The end of the Ravens game has received likely more press than it really deserves. The key for the Cowboys was establishing an early lead, which should have carried through to the end of the game (special teams touchdowns correlate well with victory).
Let's take a look at some of those first-drive plays, to get a feel for what a successful Cowboys team looks like. Hopefully, the following represents what we'll see in Carolina, and we won't have any late-game gaffes, or a loss to mourn.
We'll start things off with the Ravens' first drive. They reach the Red Zone, to our 19-yard line, and are facing a 3rd and 1.
The Ravens are in a 22-set (2 backs, 2 tight ends), the Big I, which seems to present an equal threat of run to either side of the formation. But if you're the Ravens, do you run at the left, with Sean Lee and DeMarcus Ware lined up, or do you go right, toward Bruce Carter and Alex Albright?
Bet you didn't see that coming: they went right. Baltimore's tight end seems to have gained good initial position on Albright, effectively sealing the edge and giving the back, Pierce, a 1-on-1 with Danny McCray. Looks like a first down at this point. Vonta Leach, the fullback, has made the same assessment, and is moving to pick up the corner, off-screen to the right, to ensure a wide-open lane.
Three things to point out, now.
First and foremost, Albright has broken through the tight end's edge-sealing efforts.
Second, Leach seems to have tunnel vision, as he's still staring down the corner despite a linebacker coming free directly in front of him. It's possible his assignment is pre-determined at the time of the snap, but this is the type of on-the-fly adjustment that our running game - make that our entire offense - is built around.
Finally, since we can see that Albright has gotten himself into a bear hug, a holding violation that directly impacts his ability to make the tackle, we can look at Mike Carey's field of view, and wonder why he feels no obligation to throw a flag.
The penalties for this Mike Carey-called game were split 13-10, with the Cowboys receiving 13. Last year, the Cowboys were 5th in the league number of penalties, and last in the league in number of penalties against their opponents. You can read my conspiracy theory here. Sometimes the calls that aren't made are more important than the ones that are.
The held Albright is turned around, but manages to get a hand on Pierce's jersey, slowing him long enough for the rest of the defense to collapse on him and finish the play.
This stop held Baltimore to 3 points, allowing us to take the momentum on our first-drive touchdown. These are the plays Anthony Spencer makes on a regular basis, so it will be great to have him back as soon as possible. In the meantime - it's nice to know Alex Albright can provide an occasional lift.
Now we can move on to the first Felix Jones run of the day. Doug Free will be called for holding on the play - and in fairness he leaned somewhat before the snap (it could've been called a false start).
Anyway, Felix's best abilities have always been his quick jump-cut and his patience in finding the hole. He has been top 10 in the league at breaking tackles in the past, but not in the same way that Murray does it. Felix is great at ensuring defenders never get a clean shot on him. Murray is great at getting low and surviving - or even delivering - clean shots.
Now we see what Felix has to work with. Great blocking all around...wait, no. Great blocking, except for Bernadeau, who is close to stepping on Felix's toes as he takes the handoff.
It's possible he still isn't 100%, but I still like what I saw last weekend. Here you can see a good 45-degree bend (I measured) between his legs and the ground, which is where that explosive jump cut comes from.
With running backs and pass-rushers, the angle between their inside leg and the ground is a great indicator of leverage around the edge - they're low to the ground and have all of their power behind them. For those who're interested, here's some physics to back that up. Force (think power, for a running back), has both a magnitude and a direction. The direction of the force is the angle of the runner's leg to the ground - their legs are their power source.
The force can be split into two components, then - vertical and horizontal. Vertical force is essentially wasted, raising the center of gravity and separating the runner from the ground. Horizontal force is what we want, and translates to burst down the field and pushing piles. The horizontal force is equal to the total force multiplied by the cosine of the angle to the ground. The smaller the angle, the larger the cosine, and the larger portion of force being applied to the ground. At 45 degrees, roughly 70% of the total force is applied in the horizontal direction. Look for Felix to drop that angle further as the season goes on.
Oh, okay. He was tripped. From the rulebook:
Tripping is the use of the leg or foot in obstructing any opponent (including a runner) (12-1-5 c)
10-yard penalty. Kicked in the ankle might actually be a better term for it.
One last look: you can see the hold that was called, and you can also see how far the linebacker had to stretch out his leg in order to kick Felix down. Oh, well. I guess Tripping is only called when Flozell Adams is suited up. Oh, well. On to the touchdown.
The Cowboys follow the penalty by coming out in a 12 set, with the two tight ends on the same side of the formation. This just screams to the Ravens, "we're going left." The Ravens, however, remain in an unshifted 3-4, aside from a strongside shade by the nose tackle. The reasoning, likely, is that they want to prevent the cutback, end-around, and counter plays that the Cowboys run from time to time. If that's the case, the Cowboys effectively deceived the Ravens by not deceiving them, as they had a numbers advantage on the playside and exploited it fully.
Let's take a shot at guessing blocking assignments. Phil Costa should get some help with the nose tackle, so Livings should double team with him. We'll give the end to Tyron Smith one-on-one, and hope Witten and Phillips can handle Ray Lewis and the corner, respectively. We'll have to hope for Jones to get the edge, because there's no way he can beat Ray Lewis to the hole up the middle, right?
Then, Romo taps his foot, and Phillips shifts to behind the 3-hole. Everything has changed. The nose tackle is going to be handled by John Phillips alone. Livings is free to rush Ray Lewis, and Costa scrapes off the nose tackle to prevent the weakside ILB from pursuing the play. The misdirection on the handoff (Romo opens right, hands off left) freezes the linebackers, and Felix gets the ball.
Lewis is starting to break free from Livings, but that certainly is a nice view...
Lewis is side-stepped, leaving Bernard Pollard (a guy with a reputation as a hard-hitting run-stuffer) with a head-on look at Jones.
A swat to the helmet, and Jones is able to get Pollard off his feet. He runs through an Ed Reed hit at the goal line (which barely altered Jones' momentum) for his first rushing touchdown in quite some time.
Felix Jones will be the bulk of the Cowboys' rushing attack this week against Carolina. It will be interesting to see how well he moves against three quick, heady linebackers. That said, Felix's biggest need for positive runs is space at the line of scrimmage. 4-3 defenses tend to have wider spacing, not to mention smaller personnel, which should help Jones get to second gear.
I'm looking forward to seeing how this plays out, and whether or not we can put together a full game of the dominance we showed at times in Baltimore.