Dallas Cowboys: 2012 Cowboys-Falcons
IRVING, Texas – Following Sunday’s game at Atlanta, I wrote that it is time for Jason Garrett to cede some control of the offense to Tony Romo, especially given how well the Cowboys operated on their lone touchdown drive of the game.
On Monday, Garrett was asked if the Cowboys will incorporate more hurry-up in the future.
“That’s an interesting question,” Garrett said. “I think there are some game situations that have come into play in the last couple of weeks. We’ve been down. In the case of (Sunday) night’s game, we were down two scores with seven minutes to go. So we have to plan a little more of a hurry-up mode, whether we’re in the huddle, huddling quickly or getting to the line of scrimmage and just throwing the football more than we had throughout the rest of the ball game. We’ve been able to throw the ball fairly well around here, and when we get in that mode and we throw it a lot we’ve been able to move it. We do have to factor in the fact that the defenses are playing a little bit differently based on what the score is and what the game situation is. To say we’re going to start the game like that, it’s unrealistic to think the defense would play the same way.”
The Cowboys went to their hurry-up offense on their eighth drive of the game and Romo completed six straight passes for 78 yards and a touchdown. The Falcons brought four-man pressure on every snap. That was the predominant pass rush used by the Falcons throughout the game. They used four-man pressures on 19 pass plays. They brought five guys six times, six guys twice and seven defenders once.
They didn’t play wildly softer with a two-score lead than they had earlier in the game. Only once in the second half did coordinator Mike Nolan bring five guys. On the final drive Nolan used a three-man rush on every play, staying back in coverage to prevent any chances of a long throw.
Quite simply, the Cowboys are at their best when they use 11 personnel and spread the field.
** Remember that press coverage that worked so well against Eli Manning and the New York Giants two weeks ago? The Cowboys evidently didn’t.
They played across-the-board press coverage on 10 snaps against Atlanta after doing it 25 times against the Giants. They played off 38 times and half-press 14 times. The Cowboys used more zone against the Falcons, and Roddy White killed them. The Cowboys chose not to flip the corners when the Falcons lined their wideouts up on the same field. It gave White a free release and he was able to work the middle of the field with ease.
Rob Ryan did not employ much pressure either. He brought five pass-rushers three times in the game and a sixth once. The three sacks were a result of four-man pressure. Four times the Cowboys rushed three (in one case that was a late rush from Anthony Spencer, who was sprinting on the field as the ball was snapped). They gave up two first downs on those plays.
The only time Ryan brought six players came on the Falcons’ final drive with Danny McCray on a delayed blitz. Ryan’s pass was incomplete, but Orlando Scandrick was correctly called for holding to give Atlanta a first down.
** Big plays killed the defense.
On Julio Jones’ 48-yard grab, rookie cornerback Morris Claiborne jammed him at the line with a five-man pass rush that didn’t get to Matt Ryan. Jones was able to create separation with Claiborne inside and made the catch.
Claiborne made a bad gamble on a crossing route to White that ended up in a big run after catch. He swiped at Ryan’s pass and missed with his left hand. Had he used his right hand maybe he gets his hand on it. Even if he didn’t, he could’ve attempted to trip up White with his left hand.
Claiborne nearly came up with a huge interception on a throw from Ryan to White on the Falcons' final drive. White could have been flagged for interference on the play because he tugged the rookie’s arm as the ball was coming to him. Claiborne used great technique on that long fade down the sideline.
** Michael Turner’s 43-yard run was the longest allowed by the Cowboys this season. How did it happen?
Rob Ryan took the blame for a poor call that had DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher playing a game that took Ware inside. That helped the Falcons seal the edge with Hatcher unable to get outside. White smothered safety Gerald Sensabaugh off the slot to give Turner the room to break the long one. Ernie Sims was late getting outside and McCray missed Turner at the Dallas 45.
Against Carolina, Ryan had Ware and Spencer play a similar game and it allowed quarterback Cam Newton to break a long run to the outside.
** Little things matter.
Over the years teams have tried to run weak-side tosses against the Cowboys and have done so with little success because of Ware. Jones, however, got by Ware Sunday on that final drive. Ware did a great job reading the play with Jones lined up in the backfield, but the receiver made a hard fake to the inside to get Ware off balance for an instant to gain the corner.
How does Josh Brent not recover the fumble after a Ware sack of Ryan? Instead of first down at the Dallas 48 they take over a few plays later at their 3 because of a punt.
How does Phillip Tanner not get a first down on that drive? The play was blocked well enough to get a yard, but Tanner ran into the back of fullback Lawrence Vickers. Jason Witten, John Phillips and Doug Free all won to a good enough degree on their blocks for Tanner to get a yard. Poor vision on the play by the back.
