Dallas Cowboys: Broaddus Breakdown

Scout's Eye: Cowboys-Bucs review

December, 20, 2011
Scout's Eye
The Cowboys went to Tampa and really took care of the Buccaneers without much difficulty.

It was an easy game to break down without many problems on offense or the busts that we have seen the last two weeks defensively against the Cardinals and Giants. Jason Garrett always reminds us of how important all three phases of the game are in order to assure a victory. In terms of the phases, it was an outstanding game for the Cowboys.

To be honest, I was surprised at how easily the Cowboys were able to win this game. The Buccaneers had shown the ability to run the ball with LeGarrette Blount, so that was a potential problem for the defense that allowed physical Brandon Jacobs to run through them the previous week in a loss to the Giants. Offensively, the biggest question was whether Felix Jones would be able to carry over to this game what he was able to do against the Giants, and he was able to do so with no problems.

The only real offensive breakdown should be put on the play-call sheet of Jason Garrett. That was his decision to throw the ball on third-and-19 from the shadow of his own goal posts. Garrett got greedy and should have just run the ball with Sammy Morris, punted and played defense, but he didn't and it cost his team a touchdown.

That series started with a holding call on Tyron Smith, which backed the ball up to the Cowboys' 10-yard line. On first-and-20, Garrett tried to throw a screen coming to the right, but Albert Haynesworth managed to read the play and get in the way, forcing Tony Romo to have to unload it.

On second-and-20, Garrett tried to slam Jones into the line on the right side, but there was nothing doing there for a gain of 1.

On third-and-19 from his own 11-yard line, Garrett should have called another simple run but instead went shotgun with Miles Austin wide right, Laurent Robinson in the slot left and Dez Bryant outside of him. Jason Witten was a wing to the right, with Morris next to Romo on his right.

At the snap, Austin drove across the field on a shallow cross, Witten stayed in to block for Romo and took Da'Quan Bowers with Morris helping to that side. Robinson ran the deep out, and Bryant headed vertical. Left tackle Doug Free was quickly beaten off the snap by Adrian Clayborn, who turned the corner as Romo slid to his right then forward. Romo had no idea that Clayborn was behind him until he felt him on his back, thus causing him to drop the ball. Buccaneers linebacker Dekoda Watson picked up the ball and headed for the end zone.

It's a defensive touchdown for the Buccaneers and, to be honest, a huge mistake on Garrett for allowing it to happen. I know it sounds critical on my part, but it goes back to Garrett and his ability as a game manager. The only way the Buccaneers were going to score was if the Cowboys' offense turned the ball over and gave Tampa Bay a chance. Garrett did that with that play call.

Romo, Austin break through for first touchdown

In his second game back after his hamstring injury, Miles Austin was once again productive with another touchdown catch. It was Austin's second touchdown in the last two weeks.

[+] EnlargeMiles Austin
Douglas Jones/US PresswireMiles Austin fought -- and won -- for the Cowboys' first score in Tampa.
His grab against the Buccaneers was typical of what we normally see from him with his ability to play with power. With the Cowboys facing a third-and-goal from the Tampa Bay 8, Garrett went shotgun with three wide receivers in the game, Witten at wing and Jones to the right of Romo. Austin was in the slot left, Robinson wide left and Bryant wide right. Before the snap, Austin was trying to get Romo's attention and finally did. Romo pointed to Austin, making a motion right to left with his hand, then Austin got set. Witten went in motion right to left, then back outside left.

Witten ran vertical through the Tampa zone defense that dropped eight defenders. Austin crossed behind Witten then stopped reading the zone coverage. Romo turned his attention to Jones standing at the 5-yard line. Bryant had no chance on the left side with a corner and safety to his side. Witten curled in the middle of the end zone and got Romo's attention. The three-man rush caused Romo to move forward in the pocket then circle back, and he ran into Montrae Holland.

Austin saw Romo start to move then adjusted with him over the middle of the ball and in between the three Buccaneers defenders. Romo saw a window to throw the ball with safety Sean Jones driving on the ball from his left. Austin was able to fight off Jones by using his body to shield the ball then roll over to grab the ball from Jones and linebacker Mason Foster. Somehow, Austin managed to get the ball into the end zone for the cowboys' first touchdown of the game.

Cowboys contain Blount, get to Freeman

The key defensively for the Cowboys against the Buccaneers was going to be stopping Blount. The front seven for the Cowboys was outstanding in this game, getting off blocks and playing square. Sean Lissemore, Marcus Spears, Victor Butler and Anthony Spencer were exceptionally good.

[+] EnlargeSean Lissemore
Douglas Jones/US PresswireSean Lissemore got the last of the Cowboys' three sacks on Bucs QB Josh Freeman.
Once the front was able to control Blount, it put a great deal of pressure on quarterback Josh Freeman. In my pregame study of the Buccaneers, there was nothing that led me to believe that if they had to pass the ball they would have success. There were too many games where Freeman was not accurate throwing the ball.

