the practice squad for two games, and he posted two tackles in those appearances.
The team also released practice squad running back Davin Meggett.
SCOUTING REPORT: A closer look at Everette Brown:
6-2, 263 pounds with a 4.65 40-yard dash out of Florida State. Had 13.5 sacks his junior year for the Seminoles.
Drafted in the second round by the Carolina Panthers in 2009. Released two seasons later. Spent time in San Diego, Detroit and recently Philadelphia.
Report based on games studied from Philadelphia’s 2013 preseason: New England, Carolina, Jacksonville, New York Jets.
- Played as an outside linebacker for the Eagles in their 3-4 scheme. Had some rushes where he put his hand on the ground and was used as a nickel rusher.
- Will play as a defensive end for the Dallas Cowboys in their 4-3 scheme.
- Physically, he has some length to his body, long arms, doesn’t look like he is carrying 263 pounds and doesn’t look overly big or thick.
- Was a much better player with his hand on the ground than he was playing in a two point stance. He showed some surprising power walking the tackle back for Carolina. When put his head down, got his hands inside the framework and pushed, he made some things happen, but he’s not going to make a living walking tackles back. He will need to play on the edge and not attack blockers down the middle. When he loses his momentum, he can have some issues.
- Has the quickness to get to the edge, stays active, showed a quick inside move, can be used on twist stunts to make something happen, will sharpen the corner on his rush.
- Will run the play down from the backside, can dip his shoulder, then work around the blocker, doesn’t give you much hitting surface on his rush when he dips his shoulder, will chase the ball when he is free.
- Can use a spin move going a couple of different ways to try and free himself from blockers.
- Doesn’t always play strong. His biggest problem was getting rid of blockers more quickly in the running game. He’s much better playing off tight ends and fullbacks than he is tackles. Does not play with enough strength to go toe-to-toe with a tackle and expect to be productive – he needs to beat them quickly before they get their hands on him.
- Best work is as a pass rusher — had some really nice edge rushes against the Jets, showed a burst getting around the tackle and slapping the ball out of the quarterback’s hand. He can cause some problems when he is near or around the quarterback.
- When he was in position to make a tackle, he was able to wrap up and get his man on the ground.
Bryan Broaddus | Football Analyst/Scout
Jason Garrett press conference: Gameday breakdown after game film review (18:57)
- Evaluating physical matchups vs.schematic issues in the loss
- Assessing the execution issues on defense
- Brandon Carr vs. Calvin Johnson
- Addressing Stanford’s fake spike that resulted in a QB sneak TD*
- What team learned about Dez Bryant from sideline passion expressed
- What they were trying to accomplish on last play of the game
- Decision process on 2nd to last possession; close to 2 min warning stage
- Clock situation due to the Tyron Smith holding call; 45 seconds*
- Variation from run play called and how it contributed to the holding penalty
- Staff evaluation on how to counter passrush better with this OL
- Importance of giving guys like Dez more chances in a game to make plays
- Finding ways to get the ball to double-covered players, without turnover
- Continuing to capitalize on single-coverage opportunities
- Carr’s comment about not expecting DET game to effect his confidence
- Brian Waters rib, knee, and tricep injuries during the game
- Brian Waters MRI and status going forward
- Morris Claiborne hamstring injury, MRI results
- DeMarco Murray start expectation and last minute decision to sit him out
- How DeMarco Murray practice reps took away from other backs
- Assessment on how Randle and Dunbar ran in DET game
- DeMarco Murray expected to start vs. MIN
- Miles Austin evaluation and status going forward
- Declining efficiency issues with offense over past three weeks
- Desire to be more consistent and execute better offensively in coming weeks
- Addressing third down conversion issues; keeping drives alive
- Addressing and learning from large number of mental errors made in game
- Barry Church injury
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|Film Breakdown Of Ndamukong Suh||Film Breakdown Of Calvin Johnson|
|Watch Video | Play Audio||Watch Video | Play Audio|
Jim Schwartz – Monte Kiffin will make life tough for us
Calvin Johnson – Dez Bryant is pretty good, besides route running
As we all know, Peyton Manning used his ‘once every five-year” quarterback keeper to score against the Dallas Cowboys last week. Let’s take a look at the play …
Denver in I-formation with a wide receiver set left
Receiver shifts to right side, Dallas defense adjusts
Play in motion, Manning fake handoff to running back, Ware in pursuit, secondary set for run defense
Bruce Carter breaks free, heads toward Manning. Church recognizes play, but is out of position.
