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Film review: Cowboys vs. Lions

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This week’s Film Review will be a little different. I wanted to take a look at how the Lions were able to run on us and why they were able to keep Kitna protected while completing passes. Some of what Wade Phillips talked about in the press conference I saw in the game. But if you watch the game again I think there were some things he just didn’t want to say. Which is smart, he’s got a good thing going right now, the team is confident, there’s no need to rock the boat. The problems are fixable. I’ll also look at the offense, but only in a cursory way, what happened on that side of the ball was pretty obvious.

Cowboys run defense

The Lions used our aggressive scheme against us. Remember back when the Phillips 34 was first introduced to us. There was a lot of talk about hitting one gap, getting upfield and slanting the line in one direction. We compared it to the 2-gap system that Bill Parcells ran which was read-and-react. With any system, there are pluses and minuses and we had seen enough of the 2-gap. This year we’ve been seeing the advantages of Wade’s aggressive style but the Lions were able to expose some of the drawbacks of the system.

In the running game, the Lions ran plays to one side of the line but had their runners cutting back against the grain. On many plays the Cowboys front would push hard to the side where the run looked like it was going, including the backside DE, and the linebackers were supposed to fill the gaps. The Lions were helping them along in that direction with their blocking scheme, then would disengage a double-team and send them to the second level to get Bradie James or Akin Ayodele. They also used a fullback on occasion to get the other ILB. Since the NT and the backside DE were over-running the play, and they could get blockers on the linebackers, the cutback runs were killing the Cowboys. Sometimes they cutback one or two gaps, sometimes they went all the way back across the line. The Lions even started sending a TE or another player back across the blocking scheme to kick-out the backside OLB or the DE if they stayed at home. There were also times, like what Wade mentioned in the press conference, when we had a free defender but he would overrun the play or would run himself into traffic.

For me, this is the essence of what the Lions did to us in the run game. The Cowboys calmed down some in the second half but the Lions were still able to run the ball on their 2nd drive of the half that led to the TD.

Now for a few specific players and how they played. I thought that Bradie James and Akin Ayodele had a lot of problems in the middle. They took some bad angles and they couldn’t get off blocks. Chris Canty was guilty of crashing down the line and not holding contain for the cutback runs on several occasions and DeMarcus Ware had a few problems, too. Jay Ratliff got caught on the far side of the run several times but at the end of the game he really came on strong. I also think Tank Johnson played a good game, he disrupted a couple of runs and got pressure on the QB twice. Jason Hatcher was guilty of losing contain on the runs a couple of times but had a few pressures on the QB.

Cowboys pass defense

The Cowboys couldn’t generate a decent pass rush. Some of that was because they had to start respecting the run since they couldn’t get it stopped and this slowed down their aggressive attack of the QB. But a lot of it can be contributed to the fact that the Lions offensive line simply outplayed them on Sunday. They were physical, they were quick to help on the edges and they picked up the blitzes very well. We didn’t seem to stunt or run as many of the blitzes that we usually do, we rarely brought any secondary players on the edges. And there wasn’t a lot of stacking Ellis and Ware on one side with Spencer on the other, or similar formations that are little out of the ordinary. I thought we might have played it a little close to vest.

The Cowboys cornerbacks didn’t help things. Anthony Henry was repeatedly beat and Terence Newman had a sub-par game. Including Reeves who got beat a couple of times also, they never made plays on the ball and gave up key 3rd downs. Neither starting corner played like they normally do. As a philosophy, the Cowboys secondary is not going to give up the deep ball so we are susceptible to the shorter passes.

We rely on three things on defense, and two of them are closely related. One - stop the run. Two and three - get to the QB for sacks and/or cause turnovers. We didn't do any of those well in this game.

After bad-mouthing the defense like that, I will say this: they held the opponent to 27 points, and we scored 28. That is the ultimate goal, after all. They made a nice goal line stand early in the game and they got the ball back at the end when we needed it. In between, they did enough to keep us in the game, but come playoff time, they’ll need to be sharper.

Offense

Tony Romo, Jason Witten and Marion Barber were outstanding, everybody saw what they did. Julius Jones had a few good runs to start the game and had a few good catches on dump-off passes. On a few of the toss sweeps though, if he would have hit the line hard and cut it upfield earlier, he would have had a much better day.

The offensive line played a pretty good game. Flozell Adams, Andre Gurode and Leonard Davis had really good days. Marc Colombo wasn’t his normal self. He wasn’t bad, but his ankle was obviously slowing him down a little and he gave up sacks and pressures on Romo. Kyle Kosier was pretty good and had the big fumble recovery.

Special Teams

I already talked about Miles Austin in a previous post. He’s becoming such a threat that the Lions started pooch kicking it and giving the Cowboys great field position. But Austin, you have to beat the kicker. Mat McBriar wasn’t that great on the day, he had a couple of short kicks that weren’t very high and he boomed one right out of the endzone. That’s not typical McBriar kicking. Nick Folk missed a long FG. Pat Watkins had a great play on a line-drive kick from McBrair when he beat two blockers and still made the tackle.

If you have questions about other players I didn’t mention ask them in the comments.