I've finished with my review of the game tape from the Minnesota game, and while there was a lot of bad stuff, there were some good spots. Instead of breaking it down by an offense and defense review, this will be an all-in-one review.
The big thing I noticed is that when we ran the 2-TE set, Minnesota was stacking 8 or 9 men in the box, and ran multiple run blitzes. There were times when they threw all 9 guys into the mix. If this had been a regular season game, I wonder if Bledsoe would've checked out of the runs on some of those plays, because the receivers were going to be single-covered. You can bet that Jacksonville will watch this tape and try some similar defenses. Dallas will need to be creative in their play-calling next week, instead of running into the teeth of a stacked line.
While the Cowboys struggled mightily in run blocking against those defenses, the pass blocking was actually pretty decent, especially since the Vikings ran a lot of blitzes. Dallas had little problem handling the Vikings basic 4-man rush and did well in picking up the blitzes.
The running game, particularly the first unit line, was a disaster in the face of 8 and 9-men lines. Marco Rivera was simply awful; I have him marked down for 6 terrible blocks, including a streak of three straight plays where he got toasted. Andre Gurode also struggled, he had two very bad plays while blocking, he snapped the ball too early causing Bledsoe to run the ball and get hurt; and he snapped the ball over Romo's head. Kyle Kosier was not awful for the game, but he did pitch in with a couple of bad plays. McQ wasn't awful either, but he did whiff on a few blocks, the same with Marc Colombo. But it was the middle, with Rivera and Gurode, where a lot of the damage was done. The other main culprit in the blocking scheme was TE Jason Witten, who missed multiple blocks, 4 or 5 of them by my count. On the positive side, JJ and MB3 did a good job of picking up stray blitzers, JJ only did poorly one time (Bledsoe's INT), and while Fasano still misses the block on occasion in the run game, he was mostly solid in helping on pass protection.
With nowhere to run in the first half, JJ had an awful statistical game. He was also involved with the botched play where Bledsoe threw an INT. I think JJ thought it was straight pass protection and he did made a poor block, and it looked like Drew thought it was a run play to the other side. But if you watch the blocking the line obviously thought it was a pass and so did the receivers. So I think both Drew and JJ made mistakes on the same play, leading to the INT.
What hurt us this week was the fact that we couldn't get anybody open in the intermediate or deep areas in the first half. The only time we did was on broken plays and scrambles. Most of the time we were forced to dump the ball off short, and with no run game it made it very hard to move the ball. But we did put together a couple of good drives, only to throw an INT and kick a FG.
The second team line had a much better night - against the 2nd team Vikes defense - than the starters did against the first team defense. Al Johnson had a really good night and was great once again when asked to pull and lead the runner into the hole. He also stood his ground in the middle. D'Anthony Batiste also played well; he's making a strong push for the practice squad. Cory Procter had a few errors but ended up playing OK, and Fabini was pretty good all night, with some great run blocks and little problem in the pass protection. Contrary to Matt Mosley's assertion, Rob Petitti did have a few very bad errors. On both of Romo's INT's; Petitti did a bad job in reading and picking up the blitz, putting pressure on Romo and causing bad decisions. He also got killed on a goal line block and he almost allowed a safety (although Romo held the ball a little long on the play).
Fabini and Procter had some communication problems on a blitz package, where Procter went on a double-team with Johnson, Fabini took the wide man and the blitzer ran right between them; twice. But for the most part, the second unit did a good job protecting Romo and in opening some holes for Tyson Thompson, who had a great night with 50+ yards rushing, a TD catch and some good kickoff returns.
The other offensive players who helped themselves tonight were the kids at receiver. Jamiaca Rector, Terrance Copper and Sam Hurd all had great statistical games. Hurd did have the TD catch that he couldn't hold on to and a holding call, but he also had several big catches in overtime. Skyler Green, on the other hand, wasn't that good on punt returns again, and the fumble might've cost him a chance at the 53-man roster.
Click below to read about the defense.
Two things happened in this game that we hadn't seen all preseason. One, the linebackers were missing tackles all over the place, especially in the middle, and two, the secondary got beat for a long gain and a TD on consecutive plays. Henry got beat by speed on the sideline and a perfect pass from Brad Johnson. Terence Newman let his man run an easy post pattern and Pat Watkins was late getting over to help. Both Newman and Henry got an earful from Parcells on the sideline. Another thing that we failed at was winning third-down; the Vikings converted 7 third downs. Most of those came in the first half.
The front-line of Spears, Ferguson and Canty played a solid game. Canty was much more active this week and had several nice tackles in the backfield, while Spears and Ferguson held their ground allowing the linebackers to flow to the ball. Greg Ellis also played a good game, providing good contain on the edges, getting some penetration on a couple of runs, and making a good play running at the QB on a roll-out. DeMarcus Ware once again couldn't get a sack, but had a couple of nice pressures. Still, we need him to provide a little bit more.
On the second team Jason Hatcher played an outstanding game, picking up a 6 tackles, a sure sign that he's starting to play better against the run, and he got good pressure on the QB leading to half a sack. Pepper Johnson played most of the 3rd quarter and played well, getting the other half of Hatcher's sack and holding the middle down. It's going to be tough between him and Stanley, who also had a decent game. Maybe the Cowboys can end up trading Johnson for a late pick and keep Stanley.
Abram Elam made this team last night. He had a pass break-up, several tackles behind the line of scrimmage and ended up getting credited with a sack. Throw in his good special teams play, and he's on the 53-man roster.
Kenyon Coleman had a good game while being showcased for a trade. If other teams watch this tape before deciding to trade, they'll see a pretty good football player. Oliver Hoyte got the call over Ryan Fowler on the 2nd team, and played a good football game. He was very active in filling the holes from his linebacker spot and he's shown good coverage skills on special teams. Ryan Fowler got in some time in the overtime, but it looks like Parcells wanted to see what he has in Hoyte, and whether to keep him over Fowler on the 53-man roster.
Given all the turnovers by the offense, the defense did a good job in only giving up 10 points. We still need to see more of a pass rush out of the front line, but that will come as we open up the playbook and starting using more stunts and blitzes. Pat Watkins may have moved into the starting line up, but the rest of the starter positions are set. Back up NT is still a concern, and there is some question about which linebackers will make it. One guy who's fallen off the scene is Rocky Boiman, the special teams ace. I don't think he even played last night and could be on his way out.