Despite how poorly the Cowboys had been playing in the secondary, none of the Buccaneers receivers worried me all that much. Mike Williams is a nice player, but Freeman was going to struggle getting him the ball.

After not registering a sack against the Giants, the Cowboys got a couple quickly on back-to-back plays against the Buccaneers.

On first-and-10 on the Tampa Bay 24, Ryan put eight men in the box with safety Abram Elam at inside linebacker depth. The Buccaneers were in a regular formation, and Freeman went play-action, faking the handoff to Blount. Outside linebackers Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware were off on the snap. Ware was a yard beyond left tackle Donald Penn by the time that Freeman was able to make the fake. As Freeman set, Ware had his arms in position to make the sack.

Sean Lee stepped forward to take on fullback Erik Long with double coverage on the outside of both Tampa wide receivers. Ware brought Freeman to the ground.

It's now second-and-16. The Buccaneers went with three wide receivers and one back. Rob Ryan countered with his nickel package to match. Orlando Scandrick was in the slot to the left which is to Freeman's right. Scandrick bluffed presnap like he was going to blitz, then walked back into coverage on Preston Parker. At the snap, safety Elam sprinted forward to cover Parker. Terence Newman, Elam and Gerald Sensabaugh were locked up against two Buccaneers receivers.

In the pocket, Victor Butler dropped into the flat, Keith Brooking came hard on the blitz, scraping off the left shoulder of Marcus Spears. Right tackle Jeremy Trueblood tried to adjust to Scandrick off the edge but was unable to. Freeman pulled the ball down and tried to sprint to his left but was unable to get away from Scandrick on his back.

Scandrick and Brooking ran down Freeman, giving Scandrick his second sack of the season.

The third and final sack of the game for the Cowboys came with the Cowboys up 24. The Buccaneers had the ball on their own 25 with 6:32 left in the third quarter. The Buccaneers once again put three receivers in the game and flexed tight end Kellen Winslow out right. Ryan kept his base personnel on the field to match.

At the snap, Elam blitzed from safety with Brooking in coverage on Winslow. The coverage was man with a free safety in the middle of the field -- all receivers accounted for.

In the pocket, Spears and Spencer ran a twist stunt on the same side as the blitzing Elam. Lee blitzed as well and knocked down. Victor Butler adjusted from rushing from the outside to replace Lee in the middle of the defense. Lissemore outworked Penn to the inside as Freeman tried to look down the field. Lissemore ran straight into Freeman and brought him to the ground for his second sack in the last three weeks.

Scout's Eye: Cowboys-Bills preview

November, 11, 2011

Scout's Eye
We all play this game in the media where you take the Cowboys' schedule when it comes out and go through it game by game, circling win or loss.

Then when you are done with that you make your prediction for the team's overall record, which is usually wrong. This year I had the Cowboys at 9-7 and not making the playoffs, but the Buffalo game was one that I had circled as a win.

I still believe the Cowboys will defeat the Bills at Cowboys Stadium on Sunday afternoon, but I have a feeling it will be a victory that they will have to fight to get.

Jackson leads versatile Bills offense

Offensively, the Buffalo Bills are led by Ryan Fitzpatrick, who isn’t your typical NFL quarterback. He is not the most skillful athlete or passer, but he does a tremendous job of taking the snap and getting rid of the ball quickly.

The Bills’ offense is similar to a college offense in the way they get in four- and five-wide receiver sets. They use running backs like C.J. Spiller as a wide receiver or wide receiver David Nelson as a move guy, like an H-back across the formation, and as a blocker.

The strength of this Bills offense is running back Fred Jackson. Jackson is most dangerous when he takes the handoff and attacks the line, then slashes to a hole on the backside.

[+] EnlargeFred Jackson
Richard Mackson/US PresswireFred Jackson has been running all over NFL defenses and is the key cog in the Bills' attack.
Jackson is athletic enough to make you miss in the hole. He can spin, cut and dodge defenders with the best of them. I saw plays where defenders had Jackson stopped, but he was able to start, stop, then restart again.

Jackson plays a lot lighter than the 215 pounds he carries. He will bounce the ball to the outside in an instant and has the vision to see where he needs to go and how to get in and out.

Jackson catches the ball with ease. He is used on screens and swings out of the backfield and even split out wide.

There was a nice design of a screen against Washington, where Jackson started his route to the outside from the backfield then planted his outside foot and broke to the middle, which allowed his linemen to set up their blocks. It was an easy throw for Fitzpatrick and a huge gain.

The Bills also can show a college look when they use third quarterback Brad Smith in the “Wildcat” formation. Smith has made a nice career as one of the best kick returners in the NFL, but he can be an effective quarterback throwing and more importantly running the ball out of the shotgun. Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has to be careful on third downs with the Bills sneaking Smith into the game to run the scheme.

