At some point this season I'll be looking forward to one of these film reviews, where I get to break down what the Cowboys did right -- and wrong -- during a good ol' fashioned win. Instead, once more, I'm left re-watching a game that I never wanted to revisit again.
In the wake of yesterday's loss to the Bears it became fairly ugly in Dallas Cowboys land. The players were disappointed, talking about lack of focus in practice, the hype and the pressures of the season getting to their heads. The coaches are vowing that "changes will come". The fans want wholesale changes in the front office and the coaching staff and it seems that the most outspoken (isn't it always that way) believe this team won't win another game until Wade Phillips is gone. Of course, the ones with the most outlandish wishes, theories and desires are the ones with the most to say and it's good to see they aren't the majority.
I have now watched this game three times in total and twice in a very detailed fashion. The "jump back" function on my DVR is going to be warn out by the time this season is over, but in the end it's going to be worth it. There's minutiae in these games and within these plays we miss the first time around when we're caught up in the emotion of the game and don't have time to replay something over and over. Going back and watching these games again let's me find out some very interesting aspects of the game we didn't catch the first time around.
Realizing, for instance, that the Dallas Cowboys actually didn't play a completely bad game against the Bears.
What happened against the Bears was a loss that stemmed from a series of mistakes, odd bounces, bad fortune and some generally great play by the Chicago Bears. What happened was the Cowboys lost a game they should have won and had multiple chances to do so. The Cowboys lost because the mistakes that were made occurred at the absolute worst times throughout the games, killing drives or giving the Bears the opportunity to snatch back the momentum after the Cowboys had gained the upper hand.
The Cowboys, overall, had a good game and performed much better (at least offensively) than they did against the Redskins. There are things that must change, however, if the Cowboys want to get back on track and salvage this season but let's not be completely delusional here: the Cowboys did not have a terrible, horrible game. They weren't blown out by a mediocre team, they didn't completely fall apart in any phase of the game.
Instead, they made mistakes at critical points in the game and they lost. That is the reality of what happened. What needs to happen is for this team to regroup, for the Coaches to re-establish themselves and as a team move forward. Like I said last week and I'll say it again this week: forget the Super Bowl, forget the playoffs, forget the NFC East title -- just go out there, play football and focus on this one, singular game that needs to be played.
The Cowboys are likely a 9-7 football team this season, at best. It's going to be tough to make the playoffs with that record but the good news is the Cowboys are just one game behind the rest of the NFC East. We had high expectations for this team but, for now, it's time to temper them and just focus on what can be accomplished now: a win over the Texans.
I'm not here to pump you full of false hope or to look at this situation through rose-colored glasses. But I was pleasantly surprised when I turned this game back on, from the start, and things weren't nearly as bad as it seemed yesterday. This isn't a team that needs to be "blown up" or one that needs drastic changes from front office to head coach. There are very concerning issues here, but they can all be fixed. It's just week two, not time to panic; if things do continue like this, then I might change my tune.
What follows are my detailed thoughts and observations from my film review. We'll be covering the defense separately so this will focus primarily on the offense, but I haven't completely left the defense out. My film breakdown tomorrow will focus on three key plays from the game, just like last week, and while I'll talk about them here a bit I won't get into much detail on those until tomorrow.
In no particular order...
- Chris Gronkowski is this team's full back of the future. While we'd all love to have John Phillips here, his injury opened the door for the Cowboys to keep Gronkowski and right now it appears he's well on his way to taking over that position full time -- even after Deon Anderson returns. Right now, Anderson is the better pure blocker but Gronkowski is easily much more versatile. He's a bit on the taller side for a full back so he has trouble getting his pad level low, but on 90% of the runs where he was the lead blocker he more than held his own. I've yet to see him blow a defender back but he was very good at knocking his man off the play and opening up running lanes. He missed a few blocks throughout the game but for the most part played very well in his first real NFL game as the full time full back.
