It was interesting going back and reviewing the game on tape after watching the game live, but most of what I thought happened was confirmed by the replay. Below is the film review of the Cowboys/Falcons game.
I'll start on defense this time, where the Cowboys played a game of pick your poison. They were determined that Mike Vick wasn't going to run the ball and beat them with his feet, so they picked Vick's arm as their poison. The whole defensive game plan was built around this idea. The pass rush was at times very soft because players were holding their lanes, especially on the outside. There were times when a player could have stunted inside or tried to get around the blocks, but they stayed disciplined and held Vick in the pocket most of the game. The flip side was Vick had some time to pass, and was able to beat us deep several times.
Bobby Carpenter was employed as the spy on the nickel defense by lining up at defensive tackle, and most of the time he dropped off the line a few yards and mirrored Vick. He did a very good job; Vick was able to get loose against this defense only a couple of times. Carpenter also did well in holding the outside contain when he was lined up as the LOLB. This was Carpenter's first real game where he contributed in a major way to the defense. On a 3rd and 7, he dropped into his spy role and combined with Ware for a sack. On another play, while lined up as a normal LB, the Falcons let Schaub pitch it to Vick, but Carpenter stayed at home, fought off Alge Crumpler's block and made the tackle. On another pitch to Vick he stayed at home and helped keep the run to a short gain. On several other plays he played nice outside contain against the run and he got a sack of his own. On one play, Dallas paid the price for lining Carpenter up as the defensive tackle, the Falcons ran the ball inside to Dunn, and Carpenter, along with Ratliff, got blown up in the middle and Dunn had a big run. He also looked like he was the guy responsible for Crumpler on the 4th and 1 play, but he rushed the passer. I'm not positive it was his man, but he was on the outside edge as the safety was inside on a blitz and he had no corner help. But overall, it was an outstanding game by Carpenter.
Carpenter's efforts might have been a surprise, but the play of DeMarcus Ware wasn't. Once again, he made plays in all facets of the game. Everyone saw the athletic skill he displayed by catching Vick's pass and returning for it a TD. Both he and Chris Canty stayed at home on the naked bootleg. But Ware also played great against the run, keeping solid outside contain all night long, and he did the same in the pass rush against Vick. He stayed at home on the bootlegs and he held the outside contain when Vick was in the pocket. He also made a great play after a mistake, only to have it erased by another Cowboys' mistake. The Falcons looked like they were running the naked bootleg so Ware shot up the field to be ready for Vick, but Vick handed the ball off to Justin Griffith who cut back to the open space Ware had vacated. Griffith had a nice run going, but Ware ran him down from behind and forced a fumble by swatting the ball out of his hands. A great hustle play by Ware, but Akin Ayodele recovered and fumbled it right back because he carried the ball like a loaf of bread. Ware had a spectacular game again, even though his stats don't always show his greatness.
Another wrinkle the Cowboys used on defense was the delayed blitz. The Cowboys would rush 3 or 4, depending on whether Carpenter was spying, and then after James or Ayodele read the pass, they would come on a delayed blitz to get after Vick while the linemen held their lanes. They even brought Roy up a couple of times to do this. The Cowboys blitzed a lot - for them - in this game, but a lot of it was timing blitzes meant to get a LB free once the blocking scheme was established.
Elsewhere on defense, Jason Ferguson did a great job in the middle. He disrupted four different runs in the backfield, and made a couple of nice tackles. Akin Ayodele continues to improve in the middle. He was excellent at filling the holes and he got a little heat on Vick, one time flushing him into the arms of Kenyon Coleman. Jason Hatcher got pressure a couple of times and grabbed a sack. Chris Canty had an OK game too, causing pressure on the Ware interception, drawing a holding call to nullify a big Vick run and playing some solid run defense. Pat Watkins had a pretty good game also, he didn't get beat for any big plays and had a couple of nice tackles - including one on Vick that was solid - and he got an interception to close the game.
Anthony Henry got toasted several times in the passing game, including an easy TD, and Aaron Glenn also got beat on a critical pass. It was surprising to watch the Atlanta WR's beat our corners. Even Terence Newman got beat a couple of times. But on a 3rd and 3 in the 4th quarter, the Falcons went to Crumpler and Newman made a beautiful play to break up the pass. Atlanta punted and Dallas went on the drive to end the game. Roy Williams had some trouble with Alge Crumpler, and on one occasion Crumpler was open deep against Roy, but Vick overshot the pass. Roy got caught between Griffith and Crumpler at the goal line, he chose to take Crumpler, so Vick calmly threw the ball to a wide-open Griffith for a TD. There had to be a missing LB in that coverage. Overall, our secondary continues to give up big plays, and we couldn't get the Falcons off the field on 3rd down, a problem that is getting worse.
