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Film Review: Dallas Cowboys in the trenches (offense)

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On Thanksgiving Day, the Dallas Cowboys played one of their most-complete games of the year. Both the offense and defense held up their end of the bargain as Dallas romped to a 34-9 win over the hapless Seattle Seahawks. When I reviewed the game for this particular edition of Film Review, I wanted to concentrate on what the Cowboys were doing in the trenches. What kind of blocking schemes were they using, how was Tony Romo allowed so much time, how has the run defense righted itself, how are they attacking the opposing QB? All of these things were on my mind as I took a closer look. So while you'll hear the names of skill players dropped into the review, they're mainly there for context or when their involvement was critical to the war in the trenches. Otherwise, it's all about the dirty work along the line.

Now, for the one-time disclaimer. I'm not going to spend the whole review interjecting the phrase "The Seahawks are a bad football team and the Cowboys were taking advantage of inferior talent." This is all true. So I'm stating it right up front. You can't expect the results to be as good against a team like the Steelers, or the Giants, etc. But I was also trying to go for the philosophy of what they're doing and that will probably carry-over.

This post is for the offense, I'll post the second-part about the defense later today/tomorrow.

Go on the jump below to read the rest.

Offense

The Cowboys passing offense was in high gear from the very start of the game. The Seahawks had no answer for the array of weapons thrown at them, especially because early in the game they didn't lay a finger on Tony Romo. While the run game was not clicking, it really didn't have to as the Cowboys found the pickings so easy in the passing game they hardly bothered with the run in the first 20 minutes or so. It was basically a 7-on-7 practice drill where the offense always dominates. Why? Because there is no pass-rush, just like in this game early.

The Seahawks mistakenly believed that they could rush four and get to Romo before their secondary allowed receivers to get open. They spent the first 20 minutes of the game rushing four guys on most plays. The Cowboys didn't even bother to hold Marion Barber, Jason Witten or Martellus Bennett in to block, the second the back saw a four-man rush, he was out in the pattern. The Cowboys flooded the secondary with five receivers, a combination of WR/TE/RB and the offensive line had no problems handling the Seahawks rushers. The Cowboys had 8-10 big production plays in the passing game from this scenario. Lesson one: you can't stop the Dallas offense if you don't get to Tony Romo. There are just too many weapons that can produce on this offense, defenses have to get production from the four-man rush or they must immediately start blitzing. Otherwise, Romo will carve you up.

After the point when Dallas was up big, scoring 21 easy points, the Seahawks finally succumbed to the inevitable and starting blitzing the Cowboys. They saw better results but not enough to really change the direction of the game. The Cowboys offensive line had an uneven performance against some of the blitzes, but Romo saved their butts when they did mess up. Seattle was blitzing outside and inside linebackers for the rest of the game and in the second-half they starting mixing in blitzes from the corners and safety.

The Cowboys had problems in the following areas. Switching off a block to pick up a free blitzer. This was one of the few mistakes Montrae Holland made (more on him later) in the game. He was slow to leave a double-team for an inside blitz that caused Romo to throw it away. Leonard Davis also didn't pick up a stunt on a blitz and let a man come free to harass Romo. I've seen the Cowboys have problems with this against other teams this year. One of the best ways to attack the Cowboys line is to use stunts and delays on blitzes, causing them to have to disengage and re-engage blocks and pick up free rushers. When the Cowboys line gets a body on the blitzers before they can move, they generally do well. But if the defense uses some trickeration, the Cowboys can be beat on the line. Expect the Steelers to take advantage of this.

They also had problems with outside blitzers in the second-half. The Seahawks brought a corner a few times and that met with success. Once Flozell Adams never saw the blitz and blocked down the line and only a Romo escape saved the Cowboys. On another, both Deon Anderson and Tashard Choice let the corner go free, it looks like they were setting up for a screen, but one of them needed to chip the guy. Also, Jason Witten got beat on an outside blitz. The running backs each had a play or two where their blitz pick-up was questionable, they had a so-so performance. I was encouraged by Tahsard Choice though, he had at least three nice blocks on blitzers that should allay some fears about his pass protection abilities.

Overall, I saw it like this. The Cowboys handled the four-man rush with little problem. They also handled straight-ahead blitzes between the tackles well. Even ones that were perfectly timed by the defense, the Dallas line stood most of those up. They had a little more trouble with the delays and stunts, that caused some confusion on the line but they still handled it pretty well. Blitzes on the outside edge caused them problems late in the game and the blocks from the running backs could improve.

Montrae Holland - I watched Holland on almost every play to get an idea of his play. I came away impressed. Both in the run game and pass protection he was superior to Procter and could actually end up being a good addition to the line. In the running game, he showed great skill in doubling-up with a linemate on the initial block to create a push, then disengaging and getting to the second-level and taking on a linebacker or safety. He had a couple of great blocks for Barber in the redzone. I only saw him pull once and he did it well but the Cowboys were less interested in pulling blockers in this game than usual (more on that below). Holland did get blown up once in the run game, and let in a pass-rusher twice, but overall his performance was very good. In pass protection, he was either singled up where he did well, or was used to help with Andre Gurode in the middle, depending on the defensive alignment. The difference between him and Procter was stark based on this game.

Run game - As mentioned above, the Cowboys ran some in the beginning of the game but rightfully went to the passing game as the main offensive attack mode. Only later in the game did they put a real effort into running the ball. The Cowboys blocking scheme seemed much more straight-ahead in this game with less emphasis on pulling interior linemen. They still run that sweep play where the tackle loops out and the TE/WR block down, but between the tackles they were more physical and less technical. When the run game broke down, it was usually one guy who misses the block. Bigg had one failure, Tony Curtis got blown-up at the goal line, Holland had a bad block, etc. It wasn't systemic failure but more individual play that limited its effectiveness early on. Later, Tashard Choice got it going by cutting back and also squeezing through some small holes.

Other notes - Tony Romo was moved out of the pocket by design on 4-5 plays; bootlegs and roll-outs. They worked. Keep doing it. The Cowboys got back to using Jason Witten as a regular target. Whether it was injury to Witten, the problems with back-up QB's or whatever, this offense is always better when Witten get his touches.