- After having his best game in nearly two years, Leonard Davis regressed. He missed blocks in the running game and was beat by inside stunts (once more) in the passing game. Not a horrible day by any means, but certainly frustrating to see after a great game against the Redskins.
The offensive line wasn't bad in this game overall, certainly not as bad as we've seen in the past and with Romo dropping back to pass 51 times, not giving up a sack is certainly a great sign. Romo saved them a couple of times, as he is wont to do, but for the most part Romo had time to throw when he needed it.
Here's what frustrated me about this game when it comes to the offensive line, however. There's just too many moving parts. The Cowboys like to run draws and counters with guards pulling and the tight ends crossing. Try as they might, this offensive line just doesn't have the speed to pull off these plays any longer and they especially couldn't do it against a team with speedy linebackers like the Bears. On nearly every negative running play the Cowboys missed a block as a result of the offensive line not being able to get around to their blocks in time and the runner was forced to avoid defenders in the backfield.
If there is one thing I can beg of Jason Garrett it's this: put this offensive line in position to succeed. They had a great running game going in the first half when the offensive line was firing off the ball and blocking the man in front of them. Great blocks by the tight ends and the full backs and the Cowboys running game looked great. Then Felix would come in and the Cowboys would revert to a complex running play with two linemen pulling out in front; on one Felix run to the left, both Kosier and Davis whiffed on the same defender while Urlacher had a free path to the runner.
Simplify these running plays and put Felix Jones in position to succeed. Many think Jones doesn't look like himself but the simple truth is that he never really had a fair shot when you watch each play he had a run. It also appears that defenses are getting a good read on the play when Felix is in the game, as they are getting a much better jump on the ball and better penetration on his runs than with Barber.
- 19 runs, 51 passes. Largest deficit in the game: 10 points (last four minutes of game). That is NOT going to cut it. Garrett abandoned the run completely in the second half and while the Cowboys averaged just 1.8 yards per carry, there was no need to become completely one-dimensional.
- The Cowboys tried one delayed handoff in the game and it didn't work at all. That was a staple of this offense last season; the Cowboys need to find a way to make that play work again.
- Playaction in the red zone works once more. Just sayin'.
- Time for the Razorback to be put on the shelf. Until the Cowboys do something different with it than have Tashard Choice keep the ball and run up the middle with it, that play will never work again. It's incredibly predictable as a fan and the defenses are teeing off on it now.
- I might have briefly -- BRIEFLY -- had the thought cross my mind that Wade should be fired solely on the grounds that the decision to pooch kick it after the Cowboys first touchdown might have been the worst strategic decision of his career.
- What's unfortunate about these two losses is that it's overshadowed the fact that the Cowboys have three very good to incredible wide receivers all playing very well. Roy Williams, Miles Austin and Dez Bryant all had great games, once again, and Miles Austin continues to prove that last season was far from a fluke. Perhaps seeing Dez Bryant start to make plays has lit a fire in Roy Williams but he's made several tough catches these past few games and has had just one egregious drop (Austin, by the way, has two). While there are certainly problems with this team, the receivers have stepped up their game.
- DeMarcus Ware was all over the place to start the game yet slowed down as the game went on. The Bears started double teaming him on nearly every play and with the quick-pass attack the Bears began to use, his pass rushing abilities were of no use. It's unfortunate, since Ware started off the game so strong.
- Jay Ratliff is struggling to start the season. He made one great play on a key third and short situation but he's been getting blown off the play on a regular basis. He came close a few times to getting to the quarterback but we've yet to see the dominant nose tackle really start to take over games like we're used to.
- We'll be going into the defense separately, but I did want to share my thoughts on what happened with Wade's unit in this game against the Bears.
When the game started the Cowboys had Jay Cutler and the Bears against the ropes. They moved Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware around and disguised their blitzes well, while also finding ways to get to the quarterback out of the basic set. The Cowboys played aggressively against the pass and while they were allowing a few runs sprinkled throughout the first quarter, for the most part they dominated the Bears. They held the Bears to just a field goal after Chicago started with great field position following an interception, and then held them to a three and out the next series.