Receivers are reliable weapons for Fitzpatrick

At wide receiver, I mentioned what Nelson brings to the game with his ability to line up anywhere in the formation. Nelson in my view has the best hands on the team. He catches the ball away from his body and is natural doing it. Nelson is a deceptive route runner, so it looks like he is not running, but he is getting open. His height can make him a mismatch player, so the defensive back who covers him will have to be ready to be physical with him.

If Nelson has the best hands, Stevie Johnson is the best overall receiver when it comes to routes and getting open. Johnson is comfortable whether you play him in press or off coverage. He can get off the jam with nice technique. He’s Fitzpatrick’s best friend thanks to his ability to adjust to any type of pass that is thrown.

I only saw one drop by Johnson and that came against the Jets when he misplayed a slant. Usually Johnson eats those types of throws up because of the way he can position his body to keep himself between the defender and the ball.

Former Cowboys tight end Scott Chandler has also become a reliable weapon for Fitzpatrick in this offense. Chandler can get up the field, but he lines up more than just inline. The Bills like to flex him outside and try to give him space to operate.

The Cowboys have done a nice job this season when Ryan puts Frank Walker on the tight end. If the Bills try to move Chandler around, look for Walker to try to be right there with him, breathing the same air.

Offensive line misses injured starters

In the games I studied, the Bills' offensive line was struggling to replace injured starters. Andy Levitre was moved from guard to left tackle to replace Demetrius Bell, who has a shoulder problem and hasn’t practiced all week. Levitre is not the biggest guy, but he battled the best he could.

Against the Jets last week, Levitre was beaten badly to the inside. He was much better against the Redskins the previous week.

Chad Rinehart was the starter in Levitre’s place at guard. He struggled with a man on his nose with power and wasn’t all that good as a puller. If Bell is not able to go and Levitre has to play at left tackle, watch the matchup on that left side. Against the Jets, Rinehart failed to adjust to a blitz, twist stunt that caused pressure on Fitzpatrick.

Center Eric Wood is a nice player, as is guard Kraig Urbik. Tackle Erik Pears is a much better pass blocker than run blocker. Pears can be overpowered at times, but his footwork is good.

The ability of Fitzpatrick to get rid of the ball quickly helps this line from giving up pressures and sacks. In the running game, they are not a physical group, but the slightest bit of crease can be taken advantage of by Jackson. It might be hard for Ryan to attack this offense because they like to spread you out. The key to this game will be how physical the Cowboys are with this line.

Defense isn't model of consistency

Defensively, the Bills struggle to get off blocks with any consistency. Rookie Marcell Dareus isn’t playing like the explosive player from Alabama I studied on college tape last year. Kelvin Sheppard is a rookie starter from LSU who at times will be good reading the run and filling the hole and fighting the block. He gets into trouble when he doesn’t read plays quickly enough.

If the Bills are going to get pressure on an offense in the passing game, it will be when they run twists inside with the defensive tackles in the nickel or inside linebacker cross-blitz stunts.

The Bills have a physical safety in George Wilson who is always around the ball. Wilson is a good tackler and he can cover a tight end. He will also be used as a blitzer off the back side.

Backup safety Bryan Scott is used in a role similar to the one we saw the Cowboys use Barry Church in last week. He will play as a nickel inside linebacker and is much better in coverage than he is against the run, unlike Church, who made his best plays taking on blockers and getting to the ball.

The Cowboys need to take advantage of Scott when he is in the game by running the ball right at him. He doesn’t play with the physical style of Church, which hurts the Bills in this area.

In my scouting view, the best defensive player on the Bills is cornerback Terrence McGee. Last week against the Jets, McGee went all over the field covering the Jets' Santonio Holmes. McGee can cover well and does a nice job in the slot. He is solid playing the ball in the air and is a willing hitter.

On the other side, Drayton Florence is not as good as he needs to be and I now understand why the Bills drafted Aaron Williams out of Texas with an early second-round pick. Florence plays way too soft and he will give up routes to the inside. He doesn’t do a good job of defending the slant. In the Jets and Giants games, receivers had an easy time getting inside on him.

The Giants’ Hakeem Nicks was also able to take him vertically down the field. One other thing noticable about Florence is that he really doesn’t like to tackle and he is not that good at it when he gets the chance. Watch for the Cowboys to work the ball to his side of the field and make him play in this game.

In the three games I studied, the Bills had four interceptions. It was amazing the amount of tipped passes they were able to come down with. In the Jets game, Mark Sanchez had one get knocked up in the air off Plaxico Burress that ended up in the defense’s hands. Defensive end Alex Carrington tipped a Michael Vick screen that ended up being picked off. On the other two, Sanchez overthrew his man in the end zone, and Chris Kelsay was able to put pressure on Vick to cause a poor, off-balance throw.

