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Five (Not So Quick) Takeaways From Dallas's Win Over Saints

Five observations on Dallas's dominating victory against the New Orleans Saint's.

Tom Pennington

Overreaction Monday is so much nicer after a win. Three weeks after a disastrous opening day loss against the 49ers, the Dallas Cowboys are flying high, winning three in a row and exorcising some demons against Sean Payton and the Saints. A game like Sunday's is actually hard to analyze; so many things went right that it's hard to pinpoint any one thing, as Al "The Coin Flip" Michaels can attest. That being said, I'm not afraid to give it the old college try, so here are five takeaways from Sunday's victory. Oh, one quick note: It's very easy to get sucked up into the positive atmosphere after a win like this, so for every item I'm going to do my best to list a positive and a negative aspect. Even if finding the negative is hard to do. Because the Cowboys are great and will win the Super Bowl.

1. The Running Game: It's almost impossible to start without talking about the running game, which so far this season is the basis for most of the Cowboys success. What to say about it though, that hasn't been said already? We all know the gaudy stats, and there are only so many adjectives that can be used to describe the brilliance that is DeMarco Murray. So let's look at this instead:


That ladies and gentlemen, is a hole. Marvel at it, enjoy its beauty. Everyone gets in on the act; that's James Hanna sealing off the backside, and Jason Witten leading the way. Murray doesn't get touched for the first four yards, and by that time he's gathered a full head of steam and rumbles over the first few defensive backs who are unfortunate enough to get in his way.

Of course the brilliance of the line play doesn't take anything away from Murray. One of Murray's most under-rated aspects is his vision and ability to cut. Here we see Murray trying to gain the edge.


So far so good. Tyron Smith has gotten to the outside shoulder of his man, and James Hannah looks to be in control of his battle as well. Note that at this point Murray is almost perpendicular to Smith.


Suddenly though, the picture is not so rosy. Smith's defender has managed to torque Smith, and free his outside shoulder, while Hannah is getting pushed back. Murray sees this and you can actually see in the picture how he tightens his body like a spring to cut back inside of Smith into the newly opened hole. That ability to plant and cut, coupled with his vision, is what sets DeMarco Murray apart from the other backs on this roster.

The Negative: With 99 attempts in four games Murray is on pace for 396 carries. It doesn't matter how good the line is, or that Murray is constantly making it to the 2nd level before contact; that many carries, coupled with his pass blocking duties, are unsustainable.

2. That Ol' Romo Magic: Remember this play?




Man, that's exciting stuff right?  Romodini returns! Well, yeah, but that wasn't really the best part. The best part would be this:


See where Romo's eyes are? They're scanning downfield, looking for a receiver, not looking right in front of him for the rush. From 2006-2009 that was Romo's greatest strength. It wasn't the scrambles themselves, as fun as those were. It was his ability to scramble while keeping his eyes downfield. Somewhere over the last few years he lost that trait, probably due to a loss in confidence of his offensive line. I don't care if Romo has lost a step or two; if he's gotten his eyes back that more than makes up for it.

The Negative: Romo has recently come out and said it isn't getting hit that's bad, but getting hit when his back is torqued that's worrisome. Look at those pictures again, and pay attention to Romo's back. That's a dangerous situation.

3. Jason Witten sets the tone: A lot has been written already about how physical our defense was. After the game, Rolando McClain was yelling about "hitting people". We know that Dez Bryant is the soul of this team and his passion and enthusiasm are contagious. All this is true. But the real driving force of this team is none other than "The Senator" Jason Witten. And he started this game off on the right foot. I'm sure most people didn't notice it, but here is Witten on (or immediately after) the first play of the game:


Yes, that's Jason Witten pushing a Saint's player around, about 10 feet away from the play. Yes, that occured a good 4-5 seconds after the whistle blew. Yes, the refs had to separate them.

Jason Witten, setting the tone early for a complete butt-whupping.

Negative: There are no negatives where Jason Witten is involved, and you should be ashamed for thinking there could be.