Then that dang pooch kick happened. The Cowboys gifted the Bears with short field position and Cutler immediately made an adjustment on the Cowboys rushing attack: short, quick passes. The Cowboys continued to play aggressive at the line of scrimmage yet changed their coverage schemes, for some unknown reason. Devin Hester scrambled for 19 yards after coming off the line uncovered when the Cowboys tried a conerback blitz. The next play, Greg Olsen sat down in the space vacated by the linebackers when they blitzed up the middle and ran in for a touchdown. What's frustrating about both is the blitzes worked and forced Cutler to give up the ball early, yet the Cowboys had backed off their coverage and allowed the Bears receivers to find open space to make the quick catch.
The Cowboys immediately responded with their first long touchdown drive of the season and it appeared the defense had regrouped after forcing the Bears into a 3rd and 15 situation from their 21. Generally, this would be the time and place to go after the Bears and Cutler but instead the Cowboys backed off. They rushed only four against a full protect scheme while playing a deep zone against the pass. The Cowboys appeared ready to play the ol' "keep the ball in front of you" method of not allowing a conversion and sat back in a zone about 12 yards off the ball. The Bears receivers, all of them, just ran right through it. Mike Jenkins misplayed Knox, the Bears had a 59 yard completion on a perfectly thrown ball and suddenly the tide of the game was changed.
For some reason, from that point forward, the Cowboys just....backed off. They weren't blitzing as much, they weren't as aggressive and seemed intent on just not allowing any more big plays. They played very well overall -- they only allowed seven points in the second half -- but the problem here was when they allowed the Bears to score. Each touchdown by the Bears was an absolute backbreaker; despite holding the Bears time after time after time in the third and fourth quarter, allowing a very fast touchdown drive right after David Buehler's missed field goal was a killer.
The defense played well overall and did their best to hold them off for the majority of the game; unfortunately when the Cowboys needed a stop the most they fell apart.
- I'm going to be doing a much more detailed post on Tony Romo later this week but for those of you saying this loss was squarely on his shoulders, that was certainly not the case in this game. We've seen what Romo looks like when he's not good, and while he wasn't certainly wasn't perfect he was far from bad.
The common theme last night after the game was how "off" Romo looked and how his inaccuracy cost this team the game. He was far from perfect but he was still very, very accurate on most throws he did make. His pocket awareness was much better this game and he made several bullet throws down field that were right on the money. He completed 67% of his passes for 374 yards and for the most part was dead on. He wasn't perfect however, yet to need your quarterback to be absolutely perfect all the time is a heck of a lot to ask.
The first interception, off of Miles Austin, was purely the result of a great hit. Sometimes you have to give the defense the credit and that's what happened here. Miles Austin sat down in the zone and Romo had to fit the ball over the underneath coverage and into the hands of Austin; he couldn't float the pass because of the speed of the defenders and Austin was forced to reach up for the ball. Like Austin loves to do, he jumped for the ball and immediately turned in mid-air; this is what allows Austin to get upfield so quickly after a catch. He was drilled by Tillman and the ball fell into the hands of Moore. Unfortunate, far from Romo's fault.
I'll get into the interception off Jason Witten's shoulder tomorrow.
Romo made mistakes that led to this loss, but so did a lot of other players on this team.
- The Cowboys found a way to exploit the two-deep zone and they attacked that all game long. Like the Bears adjusted to the Cowboys rushing attack, the Cowboys adjusted their routes and were able to find holes in the Bears coverage and started to rack up the yards.
I know some of the Bears are saying that the Cowboys were scared to get hit and were reacting accordingly, but I saw receivers who were catching balls all over the Bears defense for most of the game. There was one bad drop by Austin when he turned up field too quickly, but I never once saw the Cowboys act skittish when catching passes. The Bears were playing not to allow the big downfield play and for the most part it worked. Yet it was still good to see that the timing of the Cowboys offense worked (for the most part) against a defense that normally gives them trouble.
