This the second part of my review of the Cowboys/Colts game, focusing on the offense. The first part, focusing on defense, can be found here.
The Cowboys offense wasn't supposed the problem on Sunday; they were actually outscoring the Colts on average for the year going into the game. Things don't always work out as planned as the Cowboys offense bumbled and stumbled through a mistake-filled first half. Thankfully, they managed to right the ship in the second half and close out the game strong, sealing a hard-fought victory where the defense can claim the majority of the credit.
What happened in the first half? Taking a look at each drive can be very instructive. The Cowboys actually started out well, they ran a screen to start the game (more on this play later), and they got a nice run from JJ for a first down, but faced a 3rd and 8 when two running plays were snuffed. The Cowboys had trouble running the ball early in the game; the Colts were shooting their linebackers through the center of the line disrupting plays in the backfield. Colts LB Rob Morris was killing the Cowboys; the middle of the line wasn't getting it done. So the Cowboys were stuck with a long 3rd down, and the inevitable happened, Dwight Freeney was a blur past Flozell Adams and blind-sided Tony Romo causing a fumble. Adams had some trouble with Freeney most of the game, even on run blocking the quicker Freeney was sometimes able to avoid him, but he never let him get another sack - thanks, Tony Romo - and he held it together enough for the Cowboys offense to score two late TD's. They gave him help occasionally, but he did a lot of solo-blocking, too, so even though it wasn't a great performance, it was good enough for Flozell.
The second drive was an uneventful 3 and out. The Cowboys tried a run on first down, both Kyle Kosier and Andre Gurode ran right past the DT between them without touching him, and then Oliver Hoyte ran past him, too. (Don't worry about Hoyte, other than that, the guy was killing the Colts defenders, he's going to be good). JJ was a sitting duck for the DT before even getting to the line. Mistakes like that killed our running game in the first half. On 3rd and 11, the Cowboys ran into the other problem they had on offense. Romo dropped back, and the line held temporarily, but Romo didn't find any receiver out beyond the sticks to throw to, the pocket started to crumble and he was forced to dump it short to Patrick Crayton. This happened to Dallas a few more times. Once the running game stumbled, they were in 3rd and long too often, and the Colts coverage plus the eventual pass rush resulted in short passes and missed first downs.
The next drive was terminated by one guy only, Tony Romo, on one of his worst decisions since the second half of the Giants game. The Cowboys had actually started to put a drive together. They got a good run from JJ for a first down, and Romo connected with Witten for another first down. But Tony Romo locked in on Terry Glenn, who was double-covered, and under-threw him right into the waiting arms of Nick Harper. Write it off to one of Romo's few bad decisions since he's been the starter.
The Cowboys had good starting position on the next drive, but it was the same old-story, they couldn't run the ball, the Colts LB's were very active, and they ended up in a 3rd and 10. Romo dropped back and had a little time, but no one was open downfield so he dropped it off short to Witten and the Cowboys had to kick a FG. Or at least attempt one, we all know how that worked out.
On the next drive, the Cowboys managed to shake Terrell Owens free for a couple of decent gains moving them out toward midfield. But after two runs that managed only 5 yards, Romo couldn't connect with Crayton on 3rd down, and he was short of the sticks even if he had caught it. That was it except for the last mini-drive where Pat Watkins made a fantastic play falling on a squib kick, but after an Owens reception on a great roll-out by Romo - who was being chased by Freeney - Vanderjagt missed another FG.
We had two major problems in the first half. One was the turnovers that killed two drives, and the other was our inability to run the ball, setting up too many 3rd and longs. The Cowboys were trying to overpower the Colts defense with running plays up the gut, but the Colts LB's were getting the better of the line, avoiding blocks at the 2nd-level and shooting the gaps. Dwight Freeney was also very active in stopping the run game. The Cowboys pass blocking was OK, but on the 3rd and longs Romo ended up throwing the ball short, probably because the Colts secondary was playing back in good coverage and the run game wasn't pulling their defense towards the line.
The second half didn't start out much better, the Cowboys did get a first down on their first drive, but they got stuffed on a running play, and then disaster almost struck. This hasn't been covered much, but this was a play that could've changed the game. Romo dropped back to pass and Freeney ran a crossing stunt with the DT. Kosier didn't slide over to pickup Freeney, he continued to block the DT outside with Flozell Adams, and Freeney swooped around right into Romo's grill. Romo unloaded the ball quickly without much follow through on his motion, and the ball went right into a Colts DB's hands. Fortunately he dropped it, but if he had caught it and the Colts drove it in for a score, we have a different ballgame. As it was, the Cowboys had a long 3rd down again and Romo threw short to Crayton again, forcing a punt.
