Watching this week's game film was certainly more enjoyable than last week's painful experience. I've already detailed Drew Bledsoe's day in a previous post, here. On to the rest of the team.
The offensive line learned their lesson last week, so much so that it opened up another can of worms. After the Eagles' game, my big complaint was the offensive line (mainly Flozell) wasn't blocking down against middle blitzes, allowing the inside rushers to come through unblocked. This week, it was blitzes from the outside that hurt us because Colombo and Adams were busy blocking down. On the first sack, the Texans brought two defensive backs from the same side of the line. When you watch the replay, Flozell Adams is blocking down, he's moved his man over to the center of the field. In fact, the whole line was pushed that way and the linemen had the Texans bottled up. Except for the two defensive backs who forced JJ to make a decision on whom to block. Either way JJ went, it was a losing proposition because the other guy would run free. Just a nice blitz call by the Texans and perfectly timed and executed by their players.
On the other sack, even though it came from the MLB, he was stunting to the outside and actually ended up running around Marc Colombo because Colombo was - you guessed it - blocking down the line and couldn't recover in time to pick up the blitz. The Texans blitzed often, and the fact that the line only gave up two sacks showed me they were getting better at picking up the stunts and blitzes, albeit against a much less talented defense. The Cowboys also game-planned better this week for the blitzes. They ran a lot of short patterns and Bledsoe was able to get rid of the ball quickly. That's the reason you have Bledsoe with a 6.0 average on yards per attempt.
Overall, the offensive line was much improved, which was to be expected playing against an inferior defense. It wasn't all good though, and this time the right side of the line was the more inconsistent area. Marc Colombo had a couple of real bad run blocks that left JJ with no room to run. He also missed the stunt on the blitz that led to a sack and he got beat on another blitz to the outside forcing Bledsoe to throw the ball away. Marco Rivera was complicit with Colombo on some bad run blocks and he also had a false start penalty. Andre Gurode was pretty steady, with only a couple of bad run blocks, but he had a holding penalty that negated a Jason Witten first down on a 3rd down play and the Cowboys ended up punting. Kyle Kosier was solid, with only a couple of poor run blocks but he had some great blocks when he was asked to pull. Flozell Adams was much-improved over last week, but was the victim of a couple of outside blitzes that were unblocked as he was blocking down the line. Still, I'd rather him block the inside rushers instead of letting them run free. Even though the line had some bad moments, for most of the game they were pretty darn good.
The guys who struggled with run blocking were the TE's Fasano and Witten. Fasano still has trouble picking up the right guy to block on his entry blocks and he doesn't always move the defender when he does hit them. Jason Witten whiffed twice on blocks that led to runs being snuffed out before they had a chance, one time when the Cowboys were in a 1st and goal situation. The TE who actually had a couple of great blocks was Tony Curtis. He sealed the edge on JJ's big run, and Colombo did a mini-pull to the outside and got a great block, leaving JJ a huge hole. The Cowboys ran this play quite a few times, with varying degrees of success.
You wanted shotgun, you got the shotgun. By my count, the Cowboys lined up in the shotgun formation 5 times with Bledsoe in the game. On the first one, the Cowboys got beat with an outside blitz and Bledsoe had to throw the ball away. On the next one, the Texans blitzed again but Bledsoe hit Glenn for a good gain. They ran a draw out of the shotgun that went nowhere. In the second half they had a good play out of the gun when Bledsoe hit Witten for a first down, but a Gurode hold wiped it out. The last time was the play when Bledsoe had Witten wide open for a TD but threw a bad pass.
The run defense was outstanding, and a lot of the credit goes to Jason Ferguson who was simply a brick wall. The Texans couldn't get him moved and that was a big reason for the death of their running game. Chris Canty and Marcus Spears were also excellent at holding their positions and DeMarcus Ware is vastly improved in his run defense over last year.
The Dallas secondary had a fantastic game. Terence Newman was his usual self, but Anthony Henry also came up big. After a rough first drive where he gave up a couple of completions and had a personal foul facemask penalty, he settled in nicely. His play against the slant pattern was phenomenal, breaking up the three passes intended for Andre Johnson on the slant. Of course, he also had a big interception and finished the game with 8 tackles and 5 pass break-ups. That's a solid game. Roy Williams was a monster in hitting the Texans; he laid out players with vicious hits 3 different times. He also had no trouble in pass coverage. Pat Watkins was the starter at FS and showed no ill effects from last week's game and even delivered his own punishing tackle.
Let's take a minute to hail some of the key role players in the game. Jay Ratliff, in limited time, helped snuff out a draw play, blew up a screen pass, and blocked a pass at the line of scrimmage. Patrick Crayton had 5 catches for 61 yards and was particularly adept at converting 3rd downs. Abram Elam saved a TD on a punt return and blasted a Texan on a kickoff return. Kevin Burnett caused a fumble on a kickoff return and Miles Austin was pretty active in covering kickoffs.
And you can't forget Mat McBriar, who is a flat-out stud. 4 punts averaging almost 57 yards and one 75-yarder that pinned the Texans deep in their own territory.
Terrell Owens, Julius Jones and Marion Barber's contributions were obvious. Let's hope Bledsoe decides to look for Owens more in the redzone in coming games. Congrats to Tony Romo on completing his first NFL pass and his first NFL TD.
The Cowboys pass rush is still an area of concern; they applied limited pressure on David Carr and only disrupted his timing on a handful of plays. They didn't blitz much and only ran a couple of stunts involving Ware and Canty. They may have to get more aggressive in their play-calling if they want to get pressure going forward. Also, twice in the game Greg Ellis ended up covering a WR on the outside, but Carr didn't look to that side on the play. Can't figure out why he didn't, I definitely would've taken a shot. Maybe they were scared to throw on Ellis after they saw him flash his defensive back skills by making the interception on a pass tipped by Bradie James. One thing the defense is doing over the last few weeks is getting turnovers and the Cowboys offense is converting them into points.