The review of the game tape focusing on the offense this week presents a very different picture. The offensive line played a very clean game, and it showed in Drew Bledsoe's performance. Last week Drew was hit 5 times as he was throwing the ball, was sacked twice and had numerous other plays where his throwing motion was altered or he had to throw while moving to avoid the rush. This week, only one sack - that wasn't given up by an offensive lineman - and only a few occasions where the rush was even a factor. If the offensive line continues to play this week, the Cowboys will have a very good season.
Since the line played so well, I'll only briefly outline each individual player's game, and then take a look at other positions and some broader trends on offense.
Marc Colombo had a very good game and was much better in his pass protection. The Cowboys did shift some blocking help his way on occasion, ending up with double-teams to his side, but it wasn't so prevalent that it altered their normal offense. If I had one quibble with Colombo, is that he still has some run blocking issues, but they were infrequent, with only three plays were he failed to make the block on a run play.
Marco Rivera was also much improved in the game, and only had two occasions where he let his man get close to Bledsoe in pass protection. Of course, he had the penalty that wiped out Julius Jones' big run on the screen pass, but if he hadn't made the block in the back, that play would've died quickly with a very short gain. Rivera did some nice work in run blocking.
Andre Gurode continues to play very clean football and in the first two weeks has been our best and most consistent lineman. He appears to have eliminated a lot of the mental mistakes that were holding him back and his physical presence is allowing the Cowboys to attack the middle of the line with their running game.
Kyle Kosier is starting to ease concerns about the departure of Larry Allen. He had one holding penalty and also one pass protection breakdown that forced Bledsoe to throw the ball away, but those were minor problems. For most of the night his pass protection was solid and his run blocking is very good.
Flozell Adams looked pretty good in this game. After last week's very public disaster, the attention was squarely focused on him and he responded. All you had to see was Parcells giving him a handshake and an affectionate slap on the cheek to know that Flozell turned in a good game. He is still a little slow getting out on the speed rush, but managed to get enough of the defensive end to keep him away from Bledsoe.
There was a lot to like when reviewing the offensive line's play on Sunday night. The Redskins were definitely bringing the blitz regularly - from the very first series - but the line had no problems and showed good communication on who was picking up the different blitzers. They also did a good job of sliding off one double-team block and helping out another teammate who might be struggling with his block. That's a key for any good pass protection scheme and the Cowboys did it well.
As for the running game, the left side of the line (Adams, Kosier and Gurode) looks like the dominant side with a lot of yardage gained running that way. If Adams continues to return to form over the next few games, there may be hope yet for this offensive line.
Julius Jones looked better this game because of the way he finished off his runs. When Julius is in traffic he rarely breaks a tackle or punishes the defender to lean forward for an extra yard or two. In space, he can make you miss, but in this game he actually made an effort to keep from getting hit square in traffic and spun off a couple of tackles for extra yards. He also put his head down and drove forward for extra yards when he was hit. So far JJ has 37 carries for 166 yards, that's a 4.5 yards per carry average. JJ is also very conscious of following the blocking on each play, which may account for his lack of breakout runs on cut-backs, but also is leading to fewer negative plays from dancing around in the backfield which is exactly what Bill Parcells wants.
Marion Barber had a pretty good game with a few bad plays mixed in with some tough running and a very good run on a pass play. In pass protection, MB3 was very solid in picking up pass rushers with one big exception. He was the guy who missed the block on the sole Redskins sack. He also dropped a wide open swing pass. On the positive side he did some tough running near the goal line to score the rushing TD, although he needs to keep his head up because on the 3rd down play he had a huge hole a step to his left, but he missed it. Still, he powered the ball in on 4th down and he picked up a key 3rd down on a pass - with the help of great downfield blocking from Witten and Glenn.
The problem with the dropped balls has already been well-documented so I won't go into detail on that. Terry Glenn was huge in this game, scoring one TD on a 40-yard pass, setting up another on a 34-yard pass, and setting up the MB3 TD by getting a pass interference call on another long pass. When given time, the connection between Bledsoe and Glenn is devastating. Another element overlooked form the receivers (including the TE's) is the downfield blocking. They created long gains on several plays by doing the dirty work of blocking in the secondary. It was also nice to see Fasano get involved in the passing game.
In broader terms of the offensive philosophy, I wrote a few times over the summer that Dallas would use the pass to set up the run. So far, it's been true in both games. Against Washington on the first series Dallas threw the ball close to twice as many times as running it. The ratio came down as the game progressed, but it looks like Dallas is going to utilize its strong receiver corps to set up the rest of their offense. Through two games, we've had more passes than runs both times.
Dallas is also being more creative in its offensive formations. We are using the 2-TE set regularly, but the TE's are being moved all around the field. Sometimes they're on the line, other times Fasasno is playing the FB role, and we also position Witten out as a wide receiver. On the Terry Glenn TD pass, we had Owens and Glenn on one side and Fasano and Witten stacked on the other side. Washington's defense got caught in a bind out of this formation, with Witten running an out pattern after play-action fake, drawing both defenders forward on that side. This left Glenn free on a post pattern covered only by Sean Taylor and a linebacker trying to provide underneath help. That's a mismatch Dallas will take every time and the formation caused the matchup problems.
The Cowboys also used a lot of play-action causing the Redskins run defense to be a little more cautious about jumping the run with their linebackers. Dallas took advantage by averaging a healthy 4.7 yards per rush. So far this year, the Cowboys look much more creative on offense, with varied formations, nice use of play-action and using the pass to set up the run. I have to believe that Chris Palmer has had a lot of influence this year in our offensive philosophy.
I'll have a defense review up later today.