Prior to that play, however, I think the Cowboys might have missed an opportunity for a replay challenge. Cole Beasley’s catch was good for eight yards, but it looked like the officials robbed him of a ninth, which would’ve been a first down. He appeared to bounce on the 50.
Dan Bailey has missed two field goals this season, from 51 and 54 yards. Both have come from the left hash mark. The miss at Baltimore from 51 might have had some help from the wind. The miss Sunday from 54 obviously had no wind issue, but there can be a tendency to pull the ball on longer kicks.
Here we go:
|Matt Mosley joins Ben and Skin for his weekly segment to talk Cowboys.
** I’m just about done wondering about the Cowboys’ red-zone offense. The Cowboys’ red-zone touchdown percentage is tied for 26th in the NFL. They went 0-for-2 against Atlanta and had one throw into the end zone, and it came on a pass to Cole Beasley. This isn’t a 2012 problem. It goes back a few years. I wonder if the Cowboys need to steal pages from the playbooks in New Orleans (I promised no Payton references), Denver, Green Bay and New England. Heck, Tampa Bay too. I understand that the field is compressed and there is not a lot of room to make things happen. A good running game will help, right? New Orleans has three rushing touchdowns. Green Bay has two. Denver has five. You can pass in the red zone and score. The Cowboys seem to use Jason Witten more as a decoy in the red zone than a target. Go look at what Pittsburgh does with Heath Miller and try some of those plays. The fade in the end zone to Dez Bryant can work, but it’s not a high-percentage throw. If the Cowboys are going to turn things around in the second half of the season then they must score touchdowns. Groundbreaking, I know.
** I wonder about the sideline communication of the Cowboys defense during the game. Why are there multiple instances in which players are running on and off the field and the defense cannot get set in time for a play. In the first half the Cowboys rushed two guys once because they did not have the proper personnel on the field on time, and Julio Jones made a first-down catch. In the fourth quarter the Falcons snapped the ball before the defense could get set. The only thing that saved a touchdown was an athletic breakup by Brandon Carr. It’s happened far too often in Rob Ryan’s tenure. Something is missing in getting the personnel groups from upstairs or the calls from the coaches to the players on the sideline or the calls from the coach to the on-field personnel. Anthony Spencer might have saved the Carolina game with a timeout as he was running off the field because of a late personnel change prior to a fourth-down play. The Panthers made a first down but the officials luckily gave the Cowboys a timeout. If Ryan wants to be a head coach, then he has to straighten out the organization he has on defense.
** I wonder how healthy guard Nate Livings is. He has not been on the injury report, but there are whispers around Valley Ranch that he has played the last few games with a sore knee. It hasn't kept him out of practice or forced the Cowboys to put him on the injured list, but he has struggled the last two weeks. He was beaten for sacks by Chris Canty and Jonathan Babineaux the last two games. He started off the season fairly well, and right guard Mackenzy Bernadeau struggled. Now Bernadeau is playing better and Livings is struggling. It makes you wonder what the Cowboys think of backup Derrick Dockery to not give him some work at all. Dockery did OK in his two starts last year and maybe a week of rest will help Livings. He missed some time in training camp with a knee/hamstring injury. Livings is the type to not make excuses. He will fight on, and that’s part of the reason why the Cowboys signed him. But at some point the team might have to make a decision.
** The Cowboys have signed defensive end Sean Lissemore and safety Barry Church to modest extensions during the regular season. I wonder if they should look at another safety, Danny McCray. He has done a nice job filling in for Church, and, yes, I realize he missed Jacquizz Rodgers on a third-down play on Atlanta’s final scoring drive. McCray wanted to show he could be more than a special teams specialist and he’s proven he can handle a defensive role. Is a long-term starter? No, but he is a guy you want around. The Cowboys drafted Matt Johnson to be a safety of the future, but he has not been able to get on the field this year. In 2009 they drafted two safeties that did not make an impact. McCray, an undrafted free agent in 2010, has delivered. Church received a four-year extension that could max out at $12 million. You wouldn’t go that high with McCray, but he has added to his value with his work on special teams and defense.
|ESPN NFL analyst Ed Werder discusses the possibility of Sean Payton coaching the Dallas Cowboys next season.
Ernie Sims was signed two weeks ago and started in place of Connor. Alex Albright would be a backup inside linebacker candidate as well.
Guyton was with Miami in training camp. He spent the 2008-11 seasons with New England. Poppinga is an eight-year veteran, spending time with Green Bay and St. Louis.
