The Dallas Cowboys are a more unpredictable offense this year. They are lining up in a variety of formations, they are just as apt to pass as they are to run, and they have the weapons to keep a defense unbalanced. So far, they've put up 17, 27 and 45 points over the first three games. When was the last time Dallas scored 45 points? In the year 2000, against the Cardinals when they scored 48 points. So what's happening this year that has changed the offense? The addition of Terrell Owens, the addition of Chris Palmer and elevation of Todd Haley, and the improved play of the offensive line.
The offensive line turned in another outstanding effort against the Titans. Andre Gurode and Kyle Kosier are forming an excellent interior combination. The improvement over Al Johnson and Larry Allen is becoming very evident. Gurode is using his physical power to overwhelm defensive linemen. Ask Albert Haynesworth, who lost his mind after getting buried by Gurode (with a little help from Kosier) on Julius Jones' TD run. After watching the tape, I only saw one poor block by Gurode that led to a play being stopped. Otherwise, he was opening holes in the middle that Julius took advantage of and he was solid in his pass protection.
Kyle Kosier had a similar night. Where Kosier really excels is when he is asked to pull, I have him down for three pull blocks that opened big runs, including one on a 3rd and 2 play. That's a lot of trust to ask a guy to pull and open the hole on a short-yardage play. He also paired up with Flozell to open up the hole for MB3's TD. Kosier did have one break down in pass protection but he got away with an egregious hold on Haynesworth. The Cowboys, I'm sure, will continue to run behind Gurode and Kosier.
Flozell Adams has returned to form for the most part after a brutal week one. He only had a couple of shaky pass blocks, one leading to a dangerous pass from Bledsoe, but was pretty solid most of the night. His run blocking was serviceable, with only one missed block that led to a negative play. But if he can get his run blocks up to the level of Kosier and Gurode, running behind the left-side of this line will lead to a huge season for JJ.
On the right-side of the line, Marco Rivera and Marc Colombo were getting the job done in the Titans game. Rivera had a couple of good pull blocks and didn't get beat in pass protection, something he's had problems with. Colombo also is doing well in both phases of the blocking game, although he's doesn't pull that well, and he did have a break-down in pass protection, but Bledsoe covered for him. Al Johnson did a fine job replacing Gurode for the second half.
All in all, the offensive line was very impressive in the win and is showing good communication and toughness. Andre Gurode and Kyle Kosier are really coming together as a duo.
Julius Jones has looked like a different runner this year. He's showing patience in setting up his blocks, but is more decisive when he sees the hole and hits it hard. JJ has ditched the dancing on every play and is following the blocks and showing faith in the plays. He's following the blocking, even if it ends up being a short gain, and he's using a single cutback move when he sees daylight and getting north-south. There was some concern that Parcells was wasting JJ's natural talents by reining him in, but with a line that is now producing holes, Parcells has a back that will move the chains. JJ is getting the tough yards as well as breaking the occasional 20-yard run. JJ has also improved in his blocking when picking up blitzers or stray pass rushers. He simply looks more consistent this year.
Jason Witten has become a little bit of a mystery this year. In this game, he had two quick receptions on the second drive of the game, and then wasn't heard from again. He only had two catches and was thrown to four times He's still doing a fair job in run blocking, and they did use him often as the 3rd blocker out the backfield in off-set I formations. He also picked up a couple of false start penalties. So far this year, Bledsoe is using the WR's as his main targets. Oh yeah, if Hurd was the primary receiver on the pass that he knocked out of Witten's hands as explained by Bill Parcells, someone forgot to tell Bledsoe because he never looked at Hurd.
Drew Bledsoe has put together two nice games in a row after the disaster in Jacksonville. Part of the reason is the clean pockets provided by his offensive line and pat of it is good decision making. One thing I've noticed about Bledsoe this year is he's getting the ball out much quicker than in the past. Rarely do you see him hold it so long that the protection breaks down and leads to a sack. It's possible that having the multiple weapons in the passing game has enabled him to make quick decisions because at least one receiver is getting open quickly on each play. Again, outside of the Jax game, he's making smart decisions on when to throw the ball away.
Terrell Owens is providing most of what Dallas wanted out of him on the field. His receiving numbers are not far behind Terry Glenn's and he still attracts more attention from the defenses than any other receiver on the Cowboys. What he hasn't done is provide the TD catches. In the Washington game he had one in his hands but had it punched out at the last second. In this game he also didn't catch one in the endzone that he had his hands on. In fairness, Pac-Man Jones made a sneaky play that went unnoticed to break up that pass. As Owens was crossing the endzone, Jones slid his hand around Owens' back hip and gave a slight tug. This slowed Owens down just enough that Jones was able to grab his shoulder and turn Owens just as the pass was arriving. Yes, Jones got away with one, but he did it with such stealth that you almost have to admire him for it. But Owens is an all-world receiver, and when he gets his hands on the ball in the enzone, he needs to close the deal.
Terry Glenn is Terry Glenn, the guy makes plays. We love him. MB3 is providing tough running and giving JJ a break in the game to keep him fresh. Even Tyson Thompson got some action in this game and scored a TD. For all you Romo fans, he flashed his mobility by bootlegging for the final first down of the game.
What I really liked on film was the variety of formations the Cowboys are using on offense. They will line up any skill player in almost any position. TE's Fasano and Witten can find themselves lined up outside, next to the tackle, or in various positions in the backfield. Owens and Glenn are sometimes lined up on the same side of the field or on opposite sides. The RB's, especially MB3, can find themselves lined up wide as a WR. The Cowboys ran a 5 "WR" empty-backfield set five times on Sunday. That may be a record for a Parcells coached team. They had a TD, an INT, two first downs and an 8-yard gain out of this formation.