Welcome back Cardiac Cowboys! For the first time this season the Cowboys played a game down to the wire; with all the drama that entails. There was some good, some bad, and plenty of theatrics, but ultimately the Cowboys pulled out a stunning 34-31 victory over the St. Louis Rams. Some initial thoughts..
Problems With the Defense: Morris Claiborne had a really rough outing today. He was routinely targeted deep, and was burned badly on at least two occasions. He had one of the strangest occurrences I've ever seen as well; on one play Mo went in for his press on the wrong snap count, the ball didn't get snapped. As Mo was recovering into his stance the ball was snapped, and Mo was caught flatfooted. The receiver blew by him; luckily J.J. Wilcox recognized what happened and came over to help in coverage.
Even when Mo played well he did bad. In one instance Claiborne had perfect coverage on his man when Austin Davis threw up a jump ball. Again Claiborne had good position, but got beat to the ball in the air. I think we're seeing some of the problems with Mo's shoulder injury; it didn't look like he got full extension with his arms. Hopefully his clutch interception will give Claiborne the confidence needed to continue his strong play from the first two weeks, and this week is an aberration. Of course Claiborne wasn't the only defensive problem...
Did anyone see the defensive line this game? After a good job of getting pressure against Tennessee, the defensive line showed a big fat goose-egg against the Rams. It wasn't just the pass pressure that was missing; there was a distinct lack of penetration in the run defense as well. Far too often the Rams offensive line was able to move the defensive line back, then get to the second level and block our linebackers in the running game. If this trend continues it bodes poorly for Dallas's defense moving forward.
Linehan Adjusts: One of the biggest complaints of the Garrett era is an inability to make adjustments, (not something I necessarily agree with, but the argument is there). That couldn't be said of this game. Linehan did an excellent job calling this game and making adjustments to counter the Rams defense. It was pretty clear that we came into the game with a plan to attack the edges of the defense in the run game. The Rams did a great job of shutting that down. Linehan then adjusted and began running an inside zone to great effect. After the Rams began shutting down the running game again, Linehan made another adjustment; using play-action and bootlegs to get big plays in the passing game. I'm on record saying that I think the effect of playcalling is overrated, but today Linehan used playcalling to great effect. Rarely has crow tasted so good.
The Redemption of Bruce Carter: After a dismal 2013 season there were tons of questions regarding Bruce Carter this season. When it was announced that Carter had lost his starting job at the WILL and would be moving to SAM those doubts intensified. So far though Carter has been one of the steadiest of our defensive players, and that trend continued against the Rams. Early it looked like Carter was disengaged and was jogging around, but if that was the case it quickly changed. Carter did a good job playing the run and the pass. After his struggles containing players out of the backfield last year, that seems to have turned into one of his primary roles and one that he has been successful in. Seeing Carter play well in coverage has been one of the happier surprises this season.
I would be remiss if I also didn't mention the play of rookie linebacker Anthony Hitchens. In my review of linebacker play last week I said that Hitchens was too up and down. He played good in coverage but needed to get stronger at the point of attack. I still think he needs to gain strength, but he made up for it this week by using his intelligence and speed to shoot gaps and beat blockers to his spot. Nowhere was this more evident than on our 4th down stance when Hitchens never hesitated on his read, and shot behind a pulling guard to hit the running back in the backfield dropping him for a loss. It was a turning point in the game, and in the bigger picture, it was really nice to see a rookie 4th round pick play instinctively and not hesitate.
A win is a win, and this one was particularly satisfying. But there were some disquieting signs on the defensive side that need corrected with the Saints coming into town next week. Hopefully we get Rolando McClain back, and Orlando Scandrick gets more snaps with another wee of practice under his belt. Until then, let's celebrate a good win. Go Cowboys!