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Film review: Saints game

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Yes, I watched the game again this morning in detail, as brutal as it was. Not much changed from my initial reaction of watching the game live. But for what it's worth, here's my detailed breakdown of what I saw. By the way, I didn't chart the final part of the game so everything written here pertains to play when the game was still in doubt - even though it seems like it never was in doubt.

First, a little noticed item that I mentioned in the live game thread, Oliver Hoyte went out sometime in the first half with an injury. It's being reported as a knee injury, let's hope it's not serious, he's been an important cog in our running game recently.

Now to Tony Romo. He had a bad night and it started on Dallas' very first play. The Cowboys ran a WR screen to Terry Glenn but Romo threw the ball behind him and Glenn had to do a 360 just to catch it. By the time he did grab the ball, the play was dead. This was indicative of Romo's play for most of the evening, he just didn't show the poise and accuracy he has in his earlier starts. He had several deep passes that were out-of-bounds giving the receiver no chance of catching them. On his interception to Omar Stoutmire on the 3rd offensive series, Romo just blew it. He was trying to hit someone in the flats, but that was covered so he went to his second option, Terry Glenn. Glenn had beaten Mike McKenzie who had hesitated because he saw Romo looking into the flats and Stoutmire was not in position to make a play. But Romo threw the ball to the inside where Stoutmire could recover and pick it off. If Romo leads Glenn to the outside it's probably a TD because there was no one behind him. [editor's note, by Grizz] I agree with Parcells's comments that Stoutmire cheated over because no one forced him to play the middle. Also, Romo never looked Stoutmire off to the left side. But I still think that if Romo's pass is deeper and to the outside, it's a catch. Watch the play again and notice how Glenn has to turn back to the middle and the pass is under-thrown. [END NOTE]

The Saints did a good job of applying pressure and keeping Romo in the pocket. Several times they crashed the end toward the middle on one side, then ran a LB in a delayed blitz to keep Romo from rolling out to that side. They did it on a 2nd and 5 play in the 2nd quarter, and Will Smith blew right past Kyle Kosier for a sack. Romo couldn't roll out because a LB was on a blitz and covering the edge. Immediately following that play, Jason Witten just watched Will Smith run right by him untouched and Romo had to throw the ball away. On the goal line stand by the Saints to start the 3rd quarter, Romo rolled out to his left, but Smith kept his contain instead of biting on the inside run fake, and forced Romo to throw a ball slightly off-target to Witten. Witten makes that catch most of the time, but it was the pressure from Smith that made it a tough throw and catch. On the next play, the Saints overloaded the right side of the Dallas line, got a blitzer into the backfield untouched, and Romo had to force a quick pass that was almost intercepted.

Romo made another bad decision on the throw that Terrell Owens caught for a TD. More evidence of Romo's lack of poise in this game was on the drive to get a score right before the 1st-half ended. Romo scrambled for a few yards on a play and caused Dallas to burn a time-out instead of dumping the ball short to a wide open MB3. It's unclear if MB3 could have made anything out of the play, but he could have made a run for the sidelines. On the last play before Gramatica missed the FG, Glenn had inside position on McKenzie in the endzone, but Romo threw the ball over both players' heads and out of the endzone. Romo didn't get a lot of help from his line in the game, but he also didn't make the plays we've grown accustomed to him making.

JJ had a very good start to the game. On the 77-yard TD run, the play was designed to go toward the middle. But Flozell Adams got beat to the inside and JJ used good vision to break it back to the left. He hit the hole and accelerated through the defense using a good block by Andre Gurode and a touch block from Owens. These are the kind of runs we've been looking for in the last month. He did make one bad choice on a 2nd and 9 play in the 2nd quarter when he could've broken it outside for a decent gain, but stayed with the blocking and got a short gain. The Cowboys couldn't convert on 3rd down and had to punt. But overall, JJ was the Cowboys best weapon along with Terry Glenn.

The offensive line was a hit-and-miss affair. They did get some good blocks in the running game but ended up making Romo scramble or throw under pressure too often. Andre Gurode and Marc Colombo had decent games, but Flozell Adams had a few bad mistakes. But the guy who really blew it was Kyle Kosier. He missed a block on the LB on a JJ run killing the play, and on the next play in the series he got pushed into the backfield to kill another run. He gave up the sack to Will Smith mentioned above, and got beat a few times forcing Romo to throw the ball away. It was one of his worst games as a Cowboy.