- So if everything was so rosy, if this film review revealed that in essence the Cowboys really didn't play all that bad and the world isn't ending, what happened? Why did the Cowboys lose if this team actually didn't play that bad overall. Like I said at the top, mistakes made at the absolute worst times doomed the Cowboys in this game.
Interceptions, fumbles, penalties and blown coverage. Everything in between was actually pretty damn impressive but it's these lapses in focus and execution that are dooming this team right now. The Cowboys don't need a drastic change at offensive coordinator, head coach or anything like that. They don't need a new scheme or new personnel. What this team needs is the ability to just focus and accomplish the task that is right in front of them.
Judging by what the players are saying it seems they understand where the problems lie. Whether they can correct this themselves or Wade "changes are coming" Phillips can force it upon them, but focus and fine tuning is all that is needed.
There wasn't a monumental breakdown of epic proportions in this game, instead mistakes at the worst time led to the loss.
- The Cowboys are moving the ball smartly, but a holding penalty pins them back at 1st and 20. A bad snap count turns into 2nd and 20 and a failed screen attempt turns into 3rd and 20. One simple penalty and the entire drive is killed.
- The Cowboys offense puts together a long, time consuming touchdown drive and puts the team up 14-10. The Cowboys defense, after playing so well in the game, allows a touchdown for the second drive in a row and the Bears take the lead for good.
- The Cowboys respond and are moving the ball once more, and Romo and Witten combine for a backbreaking interception. The Bears capitalize with a field goal.
- The Cowboys once again move the ball down the field, this time in chunks at a time, until they reach the 16 yard line. Romo rushes a throw to Bennett who never saw the pass. One more half second of patience and a bit of touch, and Bennett would have had an easy touchdown. The next play, a false start sets the Cowboys back and they can't recover. They settle for a field goal after putting together 56 yard drive.
- The Cowboys, once more, move the ball easily down the field. After an incompletion on first down and short run on 2nd down (Garrett back to his old ways), the Cowboys face a 3rd and 8 from the Chicago 37. The Cowboys have run a slant to Roy Williams in the situation before, successfully, and they do it again. As Romo is releasing the ball, a defender comes uncovered in front of Roy and blocks the passing lane. Romo adjusts and throws the ball behind Williams -- it appears he expected Williams to adjust as well and stop his route. This was not an inaccurate pass, as one on target would have easily been intercepted. Call it unfortunate. The Cowboys decide not to go for a 54-yard field goal and instead punt the ball into the end zone for a net gain of 17 yards.
- Dallas, once again, moves the ball down field. On 3rd and 5 from the Chicago 26, Garrett calls for a wheel route to Choice. This was the one truly poor throw of the game by Romo, as he rushes the pass and doesn't come close to getting the ball cleanly to the receiver. He was not under extreme duress and had time to make a better throw; this is one he's made many times before but this time the pass fell short. Buehler misses the 44 yard field goal attempt.
- Following the missed field goal, the Cowboys allow the Bears to score in just four plays. A missed field goal turns into a 10-point deficit. The absolute worst time for the Cowboys to allow the lone points of the second half.
These mistakes were plenty and once more you can't pin the loss on just one player or one play. But these isolated plays showcase just how frustrating these losses are. The defense made plays but couldn't stand up to the challenge when needed most. The offense moved the ball at will yet key mistakes and turnovers doomed them once more.
Sometimes you also have to give credit to the other team. Jay Cutler, when he had time, was deadly accurate and his bomb to Knox was simply amazing. The Bears were able to adjust better then the Cowboys and in the end that was the ultimate difference in the game.
- Finally, I leave you with the #1 reason the Cowboys lost this game:
Turnovers: Bears 0, Cowboys 3.
You aren't going to win many games when that stat is skewed against you.