The night before Halloween was the truly frightening one for us Cowboys fans. Going into the game with the most optimism since 2009, fueled by what appeared to be a top 5 defense, Dallas and our fanbase were promptly put in their place. It was the team’s most embarrassing loss with Romo on the field since the end of 2008.
But all is not lost. I think there are a few major personnel areas Philly exploited this game that other teams on our schedule will not. There are also some areas (generally less concerning in my opinion) that other teams will attack successfully. The coaches also share plenty of blame in this loss. And I know Cowboys fans won't want to hear this, but Philly is designed perfectly for this Dallas team, and will be a tough matchup in the future.
Areas that Philly exploited that others won’t
Despite the shellacking, this matchup boiled down to one huge problem for us. The lack of athletes in the front 7 – With Dallas playing two deep, our linebackers were often left covering in space over the middle of the field. They failed. Epically. Brooking is pretty much done, and at this point it’s hard for me to believe we can’t find a linebacker out there who can play better than he did last night. Bradie James is slow, but we knew that. Sean Lee is by far our best cover linebacker, but even he was beaten soundly by Brent Celek (he of 13 catches, 105 yards before last night). To be fair, these guys had little to no safety help.
In the run game, nobody could bring down Vick or McCoy. In fact, we have 1 single player with their physical ability in the front 7 – Ware. When their OL blocks well, as it did last night, they are going to be near impossible to stop for us. We needed better play from our front 3, because if their line ends up on our side of the field, we're toast.
Call me optimistic, but I do not believe this will be a problem going forward. Philly is really the only team with the kind of wr speed that will force us to play 2 deep (and I’m not even sure this was the best strategy). With safety help, our linebacker flaws can be mitigated. And I think to some extent the run performance was a fluke – our Dline was beaten off the ball time after time, and that hasn’t happened often this year.
Our inability to get the ball to our wrs – Philly’s secondary is great. Look over their defensive performances. They may tackle poorly, but they are shutting teams down. The Giants’ numbers look good against them, but in reality a couple big plays, which were to some extent lucky, heavily impacted that game. I didn’t see the 49ers game, so I can’t comment on that, but outside of those games, most of Philly’s opposing qb’s stats look like 30 attempts, around 200 yards. That’s solid. Especially this year. We struggled mightily in this game, but the only other defense with the potential to do to us what Philly did is the Giants, and I don’t think their cbs are in the same league as Philly’s, though Webster is playing well.
Areas of concern going forward (in no particular order)
1. We simply get no pass rush on non-passing downs. Its Ware or bust. Has been for years. This needs to be addressed immediately. I’ve seen Eli Manning rip us up too many times on early down play action. On Sunday, Vick terrorized us. While Philly has the talent to embarrass us, other teams can still take advantage of this area.
2. Coverage over the middle of the field is a weakness, though not a season destroying one. I don’t think this will be the gaping hole it looked on Sunday, but it’s certainly a hole that needs to be addressed. If Lee misses time, this becomes a big problem. Lee didn't play well either, but things wouldn't have been nearly as bad with safety help.
3. The offensive line is inconsistent. One game they’re great, the next they’re awful. One half they are dominating the Lions and 49ers, the other half they’re a sieve. We need consistency. Tyron has begun to struggle a little, but hes still clearly one of our better lineman. The interior OL is stupid bad. Your inside lineman shouldn’t give up as much space in the pocket as ours do, though I don't think they did too awfully on Sunday.
4. Our qb is still hurting. It’s looking likely Romo will not be healthy for a while. His throwing motion is still awkward. He missed Witten by a couple feet throughout the night when he usually throws them to #82 in stride. He chucked a couple balls up for grabs that looked like lame ducks. He has a good excuse because of the oline, but Romo was subpar last night just like most of the team.
5. Choice, Ogletree and Bennett continue to be problematic for us in 2011. Choice is now gone, so we’re down to 2. I’ve defended Bennett for years, but if this guy can’t make any positive impact in the passing game (I’d settle for a neutral impact at this point), is he really that useful? He’s going to be a tell that we’re running the ball. As of this point, I don't expect him back. And with Robinson in here, why is Ogletree around exactly? I feel like we need a nickname for these kinds of players.
6. INJURIES. The biggest issue going forward. Jenkins is down for a couple weeks. Lee may be. Those are two HUGE injuries. Bruce Carter, you’re on deck. If hes not good to go, its gonna take some real creativity from RR to defend guys like Fred Jackson, who is really only a notch or so below McCoy.
-I now understand why the Giants picked Prince Amukamara. To stop this Philly team, you need athletes. At the rush positions. At linebacker. In the secondary. If Vick gets time, he has the arm and their wrs have the talent where they aren’t just going to beat you, they are going to embarrass you. And their run game is becoming proficient, so you cannot simply pin your ears back and rush the passer, as we tried to do.The Giants are a team FAR better equipped to handle this Eagles team. They have a more balanced offense and a string of pass rushers they can bring in to get after Vick. We have exactly one. This is just not a good matchup for Dallas.
-Defensively, Philly is built to defend us. We haven’t run well for years. They are built to pass rush and defend the pass. Their team construction reminds me an awful lot of the Colts in that regard. I will watch their next couple games closely - can Chicago and NE run on them, score some points and pull out victories?
-In matchup #2, I expect the strategies for Garrett and Ryan to change dramatically. Clearly, 2 deep is not an option. Ryan was trying to make Vick go the length of the field, the problem is it was just way too easy. Vick’s WRs weren’t just open, there was usually no one within 5 yards of them. Even while putting 2 deep, Ryan sent a heavy rush. Philly was ready for it, and constantly burned us for big gains on the ground and through screens. It was a game that unfortunately reminded me of a few Wade Phillips games from last year – he just kept throwing the same blitzes their way, results be damned. I'm fairly sure Philly had a screen set up as an audible Sunday, either that or Ried was in RR's head.
-The teams that have succeeded against Philly have stuck with their run game. This is one area I was disappointed with Garrett last night. The run was moderately effective. The pass was not. Yet he went shotgun heavy starting drive number 3. I talked to a couple of my friends back home (Philadelphia), and they were surprised and pleased we went away from the run. In most games, I am all for an aggressive strategy. But against this team, you’re better off trying to pound it at them. Simply put, Garrett ignored his team’s biggest advantage after Philly went up by 14.
We are now 3-4. Our defense has played well in 6 of 7 games. Our offense is a question mark due to the line and qb's health. Time will tell whether this was a fluke, or maybe teams will figure the Rob Ryan D out.
We are still in decent position. We will need to get to 10 wins to make the playoffs (9 is a possibility though), and with the Bucs, Bills, Eagles and Giants (twice) on the schedule, it’s not out of the question. We could go 1-2 in the remaining NY/Philly division games and make the playoffs.
We lost to a team that matches up very well with us; most don’t. Let’s not make too much of this game. But let’s also realize that this team is still a ways away from the top tier of the NFC. Playing a Philly team on a good night, we looked like the Rams did against us just one week ago. Luckily, there is still time for the coaching staff to make improvements.