Some minute events in the Cowboys-Redskins game, which could mushroom into bigger factors tomorrow against San Francisco:
-- Demarcus Finds His Hands
Demarcus Ware is one of the most talented NFL defenders. His effort is unquestioned. His productivity is steady, and high. Yet he still has more room to grow than possibly any other All-Pro level player in the league.
If you've watched Ware for long stretches you know he relies almost exclusively on his speed. He's an edge rusher -- period. He's worked on improving hand usage. Greg Ellis and Paul Pasqualoni schooled him every day in San Antonio during Camp '07. Yet for some reason, the lessons have been slow to take. When the games start, Ware seems to fall back on the familiar, which is to let it rip around the outside. By coincidence, KC Joyner posted a piece in the New York Times today demonstrating how one-dimensional Ware's game has been.
That's why last week's sack may be a turning point in Ware's career. In the 3rd quarter, Ware started an outside move against Chris Samuels, who slid wide and cut Ware off. At the edge of his rush, Ware planted, grabbed Samuels with both hands and used the OT's momentum to throw him aside. Ware cut under the stumbling Samuels and sacked Jason Campbell.
This is the type of move Charles Haley perfected, the out-and-under counter rush. Yet this was the first time in four years that I've seen Ware use such a move to get a sack. If Ware can make this move part of his repertoire, 20+ sack seasons will be realistic goals. He could move from being one of the best defensive players in football to being THE guy.
Ware is going against Joe Staley this week. Staley, a top pick for the 49ers in '07, has been rushed into the lineup and has struggled, to put things politely. He gave up 6.5 sacks last year as a right tackle. (By contract, the Cowboys starters gave up 11 as a group last year.)
This year, Staley is playing left tackle and he's been worse. Joyner told me today that he's graded nine of the 'Niners' ten games and that Staley has allowed at least one sack in all but one of those games. He described Staley as a "revolving door." Dallas will undoubtedly match Ware against Staley as often as they can. Watch Ware to see if he tosses the counter move at Staley. If he does, he should add a couple of sacks to his already-gaudy total.
Kosier and Gurode Grade NTs
Kyle Kosier's return bolstered the Cowboys' pass protection. Washington didn't sack Tony Romo after bagging him three times in October. Kosier also added much-needed punch to the Cowboys' inside running game. Washington played a lot of fronts that shaded a DT on C Andre Gurode's left shoulder. Dallas repeatedly ran zone blocking plays that called for Kosier and Gurode to initially double-team the NT, before one of them scraped off and blocked the MLB.
Kosier and Gurode rolled their tackle several times, showing him four to five yards upfield before one of them pancaked the guy. Gurode seemed like a different player with his best mate beside him. What's more, Marion Barber looked like a different back, since he had consistent room to run up the middle
Add a season-best blocking performance by FB Deon Anderson and we saw the type of rushing muscle the Cowboys have lacked all year.
San Francisco has a decent 3-4 scheme that has just two lineman over 300 lbs. -- their NTs Aubrayo Franklin and Isaac Sopoaga. Watch how Kosier and Gurode attack these guys. If they can get another strong and regular push the Cowboys running game will purr.
The Cowboys have several key matchups in their favor. When the 49ers have the ball, look for Dallas to continue blitzing and tight coverage, whether Terence Newman plays or not. Mike Martz calls the 49ers plays, but he does not have a deep threat in his arsenal to make the Cowboys secondary back off. Isaac Bruce is steady, but aged and Bryant Johnson is the same middling player he was in Arizona.
What's more, Mike Jenkins is coming on. His season YPA has dropped to the high 5s, very low-6 range and he's still improving. The Giants threw away from him and if he's on the field in Newman's place, I look for the 'Niners to attack Anthony Henry, as the Giants did three weeks ago.
One matchup that could work for the 'Niners will come in the slot, where rookie Jason Hill has started to produce. He had a quality game against Arizona and he'll draw fellow rookie Orlando Scandrick, who has played well himself, but who shows awful tackling technique.
Look for a similar game plan from the defense -- press the line to stop Frank Gore's rushes and to get pressure on QB Shaun Hill.
When Dallas has the ball, look for more ball control, with deliberate, play-action strikes down the field. The Cowboys offense is vertical by nature and this will likely be the first chance to go deep since Roy Williams was acquired. Weather should not prevent deep throws, as it did in Washington last week.
The Niners don't have a fearsome rush. They're on pace for just 33 this year. Their corners are so-so: Nate Clements' YPA is a Henry-esque 7.8 and Walt Harris is 7.5. That's not terrible, but its not good either. If the Niners are not getting to Romo, he'll have the time to look downfield and he'll have the receivers to get open.
The only nagging question from last week is how much Romo was limited by his healing finger and how much he was held back by the strong winds that swirled in FedEx Field? Dallas did not throw more than ten yards downfield in the first 20 minutes of the game and all of his intermediate throws were between the hash marks.
Jason Garrett did not call any deep out, fades or go patterns. Is Romo's pinky taking the spin off his deep ball, or was it simply a function of the weather?
If Romo has his fastball back, the big plays should return. If he's still healing, a more controlled approach will be in order. Regardless, the Cowboys have the talent and depth to settle the issue.
The 'Niners are 1-3 on the road. The lone win was a 33-30 squeaker over the woeful Seahawks in week two. They're playing harder for Mike Singletary but they're still a good matchup for the Cowboys. Control Gore, hold on to the football and it will be on to Thanksgiving.
Dallas 27, San Francisco 14