Offense will put Cowboys to the test

If the Cowboys are going to win this game, it’s going to come down to how well Rob Ryan’s crew matches up with the Bills' offense. I believe the Cowboys' offense will be fine, but it’s the Bills' offense that I worry about.

The Cowboys have really struggled the last two weeks in run defense when the defensive ends were pushed inside or tied up on blocks. Marcus Spears and Kenyon Coleman will need to play much better than they have the last two weeks.

I don’t see the Bills being powerful enough to physically go toe to toe with the Cowboys, but I didn’t think that Seattle could, either. Jackson is an outstanding back and is the type of player that will come at you all day. Getting pressure on Fitzpatrick will be tough, but if they don’t tackle Jackson, pressure will not matter.

Offensively the Cowboys will make plays against the Bills defense. The key for the Bills is creating turnovers, as it has been in their five victories.

On Sunday afternoon, the Cowboys will need to be the more physical team on both sides of the ball. And I think they will.

Scout's Eye: Cowboys-Seahawks review

November, 8, 2011

After a crushing defeat to the Philadelphia Eagles last week, Sunday's game was our first opportunity to see how a team led by Jason Garrett would respond. The Dallas Cowboys' opponent was the Seattle Seahawks, who have had their own issues in winning games but weren't as bad as the St. Louis Rams, a team Dallas was were able to handle easily Oct. 23.

Scout's Eye
The more I studied the Seahawks, the more I thought that this game had the potential to be similar to what the Cowboys went through last season with Jacksonville. The Jaguars had talented players at key positions, but their record didn't reflect that. I felt that the Seahawks had some players who could give the Cowboys problems along the defensive front in the passing game much like the Jaguars did, but that didn't prove to be the case.

Newman enjoys banner day

Where the Seahawks had been struggling the most was at quarterback with Tarvaris Jackson, who has a huge arm and is mobile but his accuracy is nowhere near as good enough to have any type of consistent offensive attack. The Seahawks have receivers who can get open and make plays. Sidney Rice, Mike Williams and Ben Obomanu do a nice job of getting open but in this game, the Cowboys' secondary was outstanding.

[+] EnlargeTBD
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesJason Garrett rebounded from his worst thumping as a head coach to handle a talented Seahawks team.
Cornerback Terence Newman played one of his better games this season and to be honest, one of the best that I have seen in a while from him. Newman was much more physical not only on the outside but when inside in the running game. The only problem he had was on the deep ball that Rice was able to get behind him on. When Newman does struggle, it's when he tends to hang on a route thinking the quarterback is going to throw the ball short. Where Jackson got him was on the pump fake to the outside, and Newman gave a slight hesitation which cost him an opportunity to make a play on the ball.

Overall, Newman had a nice drive on the slant, which he had not been aggressive enough on in my view this season. He had outstanding position on an "in" where he carried the receiver across the field and was able to knock the ball down. On his interception, again he was in outstanding position in the route down the sideline, catching a gift from Jackson who just threw the ball up for grabs.

Church, Carter, Spencer impress

Coming out of the Eagles contest, there were plenty of questions about how Rob Ryan would use his linebacker rotation with the injury to Sean Lee. Where Ryan was in a little bit of a bind was that Bradie James and Keith Brooking really showed their age last week when it came to dealing with the speedy skill players of the Eagles.

Against the Seahawks, James and Brooking played better but Ryan chose to go with a look that he had used during the season, and that is with safety Barry Church as a linebacker alongside James or Brooking. I have to say that Church looked comfortable in the role. He has nice size at 219 pounds but what I was most impressed by was the way that he was able to fight off blocks, keep himself free but also quickly read the blocking scheme and fill for the tackle.

Church had a real feel for working through the trash and making the tackle. There was a play in which Ryan had him fit tight into the "A" gap, shoot the gap and get a tackle for a loss. The only play that I observed was when he jumped around a block and it left a crease in the defense that Lynch was able to scoot through for a nice gain.

Bryan Broaddus, official scout of ESPNDallas.com, breaks down every angle of the Cowboys-Seahawks game.

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It was also the first real defensive action for rookie linebacker Bruce Carter. I have said this a hundred times but I was impressed with the way that Carter played on tape at North Carolina. He was one of those players who never came off the field. When paired with a player such as Sean Lee, you will have two athletic linebackers who can play sideline to sideline in the running game but also handle the position in the passing game.

On the first defensive snap Carter took, Ryan brought him on a blitz. You saw the quickness and the burst coming around the block but he needed to work a little tighter to take a more direct path. On one of Lynch's long runs, he got caught inside on his read and didn't get over to his right quick enough to fill the hole.

Thought Carter needed to read the play quicker. There was also a play in which he overran the running back in space. He needs to do a better job of breaking down and making the tackle in space. Where Carter did do a nice job was in his zone drop in pass coverage. He was able to drop and read Jackson's eyes and knock down the pass.

