This is the second part of my game review of the Panthers game. The first part dealt with Tony Romo and can be found here. This review will deal with the rest of the team.
Let's start with the offensive line. How much of the success on Sunday was Romo and how much was the offensive line? It was both because overall the offensive line played a much better game than in recent weeks. Here was the main difference; in this game they managed, at a minimum, to get bodies between Romo and the pass rush, whereas against Philly and NY, they rolled out the red carpet. Somehow, the protections schemes were executed correctly and Panther linemen weren't holding a party at the QB. On the other hand, there were definitely times when they got physically whipped and Romo managed to save the play. A couple of times, even Romo's mobility couldn't save the play (thanks Flozell).
Let's start with Flozell, he didn't play awful, but when he misses, he misses big-time, and the QB pays the price. Early in the game, Kris Jenkins beat him on a stunt twist with Mike Rucker, and nailed Romo before he could get out of the screen pass that was covered by Julius Peppers. Later, in the second half, Rucker just blew by Flozell on a speed rush and sacked Romo. But other than that, Adams played OK. The Cowboys were able to run to the left side pretty effectively, and there were plenty of plays when Romo had time in the pocket. One thing we did was help out Adams with a RB or TE on a lot of plays, more than they helped Marc Colombo on the other side.
Colombo played a very good game. They left him out there, many times with no help, on Julius Peppers and he shut him out. It wasn't all one-on-one, they gave Colombo help on occasion, too, and the Panthers would often move Peppers around and even drop him into coverage, but for most of the night Colombo had the upper hand, literally. Like when he got a penalty for hitting Peppers in his grill while trying to block him. Outside of that, there were one or two plays when the Panthers defense got the better of him, but Romo was able to compensate. A top-notch effort by Colombo against a very dangerous defender.
Andre Gurode will certainly be in the doghouse for some penalties, but even those weren't all bad. For instance, his chop block penalty was an effort play with bad timing. A defender was breaking through the line on a pass play and Gurode turned back to hit the guy and blocked him up at his shoulder pads. Unfortunately, at the same time Julius was streaking forward to block the same guy and he hit him in his legs. That's a high/low block at the line of scrimmage and is a penalty. But it was good effort. They also called a false start on him and the replay showed nothing, so that was a sketchy call. Now his holding penalty was a holding penalty, he tackled a guy. He had some good run blocks; on a couple he destroyed Jenkins. He did have a couple breakdowns in pass protection, but Romo again compensated and he blew a few run blocks. Overall, not his best game, kind of a sloppy one from Gurode.
Marco Rivera played like he always does, although he was a little better in this game. He still has one or two plays a game when he gets bull-rushed right into the QB. Fortunately, Romo can get out of the way. He also had a few terrible run blocks, but later in the game started doing pretty well in the run game. Average seems to be the best we will get out of Rivera in a game, but consistently average would be acceptable.
Kyle Kosier was pretty good, and he's capable of throwing some devastating run blocks. On JJ's touchdown, Kosier and Gurode double-team one defender and blow him out, Kosier disengages and goes to the second-level and blows up a LBer and JJ sprints into the endzone. Running behind Gurode, Koiser and Adams is where the Cowboys make their money. But he did have a couple of bad run blocks and one pretty big breakdown in pass protection.
As a unit they played better and had good communication. They picked up a ton of middle blitzes during the game and they also managed to pinch the Panthers line stunts toward the middle and get them bunched together. This gave Romo time to find open receivers and roll-out just enough to get clear passing lanes.
It wasn't only the line that blocked better on the night; it was the other players like Jason Witten, Anthony Fasano, JJ and MB3, and especially our newest addition to the offense, FB Oliver Hoyte. The kid was a little bit of a revelation out there. They played him a lot in the game, especially later when they were working on the clock. He had 3 to 4 crunching blocks on LBers and flashed the potential of being a good FB. They even sent him out in the pattern on occasion, but Romo never looked his way. The one thing I didn't like is when the line is kind of stood-up at the point of attack; he will sometimes just run up behind them and start pushing, with little effect. But overall, I was impressed with his full-time debut.
Jason Witten and Terrell Owens are going to like playing with Tony Romo. Witten was deadly over the middle of the field and his TD catch was a difficult catch. That ball was humming and he had to fingertip it before he brought it in. Well done.
JJ and MB3 were both getting it done on the night. Julius had to work more than usual for his yards and he looked a little nicked up. On a play in the first half after a tackle he was showing some discomfort while pulling at the front of his shoulder pads. Whatever the case, it was a good night of running for JJ and he put a TD on the board. He also did a great job of helping out the tackles in pass protection and did fine in blitz pick-up. MB3 was the hammer that nailed the coffin. His tough running against a beaten down and tired Panther defense was more than they could handle. He ran over them. On that last TD, I could swear that when he turned that corner and saw the endzone, something clicked inside him that made him impossible to stop, he was scoring that TD. He's always dependable in the blocking game, too. And for the record, the way the two are being used by Parcells and the playing time each is getting feels right to me. I wouldn't change it.
On defense, the play of the front 5 against the run was outstanding. The Panthers could not get those guys moved and they became a one dimensional team. Carolina gets credit for sticking with the run, but it just never worked and this allowed Dallas to play defense the way they wanted to. Roy Williams wasn't forced into the box, they didn't need to move the LB'ers or secondary closer to the line in run support, and they sat back in their Cover-2 schemes a lot of the night. They wanted to keep the Panthers in front of them and force Delhomme to put together long marches on short passes. Fortunately, the Panthers helped in their own demise by dropping passes, especially the big one by Keyshawn that came against Anthony Henry when Roy Williams was sent on a blitz.
We did blitz a little more than usual in the game, mainly with Akin Ayodele, Bradie James and Roy Williams, but once again it wasn't overly effective. There were definitely times when we got pressure and forced a bad throw, but we didn't get the big payoff turnovers or sacks from our blitz package. The pass rush is still a little stagnant, only Ellis really managed to get sustained pressure throughout the night. If I'm worried about anything on defense right now, it's the lack of a pass rush on a consistent basis.
In the middle, both Bradie James and Akin Ayodele had stellar nights. Deeper in the middle, the combination of Keith Davis and Marcus Coleman had no problems, and they weren't really tested.
Terence Newman did it to Steve Smith again. It wasn't all Newman, they tried to get Smith on other guys, but Dallas had Newman on him enough to effectively shut down his game. Smith's TD was handed to him on a reverse when DeMarcus Ware went for the fake handoff and totally lost contain, from there it just took a couple of nice blocks and Smith's speed. On the other side, Anthony Henry had an inconsistent night in pass coverage, twice getting penalties when beat by Keyshwan in coverage, another time getting lucky that Keyshawn dropped the ball. But one area that Henry excels in is run support. He made 3-4 tackles at the line of scrimmage after a back had gotten around the OLB and he led the team with 8 tackles on the night.
How about a couple of big special teams plays? Hoyte caused a fumble on a kickoff return that Dallas had every chance to recover, instead Jacques Reeves tried to pick it up and Dallas gave the opportunity back. But Sam Hurd took care of both ends of the deal when he cause a fumble and recovered it. It was a huge, momentum changing play. Tyson Thompson was averaging 33 yards a return on two returns before he got hurt. He will be missed; he was getting the job done in the return game.