“We absolutely have to work around (the injuries),” coach Jason Garrett said. “Albright is a good candidate because he’s a smart guy and he can play both inside and outside. But we will be thin there if both those guys are hurt.”
Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan falls on the sword after the Cowboys' Week 9 loss to the Falcons.
Cowboys DB Orlando Scandrick makes no execuses and says he takes full accountability to the loss to the Falcons.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones downplays the speculation surrounding Sean Payton, says he has faith in Jason Garrett and that he's disappointed the team didn't have a better chance to win against the Falcons.
Ratliff sprained his ankle at the end of the first half of Sunday’s loss to Atlanta and while he was able to return for the second half he was compromised, limping noticeably. He was not in a walking boot after the game.
Coach Jason Garrett said the team did not know the extent of the injury after the game. Owner and general manager Jerry Jones said it was a good sign Ratliff was able to return, which made Jones optimistic Ratliff could play this week against Philadelphia.
Ratliff suffered a high left ankle sprain in his only preseason appearance against St. Louis on Aug. 25 and missed the first four games of the regular season. He missed the offseason and most of training camp with plantar fasciitis.
Those little things added up to big things in Sunday’s loss to Atlanta, especially on third down.
The Cowboys were a season-worst 3-of-10 on third down against the Falcons after converting on 21 of 43 third down chances in the previous three games. Kevin Ogletree dropped a third-down pass in the second quarter. Phillip Tanner missed an opening on a third-and-1 run in the second quarter. Miles Austin had a third-down drop in the third quarter.
Unable to keep drives going, the Cowboys ran a season-low 54 plays.
“Football comes down to a handful of plays at the most,” Romo said. “So many teams are even so when you line up on the field it comes down to the little things a lot of times. That’s why every play is important. That’s why every play matters.”
For a few plays, the Cowboys looked like they had a legitimate running game. Felix Jones busted a 15-yard run on the first snap of the second half and followed it with a 6-yard gain. Lance Dunbar ripped off an 18-yard run the next snap. The Cowboys' other 15 carries gained a grand total of 26 yards. That's not nearly good enough. The Cowboys once again didn't get much push up front, with the interior offensive line particularly struggling. Phillip Tanner, who was jumped on the depth chart by Dunbar, was stuffed on fourth-and-short on his only carry. No wonder Jason Garrett lacks confidence in the running game.
Tony Romo put up some pretty statistics. He completed 25 of 35 passes for 321 yards without an interception. But the Cowboys' passing game didn't generate enough points, with Romo's 21-yard strike to Kevin Ogletree accounting for Dallas' lone touchdown. Dez Bryant was a nonfactor with only one catch for 15 yards. Ogletree was a pleasant surprise with three catches for 96 yards and a TD, but he had a drop that killed a drive. The most memorable play of the night for the Cowboys' passing game was a drop by a wide-open Miles Austin on third-and-long. If he catches that ball, the Falcons might not have caught him.
The Cowboys simply couldn't stop Michael Turner in the second half. Turner, the big Falcons back whose tires don't have a lot of tread left on them, rumbled through the Dallas defense for 83 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries after halftime. He finished with 20 carries for 102 yards, highlighted by a 43-yard run, the longest allowed by Dallas this season. Inside linebacker Sean Lee's absence was felt in the second half. So was the absence of nose tackle Jay Ratliff, who played only a handful of snaps after spraining his left ankle. Inside linebacker Bruce Carter (10 tackles, including two for losses) looked like a star in the making, but the Cowboys still allowed Turner to run for more than five yards per carry.
The Dallas pass defense tightened up in the red zone, not allowing any touchdown passes. But the Cowboys couldn't stop Matt Ryan and his electrifying receivers until the Falcons hit the red zone. Ryan had 342 yards on 24-of-34 passing despite the Cowboys getting pretty consistent pressure on him, with DeMarcus Ware registering half of their three sacks. Roddy White (seven catches, 118 yards) and Julio Jones (five catches, 129 yards) both had big games. And the Cowboys failed to generate a turnover, blowing a golden opportunity when nose tackle Josh Brent couldn't hold on to a loose ball after Ware forced a Ryan fumble.
Joe DeCamillis' units made no killer mistakes and several plays. Dwayne Harris had a beautiful punt return on his only opportunity, going 37 yards to give the Cowboys great field position on their first possession, which resulted in a field goal. Punter Brian Moorman pinned the Falcons inside the 20 of three of his four kicks and had a net average of 44.0 yards. Lance Dunbar had a 39-yard kickoff return. They Cowboys held dangerous Falcons kickoff returner Jacquizz Rodgers in check. Dan Bailey missed a field goal, but it's hard to hold a 54-yard attempt against him.