4. Blitzing Bruce: Not to toot my own horn or anything, but before the season started I posted a graph showing that on a per play basis Carter was a more disruptive pass rusher than DeMarcus Ware in 2013:

Rush Snaps Sacks Hits Hurries Total Disruptions Disruptions in %
Carter 61 2 4 5 11 18%
Ware 372 6 8 34 48 13%

Carter has continued that efficient rushing this year. ProFootballFocus has credited Carter with eight rush attempts so far this year; on those eight attempts he has accumulated:

  • One sack
  • Two hits
  • One hurry

For a crazy disruption ratio of 50%!  And it's pretty clear how he does it; he's way too fast for linemen, and way too strong for running backs. Let's look at his first blitz against the Saints:


Something that Carter does really well is timing his blitz. A lot of times you'll see a LB or DB begin to blitz then have to reign in as they started their jump too early. Here we see that Carter is beginning his blitz and is in motion before the ball is snapped.


Here we see Carter easily split the gap between center and guard. He timed his jump perfectly; he's already through the line before Jeremy Mincey, (92) has even engaged the left tackle.


Here we see the running back attempt to block Carter. They haven't even engaged yet and Carter has already won; he made it through the line so quickly the back never had a chance to set up and is taking on Carter off balance and with his side to him.


Bruce has easily run right by the running back (who does manage to push him to the side just a bit) and now has a clear line to Drew Brees, who has just finished his drop.


The play ends up with Brees hurrying his throw and an incompletion. But there is something really interesting in this picture. Despite having six blockers, the Saints protection has broken down against five rushers. Mincey has beaten his man and cleared both of his shoulders from engagement, and the other end is close to doing the same. Carter has a clear path to Brees. Dallas has six defenders in coverage against four receivers. That is how you win a football game.

It's really interesting that the Saints have left so many people in protection. For years one of the hallmarks of the Saints offense was getting the ball to their running backs in space through the passing game. But because of the effectiveness of our linebacker blitzes, the Saints had to keep their RB's in, disrupting a large part of their offense.

The other thing to notice is this is exactly how the 4-3 under is supposed to work. Nick Hayden has drawn the double team, leaving the 3-tech and RDE one on one. When both of those players win their match-ups (as is happening here), and we have the threat of a blitzing linebacking corps, opposing offenses are going to really struggle in pass protection.

The Negative: For all that, we don't have many sacks. Right now we have a team of Almost Anthony's...great hustle and effort, but not enough athletic ability to actually finish the play. And Bruce Carter, the catalyst for a lot of what we do pass rush wise, is now injured.

5. Mincey's the Man: Jeremy Mincey may just be the unsung hero of the defense so far. Tyrone Crawford has gotten a lot of love recently for his pass-rushing, and Rolando McClain is on every-body's CPOY list. And then there's Mincey, who just brings it every play and is quietly putting together a really good year.

Here's the first defensive play of the game for Dallas:


See how far up-field Mincey has gotten? He's a good yard and a half into the backfield, and the running back has just received the ball. Plus he's gotten his arms fully extended, putting him in good shape to disengage off the block.


Which is exactly what he does, putting him in good position to make a play in the backfield.

And here is Mincey on the very next play:


Again, he's a good two yards into the backfield and no other lineman has gotten any push. He's got the left tackle beat and off balance. Also, notice again the 4-3 under in operation. Nick Hayden is again drawing the double team from the guard and center, and George Selvie is getting doubled by the RT and TE, leaving the 3-Tech and RDE one on one, with Mincey, our RDE winning his battle.

The Negative:  Mincey didn't finish either play. Despite being in position for a TFL in the first play, the running back beats him to the line and picks up four yards before Mincey brings him down. In the second play, Brees gets the ball off before Mincey can completely turn the corner. He's a great effort guy and is winning his battles, but he's not quick enough to turn re-directions into TFLs and pressures into sacks.

Oh and do you see the rest of the line getting stonewalled?  Not good!

Well there you have it fellow BTBer's, five takeaways from Sunday's victory. As always your thoughts and feedback are appreciated, and I'd love to hear your main takeaways from the game!

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