The Cowboys defensive game plan was about as inventive as anything they've tried this year. They threw Carpenter into the middle as a spy, they used a lot of delayed blitzes to get at Vick, and they were extremely disciplined in staying at home in their lanes to contain Vick's running. All of that they performed perfectly; it was only the big plays given up by the secondary and the inability to cover the FB in the flats that kept Atlanta in the game.
On offense, Tony Romo was back to his old self. He was very efficient in the passing game and led the Cowboys to scores when they needed points. He got a lot of help from his offensive line in this game. They did give up three sacks, but on a majority of the pass plays Romo had a lot of time to pick out his targets. The Falcons were blitzing a lot but the line and the backs - except for MB3 on one bad play - were able to pick up the Falcons rushers. He threw a couple of ugly passes - one to Fasano and one to Witten - but overall he was extremely accurate and did a great job of converting 3rd downs. The pass he threw to Owens for the first TD was perfect, although my guess is Parcells would consider that dodging a bullet. On the long bomb to Owens, Dallas caught the Falcons in the perfect defense. They were playing a Cover 1 with Chris Crocker deep, and the Cowboys had Owens streaking down one side and Crayton on the other, the safety was frozen in the middle and Owens toasted DeAngelo Hall. Romo did his job by hitting Owens perfectly in stride. He did have one bonehead play when he threw a screen pass to Glenn backwards and the ball rolled out of bounds turning a 2nd and 1 into a 3rd and 12. But in true Romo style he converted the 3rd down with a nice pass to Glenn. And the pass he threw to Terry Glenn on our last scoring drive was so accurate it was silly.
Terrell Owens had a great game on the field; he scored two TD's and made a spectacular catch in the endzone on his first one. He only had one drop, which is about his average for the year. Terry Glenn turned in a terrific evening and Jason Witten had some very clutch catches. Witten also had a good game blocking, as did Patrick Crayton, who is really under-rated for his blocking skills. On three different run plays he had incredible seal blocks on the end of the line setting up the backs.
Speaking of backs, how about that MB3? When you get that kid near the goal line it's almost impossible to stop him. On one TD run, he snuck through a tiny opening in the line, and then ran over safety Chris Crocker for the TD. It was beautiful. The last Dallas drive of the game was interesting; Dallas ran five straight passing plays, picking up three first downs. Then they handed the ball to MB3 six straight times and he made the Falcons pay. Dallas ran their favorite running play - off tackle and pull the backside guard - repeatedly.
Let's indulge in the JJ/MB3 debate for a moment. First, MB3. He takes the ball from Romo, immediately reads the defense, and picks a hole. He then accelerates through the hole as fast as anybody. He may not have the top-end speed of some backs, but his initial burst is lightning-fast. He can also squeeze through the tightest of spaces. And there's no need to talk about his tough running; it's self-evident. JJ, on the other hand, is much more patient and much more deliberate in his approach to the line; he'll follow the design of the play until the last moment. Here is where he makes his mistakes; he is running into piles of players when he could be making cuts for bigger gains. Like Parcells said today in his press conference, there were a couple of plays where he didn't trust his read and just ran straight ahead. I had two plays exactly like that marked down in my charts and a couple of others that might've had a chance had he made a cut. One in particular could've been a huge run if he cut to the outside, but he hit the pile right in front of him. It's these kinds of cuts he needs to make to be truly effective; they allow JJ to show off his open-field ability, which is immense. But he's just not getting into open space after the initial 3-4 yards. In today's press conference, it sounded like Parcells was giving him permission to be more creative, so we'll see what happens this week. Whatever the case, right now, MB3 is playing better; in fact, he's playing better than a lot of backs in this league.
Let's give some love to Flozell Adams and Marc Colombo, who were close to flawless on the evening. Seriously, did John Abraham even play in that game? He was a non-factor from the outside. Andre Gurode was pretty darn good on the night, too. Where we had a little bit of trouble was at guard. Kyle Kosier got beat on run blocks several times to kill runs by JJ, and he got abused on an MB3 screen. He also had trouble a couple of times in pass protection. But later in the game, when they asked him to pull, he was getting the job done. Finish strong, and you usually win. Marco Rivera struggled the most; he had two holding penalties, got beat several times in the running game, and got bull-rushed back into Romo twice, one time resulting in a tipped pass. But like Kosier, as the game wore on, he seemed to get better, and had some good run blocks. In pass protection, as a unit, they had a very good night.
Lou Polite is not the same as Oliver Hoyte. He is serviceable, but the ground game would benefit from the return of Hoyte. Martin Gramatica drilled a pressure FG in the second half, although he just slid it inside the upright. Miles Austin is getting better and better. He's going to break one all the way soon. He also takes direction well. After fumbling on a kickoff return that Dallas recovered, Parcells was chewing him out on the sideline, and on the next return, he got put in the "jacked-up" Hall of Fame, but he held on to the ball. Plus he put us in great field position after Atlanta had just scored to go up 28-21.