And now I come to praise Wade Phillips. On Saturday, I urged him to go with the rookies, especially rookie CBs Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick.
Phillips and his staff went much farther than that. Last night the Cowboys promoted Jenkins, Scandrick, Miles Austin, Kevin Burnett and Martellus Bennett, and all of them made a difference in the 14-10 win over Washington.
Scandrick started the game playing the slot in Dallas' dime sets and got a lot of work, as Jim Zorn used a lot of three and four and five receiver sets, trying to spread the field. He's got some work to do on his tackling technique -- he dives low and leads with his head, something Bill Parcells cautioned Pat Watkins not to do back in '06, because it can lead to head injuries. Still, he provided tight coverage and made a key submarining tackle on Rock Cartwright just after Dallas took the lead.
Jenkins had to wait a bit, but the scenario I predicted came to pass. Anthony Henry limped off the field after Antwaan Randle-El beat him on a deep in for 24 yards, the Redskins longest pass play of the night. Jenkins replaced him on the next play and got a breakup of a pass to Devin Thomas. His game matched KC Joyner's profile -- you can beat him short but nothing intermediate or deep. He's getting much better breaks on the ball now and is breakking up more passes.
Austin is healthy and is showing the skills we saw in preseason, prior to his knee injury in the Denver game. He put Patrick Crayton on the bench last night. Crayton played in some limited sets but is the Cowboys punt returner now. And Austin's not a decoy. He made a sliding 18 yard catch on a deep out for Dallas' initial first down and made a key spin after catching a Romo shot up throw to convert a 3rd-and-7 on Dallas last TD drive. He gives Dallas another deep threat and means the Cowboys now sport three receivers all 6'2" or bigger who can stretch the field.
Dallas used a lot of 3-4 "46" packages last night (more on this later)) which meant a lot more snaps for Burnett. When Dallas went to the old Buddy Ryan look, they needed a middle linebacker who could run and track tight end Chris Cooley. Burnett did this ably. Cooley had seven catches, many of them screens, but averaged less than 7 yards per grab.
Nobody has to feel better tonight, aside from the Cowboys' scouts, than Martellus Bennett. The self-proclaimed Aquaman is taking over for Tony Curtis. Last night he was given one package to work with, a diamond shaped backfield set that Green Bay has made popular, with two WRs set wide and two TEs lined up as fullbacks, one each in the B gaps between the guards and the tackles.
Bennett played the right TE with Jason Witten last night and did an effective job of blocking -- on the five runs from this set, Marion Barber gained 34 yards, a healthy 6.8 average. Bennett consistently found the middle linebacker and cleared him out.
He also caught the game-winning TD from a traditional two TE set when he lined up on the line of scrimmage and got behind Washington S Chris Horton. He didn't get much separation but Romo trusted the former baseketball player enough to throw him a high pass, which Bennett snagged.
I reported back in March that the Cowboys had 21 players on their draft board with 1st round grades. Felix Jones and Mike Jenkins were among them. Bennett was one of their highest rated 2nd rounders. The scouts were ecstatic in April because Dallas left the first day with three guys off their top 30. They're probably even more happy today because all three of those guys are starting to live up to their grades.
Stay with the kiddies, Wade.