That was the end of the Cowboys' woes on offense; the next three drives were things of beauty. What changed? The Cowboys started running the ball effectively and Terry Glenn got involved in the offense. The running game was revived through two adjustments, they started using Hoyte at FB more often and they started running counter plays and pulling Kosier. Oliver Hoyte has turned into a bruising FB, what looked at the time like a desperation move to get some blocking at the FB position has turned into a burgeoning story for the Cowboys. Hoyte is destroying the first guy he hits on runs, and JJ took full advantage. Kyle Kosier also got some good blocks while pulling and Colombo and Witten got some good seal blocks on the right edge. With Hoyte taking out LB's and the misdirection plays getting the Colts defense out of position, the Cowboys running game took off. It also helped that the smaller Colts defense started wilting after the physical pounding they had taken all game as the Cowboys stuck with the run even when it wasn't working.
The Cowboys also found something they liked in the passing game. With the Colts intent on stopping the run and forcing long 3rd downs, the Cowboys gave Romo run/pass options at the line of scrimmage. When Romo saw the Colts stacked on the run, he went to Terry Glenn on the slant pattern. He ran it twice in front of CB Jason David, then once in front of CB Nick Harper. On a 3rd and goal, they ran it again to David's side, and he couldn't stay with Glenn so he grabbed his jersey, nullifying an interception and giving the Cowboys a first and goal, which MB3 promptly cashed in for a TD. With the running game working and Terry Glenn killing the Colts with slant patterns, the Cowboys offense was unstoppable on the drive.
On the next drive, they took advantage of drawing the CB's up to cover the slant. Romo hit Glenn behind Jason David on the sideline for 19 yards, and then burned Nick Harper with a fake slant pattern. Glenn ran the slant, Romo pumped the ball and Harper bit, Glenn turned the pattern back upfield and Romo laid a perfect pass into his hands for a 33-yard gain. From there, JJ took care of most of the rest with a few runs and a screen pass. Remember I mentioned the Cowboys ran a screen on their first play? On that screen Colts DT Anthony McFarland read screen and ran JJ down from behind for a short gain. This time, they ran the same screen to the opposite side, and McFarland read screen and was bearing down on JJ. The Cowboys were ready; Kyle Kosier peeled-off his blocking assignment and went back to cut McFarland down, the result was a 15-yard gain that set up MB3 for a short TD run.
The Cowboys offense finished off the game with a nice MB3 run, a facemask penalty, and another key pass to Terry Glenn converting a 3rd and 7 to end the game. How appropriate, since in the first half they couldn't convert a 3rd and long situation regularly, and Terry Glenn was nowhere to be found in the first half. Nice adjustments. Also, on the last drive the Cowboys called a surprising pass where Romo rolled-out and dropped a beautiful ball into Anthony Fasano's hands for 22-yards. The play was kind of scary because Dwight Freeney had beaten Flozell Adams and Kyle Kosier around the edge on a speed rush, and he was chasing Romo like he had just spotted him breaking into his car.
Let's finish by looking at some individual efforts. Tony Romo was very efficient and besides the bad passes on an interception and an almost interception, he was poised at the end of the game when the Cowboys needed it. The kid has ice-water in his veins. Oliver Hoyte is quickly becoming a force in the run game, watching him block reminds me of old-time FB's. JJ had an OK day running the ball, the line was part of the problem, but he had a fantastic day picking up the pass rush. On three different plays he had to block someone by himself and got the job done. He also helped Adams on Freeney on a key pass to Terry Glenn. Speaking of Glenn, his play on the last three drives were the key to winning this game, an outstanding effort by the quiet one.
The offensive line was off-and-on for the day. They couldn't get the running game blocked early, but later in the game they picked it up, especially Marc Colombo and Jason Witten, and Kyle Kosier was a force when they started to pull him more. In pass blocking they were pretty good, only giving up one sack and they usually gave Romo time initially on a play, but the pocket would start to crumble after a while. There were very few jail-breaks though, and Romo is good at avoiding trouble once the pocket starts collapsing. So they did a good enough job to get the victory.
That's all we want in the end.