X's and O's weren't the issue on most of the critical plays in the game, such as Miles Austin's drop and Orlando Scandrick's missed tackle. However, the Cowboys' poor efficiency in the red zone is a direct reflection on play-calling head coach Jason Garrett. Throughout his tenure, the Cowboys' point-to-yards ratio has been out of whack. That's one of the primary reasons they're 3-5 and a playoff long shot at the midway point of the season. The Cowboys' lone touchdown drive occurred when Tony Romo ran the hurry-up offense. Why doesn't Garrett give Romo that freedom more often?
When the Cowboys’ defense absolutely, positively needed a stop to force a punt or long field-goal try by the Falcons, Scandrick was unable to make a play.
On third-and-6 from the Falcons 24, Scandrick was in position to stop Jacquizz Rodgers short of a first down but missed. Rodgers ended up with a 31-yard gain. Later Scandrick was flagged for a holding penalty on Roddy White on a third-down play.
Atlanta was able to burn all but 17 seconds off the clock as it ended the drive with a 32-yard field goal by Matt Bryant.
“I’m more upset with the missed tackle,” Scandrick said. “The holding penalty I was competing trying to get off the field. When it came down to that it was like a dogfight when it comes to third down. It’s just very upsetting. My first penalty and my first missed tackle of the season come in one game, in a crucial part of the game. I don’t have any excuses. I accept full responsibility. I’m not one to make excuses. I’ll bounce back. I’ll continue to work hard. I’ll work harder on those things, getting my hand placement, my feet in great tackling position and won’t let it happen again.”
In 2009 at the Superdome against 13-0 New Orleans, the Cowboys opened the game with back-to-back touchdown drives for a 14-0 lead, stunning the crowd and just about all of their doubters.
On Sunday, the Cowboys’ first two drives ended in Dan Bailey field goals for a 6-0 lead with drives ending at the Atlanta 5 and 14.
“Their style of defense doesn’t allow you to throw over them,” Garrett said. “You have to run the ball effectively and throw it underneath against them down in the red zone. We tried a couple of those and it didn’t work out and settled for field goals. Obviously you’d rather have touchdowns.”
This wasn’t a Sunday problem. The lack of red zone success has been an issue for multiple seasons. They can pile up yards -- 377 on Sunday -- but they can’t pile up points. This was the fifth time the Cowboys failed to score 20 points in a game this season.
“You can’t have three points in the red zone against these types of teams,” tight end Jason Witten said. “We’ve got to be more efficient down there. We know it. We just haven’t executed, you know? I don’t know anything else to say other than you’ve got to be able to put seven points up when you get down there and have those opportunities. Otherwise, what happened tonight is exactly what happens if you let good teams stick around.”
It’s more difficult to make that case after each loss. And Garrett’s Cowboys have lost nine of their last 13 games.
However, Jones’ faith in Garrett seemed unflappable after Sunday night’s loss to the undefeated Falcons dropped the Cowboys to 3-5, increasing the odds that they’d miss the playoffs for the third consecutive season.
“Oh, I have a lot of faith in Jason,” Jones said. “I think Jason’s future is ahead of him. I know how hard he works. I like his philosophy, so I’ve got a lot of faith, a lot of confidence.
“One of the brightest spots I see is our head coaching and our coaching in the future.”
Bryant was a nonfactor on the night he turned 24 years old. He finished the Cowboys’ 19-13 loss with only one catch for 15 yards, leaving him so frustrated that he figured he better wait a day to discuss his performance.
“Right now ain’t the time,” Bryant said, shaking his head after the rest of the Cowboys had left the locker room. “I ain’t even gonna lie.”
Bryant didn’t practice all week due to a bruised hip suffered on the amazing, almost-game-winning touchdown catch that didn’t count in last week’s loss to the Giants. It wasn’t determined that Bryant could play against the Falcons until a couple of hours before kickoff.
However, Bryant said his sore hip wasn’t a factor.
“During the game, it was fine,” Bryant said. “(A pain-killing injection) helped out a lot. Still could feel it a little bit, but the game got going. You know how that is. That takes away a lot of pain because you’re excited and all that.”
Bryant’s lone reception came early in the second quarter. He was targeted only three other times the rest of the game, including once on a deep ball in the end zone that Asante Samuel broke up after Bryant appeared to have him beat.
“When you look back, everybody on the team can probably get a couple more passes each game, but it’s based off what they’re giving you defensively,” quarterback Tony Romo said. “Dez knows that.”
Nevertheless, Bryant has too much talent to catch only one ball in a critical game.
“You can say that,” Bryant said. “You can say that.”