This was a strong game for Anthony Spencer. It's a shame that he doesn't play like this every week because he can. Spencer was all over the field. He was quick off the snap, created pressure and was able to consistently get off blocks in the running game. Spencer is an explosive player, and you can really see this when he is running down plays from the backside. The one sack that the defense had for the day was when he was able to run Jackson down from the backside.

Spencer was awful against the Eagles when it came to getting off blocks and being a factor in the scheme of the defense. In a game in which the Seahawks did the best they could to take DeMarcus Ware out of the game, Spencer was able to step up and make plays to help out.

Rookie Murray puts on a show

[+] EnlargeDeMarco Murray
Tim Heitman/US PresswireDeMarco Murray made better use of his eyes in helping him carry the ball against Seattle.
Offensively for the Cowboys it was once again the DeMarco Murray Show when it came to running the football.

Murray had a timed speed of 4.37 in the 40 yard dash coming out of Oklahoma but there are times when he doesn't look like he is running because of how smooth he really is with the ball in his hands. It's almost as if he is gliding with the ball in his hands but to me where Murray has made the most improvement is when using his eyes to help him carry the ball. There were times earlier in the season when Murray carried the ball that I didn't feel that he saw the hole or the development of the blocks.

The rookie looks more confident where he needs to fit in the running game. He now sees the backside cuts, he feels where the hole is going to develop and he is also showing the ability to finish runs.

There has always been praise for Murray as a pass receiver, but I have seen improvement as a pass protector in blitz pick-up. When Murray stays square and upright, he can handle the job. Where he has to be careful is when he tries to cut block, which I saw last week against the Eagles. The great backs are not only able to run and catch the ball but able to be a solid pass protector as well. Running the ball will get you glory, but pass protecting will get you respect from your teammates.

Good defense foils good plan

With the score 3–3 in the second quarter, the Cowboys had a first-and-goal on the Seahawks 1. Jason Garrett sent three tight ends in the game with fullback Tony Fiammetta as well. At the snap of the ball, Witten who was lined up on the line to the right, headed up the field and then broke to his right but was tightly covered by linebacker K.J. Wright into the flat.

Romo, looking at Witten, saw no chance there to make the throw. Fiammetta headed into the space that Witten had left and was picked up by safety Atrari Bigby, who was covering Fiammetta as well. Now Romo's second read had been taken away. On the backside of the formation, John Phillips was the wing left and released up the field, uncovered. Phillips would be Romo's third read and was open in the back of the end zone off the snap but as Romo's eyes turned back to him, he was now in the path of linebacker Leroy Hill. With the clock going off in his head, Romo fired the pass too high for Phillips to reach.

Second-and-goal: Garrett tried to take advantage of how aggressive defensive end Chris Clemons plays in run defense. Holland pulled to his right and Doug Free released inside to his right trying to draw Clemons down to crash inside. Clemons didn't bite on the flow and played his technique to the outside, staying at home. Murray took the flip going to his left but Clemons was now up the field and in his face. Murray was able to avoid Clemons, but Free was unable to secure his block on the linebacker. Thus, no gain.

Third-and-goal from the 1: Garrett once again is going to try and get the ball to Witten, which is not a bad thing to try on the goal line. Witten was in line on the right side and released to the corner, Murray was in the backfield and headed for the flat but ran by a blitzing Earl Thomas off the edge. Romo had Thomas in his face and had to spin to avoid his rush, and he is able to gather himself. All his options were covered and he had to force the ball high to the corner to see if Witten can make a play, but he couldn't.

The point I am trying to make here is that there are times where you have good ideas and plans for the red zone, but the defense is just a little better.

Scout's Eye: Cowboys-Seahawks preview

November, 4, 2011

Scout's Eye
Those of you who think that the Seahawks are going to come into Cowboys Stadium and roll over because of their 2-5 record might be in for a bit of a surprise come Sunday afternoon.

This game has a 2010 Jacksonville feel to it, when the Cowboys clearly overlooked the Jaguars and were embarrassed on their home field 35-17. When you study the Seahawks, their record is misleading because there is some talent on this team and their record should be better.

It's a mistake to compare the the Seahawks to the Rams. St. Louis defensively was a bad football team; Seattle is not.

QB, O-line struggle with pressure

Offensively, there are problems with the third-youngest offensive line in the NFL, but the biggest struggle is at quarterback with Tarvaris Jackson. There is no doubt that Jackson has a cannon for an arm, but the problem is that he is not an accurate quarterback. Receivers Mike Williams, Sidney Rice, Doug Baldwin and Ben Obomanu really have to work to catch his passes.

[+] EnlargeTarvaris Jackson
AP Photo/Don WrightA young offensive line does little to improve the accuracy of Seahawks quarterback Tarvaris Jackson.
Jackson is all over the place when he throws the ball. I have seen him throw the out or slant and be dead on the money, but then the next three throws would be nowhere near the receivers.

Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell likes to move Jackson around in the pocket with designed boots or waggles, but there are plenty of times when you see Jackson moving on his own when the pressure becomes too much. One of the best traits that Jackson has is his ability to scramble and buy the second chance.

There will be times Jackson doesn't make the best decisions. I have seen him throw the ball up for grabs for no reason at all instead of taking a sack and living to fight on the next down.

The pressure that Jackson and even Charlie Whitehurst have had to deal with this season can be put at the feet of this offensive line. The Seahawks start two rookies on the right side with guard John Moffitt and tackle James Carpenter.

Moffitt really struggled on tape. He doesn't sustain well -- run or pass -- and much like his former Wisconsin teammate Bill Nagy, when he has to face a rusher who plays with power or strength, it really throws him off.

Carpenter is a large man who is not slow-footed, but he is more of a catch blocker than one who punches and tries to stop the charge of the defender. The Seahawks will try to get him on the edge in the screen game and on the toss sweep as well. Carpenter has had his share of struggles with the inside rush, much like Tyron Smith has. For young tackles such as Smith and Carpenter, that's the biggest problem -- always thinking about protecting the outside then having to adjust back inside, which rushers like DeMarcus Ware will take advantage of.

The two best offensive linemen for the Seahawks are the left tackle Russell Okung and center Max Unger.

Official scout of ESPN Dallas Bryan Broaddus previews the Cowboys-Eagles matchup on Sunday.

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Okung is impressive in the way that he tries to finish his blocks. His feet are good and he can adjust to the rush.

Unger was a player who the Cowboys were very interested in drafting three years ago after an outstanding career at Oregon, where he was an All-Pac 10 tackle and center. Unger, like Okung, is good with his feet and is able to adjust to twist stunts and blitzers. Rarely do you see him on the ground, plays on his feet. Good with the reach and cut-off blocks.

RB trio carries load well

The Seahawks have three running backs on the roster and use them all. Marshawn Lynch, Justin Forsett and Leon Washington all get offensive snaps.

Lynch is the main ballcarrier and there is nothing really flashy about the way he does his job. He tries to hammer defenders when they come up for the tackle. Can tell that there are plays in which he gets frustrated because of the lack of blocking that he sometimes receives. Would not call Lynch an explosive back but one that will press the hole and if necessary use his vision to find the hole to the outside to finish the run. Lynch is not the type of back that will run away from you with blazing speed but more of a steady, workman-like runner.

Lynch is a productive pass catcher with outstanding hands. Will see him used in the red zone on screens much like the Cowboys saw last week against the Eagles' LeSean McCoy.

Lynch's problem in the games I studied was fumbling the ball. In the Bengals and Giants games, he put the ball on the ground, killing drives for his team.

Washington is a short, explosive ball carrier. Forsett has good hands but doesn't play with the explosiveness of Washington. Washington attacks the hole with suddenness, while Forsett shows more patience.

Safeties shines for Seahawks

While the Seahawks' offense has issues, their defense is far superior to the Rams'. The Seahawks have more skill at safety, corner and pass rusher.

I was really impressed with safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor.

[+] EnlargeWalter Thurmond and Earl Thomas
Matt Sullivan/Getty ImagesThe Cowboys likely won't catch Seahawks safety Earl Thomas (29) out of position Sunday.
Thomas shows nice range and catch-up speed to make plays. He is also used as a blitzer in this scheme. He is quick around the corner. Thomas plays assignment sound. You don't see him out of position much.

Chancellor is a physical tackler but doesn't move as well in coverage as Thomas because he is not that quick-footed. Chancellor has struggled some in the passing game. He misplayed a ball in the air against the Giants down the sideline that led to a touchdown, so you don't see him put in those types of situations often.

At corner for the Seahawks, Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner are the starters. Sherman, a rookie from Stanford, is not the most physical player but has good cover skills. Both corners like to play press coverage and can run with their men.

The Cowboys had trouble last week against the Eagles when they had to fight off the press. I am not saying that these Seattle corners are as good as the Eagles', but they do have height that helps them when they jam receivers at the line. Browner is over 6-foot-3 and Sherman is at 6-foot-2.

Watch for the Seahawks to play with a single high safety and Chancellor down in the box to handle the run. On the outside, these corners will press and make Dez Bryant and Miles Austin fight for space and hope that their pass rush can get home like the Eagles did last week.

Pass rush can be explosive

The Seahawks have two rushers that can create problems for tackles. Defensive ends Chris Clemons and Raheem Brock do a nice job. Clemons is a starter that plays the weakside defensive end, so he will flip sides opposite the strength of the Cowboys. Brock will come into the game as a nickel rusher.

Both Clemons and Brock are explosive rushers. Both like to attack the edges, but Doug Free and Tyron Smith have to careful when these two try to spin inside on their rush. Last week against the Eagles, the biggest struggles that Free and Smith had was when Jason Babin and Trent Cole were able to use a spin move. I expect that Clemons and Brock have studied that game, and they will test Free and Smith from the word go.