Bruce Carter and Barry Church in pursuit as Peyton Manning approaches goal line
Manning crosses into end zone, Carter pulls back
Peyton Manning scores touchdown on quarterback keeper.
The play, from the end zone …
Carter sees Manning rolling out towards the end zone
Manning scores one of the key plays in the game.
See it for yourself … check out NFL Game Rewind
Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett speaks to the media after having a chance to review the tape of the Dallas Cowboys loss to the Denver Broncos. Garrett discussed:
- Evaluating the elements of the record-setting game
- Assessing the defense after facing Denver offensive threats
- Addressed defense giving up excessive yardage in recent games
- Dallas’ attack style offense shown in Rams and Broncos games
- Tony Romo getting into a zone
- Romo2Escobar interception in 4th quarter, second option
- Teams confidence in Tony Romo
- Split-second decisions and opportunities by Tony Romo
- The horse-collar tackle
- Consideration of letting Manning score on last drive (clock)
- Hangover after games like this (24-hour rule)
- Preparation for division games coming up against WAS and PHI
- Adjusting to Rivers/Manning success in upcoming games
- Adjusting to favorable matchups on defense
- Linebackers dropping
- All of the different defenses used by Kiffin
- Selvie & Hayden vs. Ratliff & Spencer pass rush
- Addressing quick release quarterbacks
- Aggressive, attack-style offensive game plan
- DeMarcus Ware double-teams
- How are rotations decided defensively
- Addressing Romo’s mistakes head-on evaluation
- Thought process of mistakes; asks what player was thinking
- Making corrections after evaluating mistakes by players
- Terrence Williams aggressiveness and confidence, development
- Playing ‘empty’ advantages (no running back in backfield)
- Receivers becoming a problem for other team defenses
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Dallas Cowboys preparations and scouting report for the Denver Broncos. From Bryan Broaddus, Football Analyst and former scout for the Dallas Cowboys:
No position on this squad has struggled more with injuries than the defensive ends. George Selvie, who has been the starter since training camp, has yet to pass the protocol test that will allow him to even practice after his concussion. Each missed practice makes him doubtful for the game against the Broncos. If that is the case, Kyle Wilber will make the start on the left side with Edgar Jones and Caesar Rayford as the backups. I have always believed that Wilber is better suited to play on the right side, but there really isn’t much of a choice because of the injury situation. An interesting prospect that I am hearing of potentially getting a call up from the practice squad is Jason Vega. If you remember last season, Ronald Leary and James Hanna were stars on the scout teams, and now are playing meaningful snaps. There have been a lot of positive thoughts about Vega and the type of juice that he shows off the edge. The longer Selvie takes, the more likely we could see a call up at week’s end.
Down The Field
Much has been said over the past several weeks about the conservative game plan in regard to throwing the ball down the field. I am clearly in the minority here, but I am not for throwing the ball down the field just for the sake of doing it. I have always believed that you run plays that give your offense the best chance to succeed. The “4” or in route to Dez Bryant is an outstanding call. The deep slant that he scored on against the Chargers was another good play. Jason Witten running the post corner over the years has been money. Given time, those are throws that Tony Romo can make all day, but there is also a time and situation for those calls. The Broncos have a very aggressive safety in Duke Ihenacho who will come forward on play action fakes. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in the past has had his issues carrying receivers down the field, and Chris Harris on the other side is not the best athlete, so when the ball goes behind him, there have been some struggles. With all that being said, there will be opportunities for Romo and this offense to potentially have some good looks down the field on Sunday — for the right reasons.