Bryant, showing a bit of maturity on his birthday, didn’t want to say too much.
Witten broke Michael Irvin’s franchise record for receptions with a 7-yard catch in the fourth quarter. The perennial Pro Bowl tight end finished the game with seven catches for 51 yards, giving him 754 receptions during his career.
But those weren’t the numbers that dominated Witten’s thoughts after the 19-13 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. He’s worried about the Cowboys’ 3-5 record.
“I don’t want to neglect what happened,” Witten said, referring to breaking the franchise receptions record. “I’m tremendously humbled. From Day 1 when I came in here as a 20-year-old kid, I was just trying to do better each time I got an opportunity. To pass Michael and what he stood for and how he worked and obviously the player that he was, I mean, that’s special for me.
“But ultimately, and I think the relationship there is such that you don’t play to get catches. You play to compete for a championship and to win ballgames. That’s been my approach since Day 1 that I arrived in Dallas, and that’ll be the way until I leave.”
Witten, a 10-year veteran with one playoff win, grasps the reality of being two games under .500 midway through the season. He understands that the Cowboys will have to win at least six of their final eight games to have a chance to make the playoffs.
Witten believes that is possible. But he knows the Cowboys better start proving themselves soon.
“The actions have got to show for our football team,” said Witten, who stressed the need for a sense of urgency. “We believe it, we talk it, but you’ve got to do it at some point. We understand that urgency we have to have.”
ATLANTA -- The season is now in jeopardy for the Dallas Cowboys.
They came here trying to knock off the undefeated Atlanta Falcons but failed, 19-13, at the Georgia Dome on Sunday night. The Cowboys have now lost eight consecutive games on Sunday night and are 3-5 overall at the halfway point of the season. The Falcons improved to a perfect 8-0.
What it means: The Cowboys are two games under .500 and most likely will have to win seven of the next eight to get into the playoffs. If the Cowboys win six of the next eight, they might need some help to reach the postseason.
Scandrick with some gaffes: Slot cornerback Orlando Scandrick struggled in the fourth quarter against the Falcons. He missed a tackle on a 31-yard run play by Michael Turner on a third-and-6, then was flagged for defensive holding on a third-and-8 play against Roddy White. Both plays extended the last drive of the night for the Falcons. It's these kinds of plays that Scandrick has to make, especially with the game on the line.
Running back rotation: Felix Jones started, but Lance Dunbar (North Texas) got a majority of the snaps as the backup instead of Phillip Tanner. For the game, the Cowboys rushed for 65 yards on 18 carries. Jones had 39 yards on nine carries and Dunbar, on eight carries, picked up 26 yards. It's clear the Cowboys miss starting running back DeMarco Murray, who was out with a sprained foot. His return for the Philadelphia Eagles game next week is a possibility.
Witten makes Cowboys history: Coming into the game, tight end Jason Witten needed three catches to tie Michael Irvin as the franchise's all-time leader in receptions. Witten finished with seven catches for 51 yards. But once again, he had no touchdowns.
Dez Bryant started despite a sore hip and finished with one catch for 15 yards, none in the second half. Quarterback Tony Romo didn't target him in the second half. Instead, Miles Austin and Kevin Ogletree were the main targets, along with Witten.
Ratliff plays hurt: Nose tackle Jay Ratliff hurt his left ankle late in the first half. While he didn't start the second half, he played through the injury. There were no other major injuries for the Cowboys.
Who's next? The Cowboys finish their toughest stretch of the season (four of five on the road) with a trip to see the Eagles on Sunday.
It was the 751st catch in Witten’s 10-year career, surpassing Hall of Famer Michael Irvin, who had 750 catches from 1988-99.
The catch picked up a first down on the Cowboys’ first touchdown drive of the game, ending with a Kevin Ogletree score.
Witten entered Sunday’s game against the Falcons coming off an 18-catch, 167-yard effort last week against the New York Giants. Witten’s 18 catches were the most ever by a tight end in NFL history and tied for the third most in a game regardless of position.
He became the first player in NFL history with three games of at least 14 catches last week.
Ratliff suffered a high left ankle sprain in his only preseason appearance against St. Louis on Aug. 25 and missed the first four games of the regular season. He missed the offseason and most of training camp with plantar fasciitis.
The injury came at a bad time because the Cowboys were forced to use a timeout, allowing Atlanta a shot to get into better field goal position. With three seconds left, Matt Bryant tied the game with a 46-yard field goal after back-to-back catches by tight end Tony Gonzalez.
Ratliff returned in the third quarter in passing situations but is limping badly.
Josh Brent has taken over in the base defense. He started the four games and played well in Ratliff’s absence to start the year.