Fight. We first started hearing about it during training camp, where the word was emblazoned on team shirts. At the time it seemed like so much coach-speak; just another general term thrown out to a fan base needing to talk about something. There was little fight to be seen during pre-season, and the team was teetering after falling behind big in week one against San Fransisco.
But then something strange happened. Dallas came out and just dominated Tennessee in the trenches. They fought back after falling behind big in St. Louis. After the Saints game Rolando McClain declared to the world, "We're going to hit you". The team traded blow for blow with Houston, and ultimately prevailed. Then on Sunday, the biggest fight of all. Dallas walked into the home of the NFL's biggest bully, the Seattle Seahawks, and punched them in the mouth. When Seattle punched back our beloved 'Boys never backed down, and ultimately fought their way to the biggest win of the Jason Garrett era. Maybe "Fight" wasn't just coach speak after all.
Here are five thoughts from the game (and as with the Saints game, I'm going to also throw in a little devil's advocate as well).
1. Dallas Was the More Physical Team: Sometime during the third quarter on Sunday I posted this on twitter:
win or lose it's safe to say Dallas has been the more physical team.— Jason Thomas (@neithan2000) October 12, 2014
Isn't that crazy? For years Dallas has had the dreaded "finesse" label. Well, there was nothing finesse about Sunday's win. Dallas out-muscled and out-hit the Seahawks, dominating the line of scrimmage, stonewalling Seattle's skill players, and generally hitting instead of being hit. In truth it's something that has been going on all year long, but this game really drove it home. By the fourth quarter it was obvious that Seattle was beaten; their team was tired and dragging. Dallas physically dominated the game.
On the flipside this new physically dominant team is an issue because....because.....oh heck, I really can't think of any negatives here guys. I'll try harder next time.
2. Role Players to the Forefront: So what would be the over/under that Gavin Escobar scored the first Dallas touchdown of the game? That Lance Dunbar would have more receptions than Terrance Williams, and just as many as Dez Bryant? That Kyle Wilber would have two pass defenses? Perhaps the biggest example of this comes from, well, the biggest example. Attempting to close out the game, Doug Free is hurt and Jeremy Parnell has to go in to replace him. The 'Boys don't even blink. Instead they call Parnell's number, and run right behind him for a touchdown.
In a first half where Dallas' star players struggled a bit to get traction on offense, the role players stepped to the forefront. I don't know if it was designed during the week, or something that was noticed in the game itself, but Scott Linehan saw that Seattle's defense was leaving the underneath empty, and he took advantage, deploying Lance Dunbar to great effect. I have to say this was probably a part of the gameplan; Danny Kelly the editor of Field Gulls had this to say when asked how he would attack the Seahawks defense:
Seattle's main goal as a defense is to not get beat deep, so they more or less invite you to pass into short zones, with the strategy to close quickly and tackle violently once the ball is completed.
We've been waiting to see Dunbar in space and Escobar in the red zone all season. Sunday we got a little taste of what those players can do given the opportunity.
Unfortunately it was just a little taste. For whatever reason (perhaps the Seahawks made adjustments?), we went away from throwing to Dunbar and Escobar as the game progressed. Were we unable to counter to the Seahawks adjustments? It was really strange, especially when the offense started bogging down in the 3rd quarter, why we didn't attempt to get Dunbar involved in space again.
3. You Got Me Under Pressure: For the past few weeks. BTB-member The Real Dirk Gently and a few others have been saying that despite the lack of sacks, the pass rush was actually pretty good. On Sunday we got to see that argument play out; and the result was fantastic.
The stats (one sack, five QB hits) do not do justice to the pressure that Russell Wilson was under all day. He was constantly having to move (it seemed generally backwards) and was never allowed to get into a rhythm. A lot of credit goes to the defensive backs for playing good coverage, but we've seen Wilson beat good coverage in the past with accurate throws. Sunday that didn't happen, and the pass rush was a big reason why.
Even more impressive, we managed to apply constant pressure without losing containment. After destroying Washington with his legs, Wilson only had one scramble of any consequence, a nine-yard touchdown run. Beyond that, our defensive ends did an amazing job of collapsing the pocket while maintaining the edge, which is no mean feat.
And despite all that...still no sacks. We've seen what can happen when you pressure a quarterback but don't actually bring him down...Tony Romo has made millions of dollars out of that situation. It turns into sandlot ball, and we don't have the coverage ability in the back seven to handle that. If we don't start turning those pressures into sacks sooner or later we're going to get burned deep.
4. Living On The Edge: I've talked about it in the past, but it bears repeating; Marinelli is constantly bringing heat with the back seven. According to PFF we rushed a back seven player 13 times on 31 dropbacks. Here's the full breakdown:
Justin Durant: 5 rushes
Rolando McClain: 3 rushes
Orlando Scandrick: 2 rushes
Barry Church: 1 rush
Anthony Hitchens: 1 rush
Kyle Wilber: 1 rush
We're getting away with this for two reasons: First, because our back seven are really good at rushing the passer, and they'll be even better once Bruce Carter gets healthy. But secondly, because we have a really athletic group of defensive linemen who are able to drop into coverage and not be a total liability. This week we had linemen (DT or DE) drop into coverage on six occasions, none of them received a negative score from PFF.
At least this game. I illustrated in the Saints game how the Saints schemed to get Jimmy Graham 1-on-1 with Tyrone Crawford in coverage, and took advantage of that matchup for a touchdown. This is smoke and mirrors, not sound fundamentals, and it's going to get beaten occasionally.
5. To Be The Best You Have To Beat The Best: It's already been discussed ad nauseam, but the top ranked running game went up against the top ranked running defense on Sunday. And the running game won. What's most interesting to me is not the numbers (they're great). It's not that Joseph Randle had the longest run against the Seahawks defense this year, or that we nearly gained triple the average of what the Seahawks were giving up on the ground coming into the game. No, what interests me is something Michael Irvin said, and what it means for the Cowboys. I can't find the exact quote, but to paraphrase, Michael said you can gameplan for a team's weakness and beat them. Or you can gameplan for their strengths and break them. And that's what the Cowboys did; they broke the Seahawks.
And that's great, and makes for a heck of a motivational speech. But if our gameplans going forward consist of attacking our opponent's strength, then it's the Cowboys who are going to end up broken.
Those are my big takeaways from Sunday's game. How about you BTB? What lessons did you draw from the big win?