Scout's Eye: Skins-Cowboys key matchups

September, 24, 2011

Scout's Eye
Here are the key matchups for the Dallas Cowboys' Monday Night Football contest against the Washington Redskins:

Cowboys OT Doug Free vs. Redskins OLB Brian Orakpo: After playing one of his poorest games since he was named a starter two years ago, Free has the opportunity to put the 49ers game behind him and lock up with one of the NFL's young rising stars in Orakpo.

Last week, Free was as off balance as I had ever seen him at tackle. His punch and footwork was off to the point where I was surprised that Justin Smith wasn't more of a factor. The Redskins have two nice rushers in Orakpo and rookie Ryan Kerrigan but Orakpo is the more explosive of the two, and that is what Free will have to deal with.

Orakpo works to get the edge on you first but is athletic enough to adjust in mid-rush. Free needs to be careful not TO allow Orakpo to set him up to the outside getting all his weight on that left foot, then working back inside to take a run at the quarterback.

Again, Free struggled last week when he had to adjust quickly. In studying the Redskins-Cardinals matchup, Arizona got hurt most when it used a back or tight end to handle Orakpo. This doesn't work scheme-wise, and don't expect Jason Garrett and the staff to make that as part of the game plan.

Bryan Broaddus, the official scout of ESPN Dallas, joins Ben and Skin to preview the Monday night matchup between the Cowboys and Redskins.

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I don't see Free playing poorly two weeks in a row, but Orakpo is the type of player who can make you look bad if you don't handle him the right way.

Cowboys nickel CB Alan Ball vs. Redskins WR Santana Moss: Of all the matchups for the Cowboys defense Monday night, this is the one that might be the most important.

When Rob Ryan plays nickel, the adjustment that he will make is putting Ball in as the slot corner to cover Moss. Last week against the 49ers, Ball played inside while Frank Walker took his spot at left corner on the outside. Ball wasn't bad in the second half but in the first he had struggles when having to deal with Ted Ginn Jr. and Josh Morgan.

The biggest problem I see with Ball is that he will play way too cautious. There are times when he allows too much space between himself and the receiver. He has the quickness to drive on the ball but he doesn't always do it.

Moss is a handful because of his skill set. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan likes to move him all over the formation, trying to create mismatches to convert third downs. Moss is a fearless player and will go inside or outside. He will find away to catch the football.

When you watch the Redskins play, you can see the confidence that Rex Grossman has in trying to get the ball in Moss' direction. This is a battle that the Cowboys can't lose or handle poorly if they are to get off the field on third down.

Cowboys TE Jason Witten vs. Redskins S Reed Doughty and OJ Atogwe: The situation at receiver as Garrett would put it is truly day to day.

Miles Austin is out with a hamstring injury and Dez Bryant is trying to work through a thigh injury that hasn't allowed him to practice for the last two weeks. Friday was the first day that the trainers allowed Bryant to even attempt to put weight on the injury. He still has two days to try and get ready for Washington.

Even if Bryant is able to go, Witten is going to once again play a key role in how this offense will function, much like he did last week against the 49ers. The real problem here is that the Redskins will not allow Witten to beat them, so he should see some special coverage schemes from defensive coordinator Jim Haslett.

Of the two Redskins safeties, Doughty will struggle the most in coverage. He doesn't run well enough to hang with Witten down the field or in routes, so Atogwe could draw that assignment. Against the 49ers, Witten was able to make plays by releases from in line or the normal tight end spot against a Cover 2 look. Look for the Redskins not to respect the other Cowboys receivers other than Bryant and try to make it difficult on Witten to get open.

Broaddus Breakdown: Specialists

July, 6, 2010
Last in a series breaking down the Cowboys by position (previous entries):

Roster locks: David Buehler, Mat McBriar, L.P. Ladouceur

Good bets: None

On the bubble: None

Long shots: Delbert Alvarado

[+] EnlargeDavid Buehler
Scott Boehm/Getty Images)David Buehler is a proven kickoff specialist, but the Cowboys are betting that he can reliably convert field goal attempts.
I personally don’t think they have a kicker on this team.

I welcome David Buehler to prove me wrong. In talking to special teams coach Joe DeCamillis, who believes in Buehler, I know they have a backup plan. How quickly will they have to go to the backup plan? Is Buehler going to have the whole preseason to prove himself before they make a decision? I would hate for this team to be held hostage by their kicking situation.

Buehler wasn’t a consistent kicker in college. In the NFL, your teammates have to have the confidence that you’re going to make the kick. I don’t know if they have that confidence in Buehler. If they watch the same practices that I’ve been watching, I don’t know how they can have that confidence. Look what happened with Nick Folk last year. It changed the way the coaches coached the game.

As a kickoff specialist, Buehler is one of the best in the NFL. The Cowboys drafted him to be that weapon. He is that weapon. I’d hate to see them take that away because of him worrying about field goals.