The cornerback currently playing at the highest level on this Dallas Cowboys squad is Orlando Scandrick. Where Scandrick helps you in this game is his ability to not only play well on the outside, but he gives you a chance to deny the ball to Wes Welker out of the slot. Where Scandrick will have an advantage in this game is that he has faced Welker before when the Cowboys plays New England. For the majority of that day, he pitched a shutout. There is something to be said for understanding how a player like Welker is going to try and work you off the line. You have heard me say this many times before: playing slot corner is no bargain because of the two-way go the receiver can use against you. Orlando Scandrick has always been a player that played with mental sharpness, even though there have been times where he wasn’t as sharp as he needed to be with his technique. But he has put that behind him. Scandrick will have studied Welker to the point where he will have his own game plan for how to handle him, so now it’s about making that game plan work.
If this Cowboys offense is going to indeed make some attempts to throw the ball down the field, the front of the pocket is going to have to be clean for Romo to step forward and make those throws. The responsibility for that clean pocket is going to fall on the shoulders of Ronald Leary, Travis Frederick and Brian Waters. Where the Broncos are going to counter is with Kevin Vickerson and Terrance Knighton — two massive defensive tackles who are more than just two dump trucks sitting inside and taking up space. Vickerson and Knighton will do more than just push the front of the pocket, they are active and there are snaps where Jack Del Rio will put them on the move allowing them to show some quickness getting up the field. Where the Cowboys match up well here is that both Leary and Waters tend to play with their own power when it comes to taking on rushers that play with strength. Where Leary tends to get in trouble is with the quicker, smaller guys and that is the last things these two tackles are. During his time with the Cowboys, Waters has shown the ability to sit down on rushers and hold them in place. Where Frederick has also been good is helping across the pocket with his awareness when he has been uncovered. If Tony Romo and the offense are going to have success throwing the ball, keep an eye on how well their inside three play against these Broncos defensive tackles who can be a load to handle inside. It should be a good matchup.
Bryan Broaddus breaks down film on Peyton Manning.
IRVING, Texas – After a closer look at Sunday’s loss, here are some thoughts from the film room at Valley Ranch:
Take What Is There — TWIT
The execution of the offensive game plan by the San Diego Chargers was outstanding. From the press box, it appeared very simple and after studying the game, it was. It was tailored to not put Philip Rivers in any poor situations because of the condition of his offensive line. Going into this game, it was clear that if Monte Kiffin did not put pressure on Rivers, his defense could struggle no matter who was blocking for him or catching the ball.
Given the time that Rivers had to work with, he made this Cowboys defense pay. When Kiffin played his normal zone coverage, Rivers found answers underneath with quick, simple throws to Antonio Gates, who was 10-for-10 on targets and receptions. When Kiffin tried to adjust to handle plays underneath and in the middle of the field, Rivers worked the ball in the flat to Ryan Mathews or Danny Woodhead, who found themselves in space with no defender to contest the play. For every adjustment that Kiffin tried to make Mike McCoy and Philip Rivers were just better.
On the second touchdown to Woodhead, Rivers in the shot-gun is reading the defensive alignment and noticed where the safety is playing and understands that Bruce Carter is going to be in one-on-one coverage to his left. Rivers moves Woodhead from his right to his left, to take advantage of the matchup. On the outside to the left, the Chargers receivers come off the line running routes like they have not one clue what Rivers is trying to do but Woodhead does. As the play develops, Woodhead starts up the field on the wheel route. Carter as of the majority of the day was late to adjust and Woodhead gets separation instantly, then it became a simple game of pitch-and-catch for the touchdown.
The Chargers despite being short-handed at several positions, did a much better job of playing to the strengths of what they had to work with. There protection along the offensive line at times was not perfect and at times was boarder line, criminal in the way they held on plays but where they were perfect was in the way that their star players did play and that was the biggest difference in this loss for the Cowboys.
Need MO confidence
All the great cornerbacks speak about how you have to play with confidence each and every play. Skill and ability are important but if you do not believe you can succeed, you will fail. We have seen Morris Claiborne play with that skill and ability but right now, he is a lost football player. Even when he is in position to make a play, something bad happens to him. Not matter how hard he tries, it’s just not good enough and that is hurting this defense.
