The Titans are big. They're physical. They're good.
It didn't matter.
The Cowboys made their share of fundamental mistakes Friday night. They missed tackles, which led to a big kickoff return and Tennessee's lone long run of the night. Mike Jenkins didn't jam Justin Gage effectively, denying Ken Hamlin the time to rotate over and defend the Titan's lone score.
On the other hand, Dallas' starters won a majority of the man-on-man duels, along the line of scrimmage and in the secondary. Here are several individual wins which accumulated into a big, 20-point win.
Short Yardage Success
Welcome back, Kyle Kosier. Maybe it's his magic personality. Maybe his beard scares the opposition. Whatever the reason, the interior line plays better when he's around. Leonard Davis and Andre Gurode played below their Pro Bowl '07 run-blocking standards last year. With Kosier back, they handled the Titans very good DT rotation. Want proof? Five times in the first half, Dallas ran in 3rd-and-2, 4th-and-1 and in goal-line situations. The calls succeeded every time.
Dallas did run some trickery on one, faking a Julius Crosslin dive and running a naked pitch to Marion Barber. The other four were simple wins. Both TD runs were impressive. Marion Barber ran unimpeded behind a pulling Koser for the first score, after Gurode and Davis smothered their men. Felix Jones scored the second against equally thin resistance, because Jason Witten and the surprising Crosslin sealed the right edge of Tennessee's defense.
The Cowboys have been poor in these running situations the past few years. We should be wary of overreacting to one game, but Tennessee offers a quality front. I'm guardedly optimistic.
Stuffing the Titans' Run
Remember Chris Johnson's big night? No? That's because he didn't have one. Dallas' starting defense looked stout against Tennessee's ballyhooed line. Igor Olshansky was a rock at right DE. Michael Roos could not move him off the line. Olshansky and Demarcus Ware should make the left side very hard to challenge this year. Jay Ratliff overpowered Tennessee's center. On his lone running down with the first team, Junior Siavii stacked a double team and created mid-line chaos on a two-yard Titans run. It's only one play, but its better than a bad play.
Behind them, new ILB Keith Brooking showed the ability to get off blocks that Zach Thomas lacked last year. He's the most fluid and instinctive player at that position since Dat Nguyen.
Dallas kept the game plan simple. Jason Garrett called just one long pass to a receiver Friday, a go route for Roy Williams which Tony Romo floated out of bounds. Nevertheless, the Dallas skill position players made big plays. Patrick Crayton shook free from the Titans slot corner for a big 3rd-down conversion. He beat an attempted Michael Griffin tackle on an end around, turning a potential one yard gain into an eight yarder. Felix Jones made the most explosive basic just before half, when he caught a two-yard delay, made three men miss, then romped 47 yards.
The Cowboys have lots of guys who can win these matchups. Witten beat both Titans safeties. Roy WIlliams ran mostly hooks and quick outs, but he caught his passes against Cortland Finnegan. When Romo threw him a smoke route at the line, Roy W. broke Finnegan's tackle and gained eight. These are the types of simple victories that make a coordinator look brilliant.
Execution wins football games. Trickery is nice, and deep passes are nice. Those are the big payouts on the ledger sheets. But they're lone plays in a 140-150 play game. Consistently running a sweep eight yards instead of three; consistently taking a swing pass for ten yards instead of two; consistently converting on the goal-line, consistently stopping opposing runners at two or three yards instead of seven eight, these are the small deposits which accrue over three hours into wins.
This is the small-risk/big-play ball Dallas played Friday night. More of this please.