Terry Glenn had a good game once Romo started getting the ball to him. He was especially dangerous over the middle on crossing patterns and `dig' routes.

Now for the defense, which was just abysmal. They easily played their worst game of the year and it was a mixture of blowing assignments and not being put into position to make plays. I harped on one particular aspect of the defense in earlier posts, but I'm going to go back to it again. The Cowboys totally ignored the pass to the backs in the flats for most of the game, even though New Orleans ran them repeatedly. They should've known this was coming because against the 49ers last week the Saints did the same thing. And the fact that they were throwing to the FB Karney doesn't excuse it.

The Cowboys insisted on rushing DeMarcus Ware instead of having him drop off in coverage when he saw the backs going into the flats. It would've been OK if a middle LB or safety rolled up to take the coverage, but that didn't happen either. I have at least six plays where the Saints just dumped the ball in the flats and there was no Dallas defender within five yards of the play. On multiple occasions, they ran two WR's to a side; one would go downfield taking the CB with him, and the other would cross to the middle where two Dallas players would end up covering the same guy. Ware or the other OLB would rush the passer and Brees would simply make an easy lob to the back in the flats. It took until late in the game for Dallas to start having the OLB's trail the backs into the flats, but by that time the game was over.

It wasn't much better in the middle of the field where the Akin Ayodele and Bradie James were terrible in pass coverage. The Saints TE's, RB's and WR's all had easy catches underneath with no one pressuring the catch. I don't know if Dallas was so worried about the Saints big-play ability in the passing game that they had their LB's dropping too deep, or if they were just missing assignments, but the Saints took full advantage.

The Cowboys defensive line couldn't get pressure on Brees after the first couple of series. DeMarcus Ware got a sack early and the Cowboys were able to make Brees uncomfortable on the first couple of series. They did this by blitzing often; bringing six guys on the pass rush. Curiously, they quit doing this and never got real pressure again. Ware also got caught inside on a run and over-pursued when the Saints ran a reverse on a 4th and 1. After that, Ware didn't have much effect on the game, and the rest of the line couldn't create any pressure. They were OK in stopping the run early, a lot of the Saints running yards came in the 4th quarter.

Later in the game, Brees destroyed our safeties. Roy Williams got beat on two important passes, one a TD and another that set-up a TD. Keith Davis also got beat for another long TD. The Cowboys better hope that Tony Parrish shows something in practice this week and is able to stabilize a position that has been a Dallas weak-point all season.

As I've stated in previous posts, I think the Cowboys coaching staff did a lousy job of adjusting to what the Saints were doing in the game. On defense, they couldn't figure out a way to stop the passes into the flats or create pressure on Brees. On offense, they didn't adjust to the Saints overloading one side of the line on blitzes and they couldn't get Romo out of the pocket. They also could have utilized the running game more.

Quick notes:

Bobby Carpenter had a couple of good plays in the game, including keeping contain on roll-out passes and helping on a couple of runs. But on a crucial 3rd and 1 he pushed inside too quickly and lost outside contain and the Saints easily picked up the first down.

Martin Gramatica blew another FG, it looked exactly like the first one he blew in New York last week, so our kicking situation is far from settled.

On defense, Terence Newman was the only guy in the secondary to have a good game. Anthony Henry had some good plays, but he also gave up a couple of crucial pass plays.

Bill Parcells picked up a terrible penalty by throwing the challenge flag inside the last two minutes of a half, which was the first time I ever saw that called. DeMarcus Ware also picked up a questionable penalty near the goal line when he flinched early, causing the TE to flinch. He tried to point it out to the ref but the ref flagged him instead for making a move not normal to football. Whatever, I thought it was a bogus call and it really helped the Saints on that series.

The Saints absolutely crushed us in time of possession, 37 - 23 minutes. The Cowboys defense was getting dog tired by the end of the game, and the Saints just ran the ball down their throats in the 4th quarter.

Ryan Fowler took off much too early on the Saints onsides kick. Payton said he had observed them doing that all game.

Miles Austin is doing a fantastic job in returning kickoffs, we aren't missing a beat from the Tyson Thompson injury. The kickoff coverage team, which has been stellar all year, gave up too much yardage in this game.