Although it is time to look forward to the Dallas Cowboys' home opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, there is also a connection to the last game against the Seattle Seahawks. Namely, what is the team going to do to have a better performance this week?
One of the people most deeply involved in answering those questions is defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. On Friday, he spoke with reporters about what happened in the game and indicated some of the corrections he had to make.
And along the way, he also left a strange question hanging in the air.
You should be able to watch Ryan's comments yourself in this video from DallasCowboys.com. I'll also be using some online reports and a tweet or two for my quotes, so you can go to those sources rather than try to find the exact remarks from Ryan.
One of the first things that RR pointed out was that, from a defensive standpoint, the game was very different when you looked at the halves.
Rob Ryan on Seattle game: "Played (1st half) about as good as we could play it. It was the 2nd half" when they kept going w/ 2 RBs and 2 TEs— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) September 21, 2012
There is something a little bothersome in the last part of that - but I'll get back to that later.
The rest of the details after the jump.
Ian Rapoport gave the longest set of quotes from the interview I have been able to locate. And Ryan does point out the fact that the Dallas defense was getting pretty badly depleted as the game wore on.
They averaged 2.2 yards per carry when we had our full group out there. We lost two D-linemen, we lost our outside backer, we lost our inside backer, we lost two safeties, and I really don't care who you are. When that happens, you gotta play sound and when we're not sound, people are going to expose you.
While not all the losses were at the same time (such as Sean Lee, who only sat out for a handful of plays after the non-penalty helmet-to-helmet shot that Golden Tate was later fined for, and don't tell me that horse is dead), there is no question that Dallas was missing multiple starters. With linemen Marcus Spears and Kenyon Coleman going out, and Jay Ratliff already inactive for the game, the Cowboys would be expected to show some vulnerability to the run. And that's largely what happened. But the team is definitely going to need to find a fix here, because Tampa Bay is bringing in their own running weapon in rookie Doug Martin. Ratliff and Coleman have already been ruled out for the next game, while safety Gerald Sensabaugh, another important part of the run defense, is doubtful. We are going to find out if Sean Lissemore is the player we hope as he gets his first start. Despite all these issues, Ryan insists the team will get the run defense figured out.
The pass defense is not without its own concerns, with Ryan stating that DeMarcus Ware is not fully recovered from his hamstring issues. (I used to like ham, but now I just gag when I see it, for some reason.) But the main issue that the Cowboys faced was that Seattle ran the ball 41 times, and Russell Wilson only had to throw 20 passes.
This disrupted the plan against the Seahawks. Based on their opening game against the Arizona Cardinals, Ryan was going to attack Wilson when the team was in their three receiver set. Pete Carroll countered by only putting that formation on the field ten times - and running the ball out of it eight. RR wanted to get more pressure on the rookie QB.
"They had a plan that wouldn't allow us to do it ... We never got the same game that the Cardinals did. If we did, that kid would have woke up missing."
At this point, some of you may be thinking the same thing I am. Namely, if you plan was not working, why didn't you adjust? This is not the first time Rob has stated that his plan for a game was not effective - and he seemingly has no answer for it during the game. While I can see that personnel limitations due to the accumulating injuries may have limited his ability to respond, I still find the basic answer unsatisfactory. If they are not giving you the formation you expect, you should have a backup plan to take on the ones they do show. There are only so many player combinations to face. Seattle went with a lot of max protect for Wilson, and as a result he completed 75% of his passes. The Cowboys seemed to concede this when they could not get the matchups they wanted.
Perhaps part of all this is Ryan trying to take some blame on himself, especially in light of the injury situation and the fact that the offensive impotence and blatant early game special teams incompetence of the Cowboys were not much help, either. He stated openly during the interview that he made two bad calls, one on the stretch play that Marshawn Lynch took for 36 yards in the third quarter, and the other on the pass for a touchdown two plays later.
Still, he is paid to call the defense. And when his plan is not working, he is expected to adapt and adjust. He can't just lie down and let the other team run rampant out there, the way the Philadelphia Eagles did in their first game against Dallas in 2011. We heard that same song, that his game plan was not adequate. I haven't trotted out one of my old military chestnuts in a while, but one thing that I heard over and over is this: No plan of attack survives the first contact with the enemy. In other words, when things don't go the way you think they will, you better be ready to do something different than you intended to. It's the same in football, and right now, there is reason to worry that the Cowboys are not prepared to handle that.