Mentally the breakdowns that he has struggled with in coverage and the penalties are taking their toll on him. Each snap that he takes, has made him a shell of the player he once was when he lined up at LSU. Keenan Allen is a nice player but there is no way on a 3rd – 8, that he should catch a jump ball for 31 yards to keep a drive alive. Those high point balls are what made Claiborne the player he was at LSU. I cannot tell you how many times, I have seen him defend that pass either knocking it away or grabbing an interception. Instead, he is off balance with no clue where the ball is.
It has not mattered, off or press you name it, he has struggled to play it. Cornerbacks live on the edge each play, you are out there for all to see and that’s Claiborne’s problem. Opponents are not seeing him make any plays and he does nothing to dictate, that quarterbacks needs to go the other way. There were times in that Chargers game where Claiborne, was not even in the same area code as the receiver. Is that the sign of a confident player?
To his credit, Claiborne has not used injury or physical pain as an excuse for his play. I believe the coaching that he receives from this staff is putting him in positions to attempt to make plays as we all know, the problem is finishing those opportunities. Opponents have figured out real fast to put three receivers on the field and attack this defense that way and until Claiborne plays better, that is the hand they will be dealt. Regardless, you don’t throw your hands up and say we quit. Morris Claiborne still has the confidence of the front office and the coaching staff despite the fact that he is playing like he is struggling with his own. Making consistent plays should help both parties in that regard but it needs to start now.
Carter lost in space
There have not been many days in his young career where you can say that Bruce Carter did not play his absolute best. Against the Chargers, he had one of those rough days. Sean Lee is the best linebacker in coverage on this team but Carter was right there with him. Whether the ball was going to the flat or like Sunday where the ball was going up the field. Carter had always played with the correct technique. He was often quick to read and put himself in position in the route to make the play.
There is nothing more difficult for a linebacker to have to deal with than man-coverage in space. It is where offensive coordinators and quarterbacks live to create those matchups. On both of the touchdown passes to Danny Woodhead, the Chargers were able to create these types of situations. Carter was left on Woodhead, when Rivers sent Antonio Gates to the outside which caused Carter and Orlando Scandrick to have to trade the coverage. I understand how they were trying to defend this because of the threat of Gates down the field so putting Scandrick on him was the best option. The second touchdown, was just an adjustment made by Rivers when he saw how the safeties were aligned and was able to get Woodhead up the sideline and on Carter.
There was also a post route run by Gates where he started from the right and went across the field left. Both Carter and Lee were on deep drops but Lee was more to the inside which left Carter to handle Gates who was behind him and just in front of the safety. Rivers was able to correctly read the depth of the linebackers’ drops and float to the ball right over the top of Carter, who was unable to make the play. After the play on tape, you see Carter clap his hands upset he didn’t make the play but you also see Lee turns to look at him in a way like they missed one there.
Carter was later replaced in the lineup by Ernie Sims, who responded with six tackles which was good to see but this is Carter’s job. Where these Cowboys linebackers have had their issues this season playing this scheme, is with their drops in pass coverage. Sean Lee has stood before us in the media and said that he has to even get better if this defense is going to improve. Bruce Carter had a terrible day coverage wise but we have also seen him play at a very high level in this league.
Improved rookie on his own
This was the second time in three weeks that Travis Frederick had the opportunity to line up and play against a 3-4 defense and his level of play was night and day from what we had seen in Kansas City. Frederick will not face another odd front until the trip to New Orleans in November. Where Frederick made his biggest improvements was how he was able to handle blocks one-on-one without help from Ronald Leary and Brian Waters.
There were several plays where Frederick was able to snatch his man on a front side reach or cut off block. He played with solid power and did not get compressed or worked back into the play. He was able to work his body and feet in a way that allowed the ball to be taken to either side. He played on his feet and he did not struggle to sustain his blocks. His second level blocks improved to the point where you did not see his man in on the tackle like we did in Kansas City. In pass protection, when uncovered in nickel front, he was solid in the front of the pocket. He showed the ability to sit down on rushers and not give up ground inside. There appeared no mental busts or problems with his assignments.
Coming in this season, there were questions about his ability to play against power and have that guy on his nose the entire game. Against Kansas City, there were some issues but he was able to put that behind him and have a solid, productive game against the Chargers, where he can take some confidence from it.