McBriar is also a weapon. He changes field position. His hang time is impressive, and he’s become a good directional punter. He eliminates the return. The only question about him is whether you have to worry about him as a holder. If you have a struggling holder with a struggling kicker, that’s a pretty bad combination.

The funny thing about snappers is that you never know they’re there until they make a mistake. Nobody knows L.P. Ladouceur. You have to admire his consistency, on long and short snaps. His part of the operation is something that you don’t have to worry about. You do have to worry about the hold and kick.

Broaddus Breakdown: Safeties

July, 4, 2010
Eleventh in a series breaking down the Cowboys by position (previous entries):

Roster locks: Gerald Sensabaugh, Alan Ball, Michael Hamlin, Akwasi Owusu-Ansah

Good bets: None

On the bubble: Patrick Watkins, Barry Church

Long shot: Danny McCray

[+] EnlargeAlan Ball
AP Photo/Erich SchlegelThe Cowboys will find out whether Alan Ball has what it takes to be a starting free safety in the NFL.
Cutting Ken Hamlin was the right move, but it will be interesting to see whether it’s more important to have a good cover safety instead of a savvy veteran.

You do see the coverage skills, the ability to match up and the range with Alan Ball. That’s really important to have somebody who can do that -- somebody who can play off the hash or in the middle -- because you want to keep Gerald Sensabaugh close to the line of scrimmage. I don’t like that Ball isn’t a big guy. Maybe you can get away with more of a cover guy at free safety, but I’d like to have a guy who is more physical. Are you sacrificing smarts and a physical presence for coverage and range? We also don’t know if Ball is a playmaker, but at least he has the traits that make you feel he can get his hands on the ball. As a corner, you have to have that -- the ability to break on balls and read routes. This is going to be the test for Ball.

I love Sensabaugh’s toughness and his ability to tackle. He can be a liability at times in coverage, so you don’t want to put him too much in that. They talk about him matching up with tight ends and backs. Those guys aren’t going to put a bunch of moves on you and make you look bad. Sensabaugh isn’t a guy who can cover in the slot or out wide. If you put him on a back or tight end, he can handle that. When he’s a down-in-the-box player, he’s a much better player. The closer you can put him to the line of scrimmage, the better he’s going to play, because he likes that physical side of the game. He plays physical in coverage against tight end and contests for the football. His playmaking ability is going to be as a tackler, causing fumbles, more so than getting his hands on passes.

There’s a hint of hesitation about the way that Mike Hamlin plays the game. As a free safety, you can’t have hesitation. You’ve got to read it and go. The thing that is going to hold him back is the mental side. With him, it’s going to be more about repetitions than anything else, learning his responsibilities and the corners’ responsibilities and being able to react instead of think during a play. I like his size and ball skills. He’s got all the physical traits that you want, but is he going to put himself in situations to make plays? That’s where he’s going to be judged.

I don’t know Akwasi Owusu-Ansah at all, but the scouts I talk to feel like he has the athletic ability to play corner but will probably end up at safety. He has good coverage skills, pretty good size and great speed. The physical traits are a good match for a safety. The question with him is going to be: What’s the learning curve? And you do worry a little bit about a safety with a shoulder problem. Free safeties hit, and they stretch for the ball. Is this something that is going to go away or will you have to worry about it every week?

If they carry a fifth safety, it’s going to come down to whether the less expensive Barry Church can take Pat Watkins’ duties on special teams. If that’s the case, Church has a great shot at making this team. They know what they have in Watkins. If he wasn’t a good special teams player, he wouldn’t be here. It’s up to Church to prove in the preseason that he can make plays on special teams and be productive on defense in the second half of games. If he does that, he could put Watkins on the street.

Broaddus Breakdown: Cornerbacks

July, 2, 2010
Tenth in a series breaking down the Cowboys by position (previous entries):

Roster locks: Terence Newman, Mike Jenkins, Orlando Scandrick

Good bets: None

On the bubble: Jamar Wall, Cletis Gordon, Bryan McCann

Long shots: None

[+] EnlargeMike Jenkins
Leon Halip/US PresswireMike Jenkins made the Pro Bowl as an alternate last year, and he has the potential to be a fixture at the annual gathering of the NFL's top players.
This is a good group.

I absolutely love Mike Jenkins. This should be the year he gets voted into the Pro Bowl, not as an alternate. There’s not much he can’t do. He can play press. He can play off. He drives well on the ball. He’s physical. He plays the ball well in the air. He plays with instinct. And he’s a good enough tackler.

Terence Newman has really been up and down in recent years. He still can run, knows how to play tight man and has the ability to play the ball in the air. Tackling is not his strength. At his age, you have to worry about his durability.

Orlando Scandrick is a gritty, gutsy type of cover guy. He plays in the slot, which is the most difficult position to cover. He has to carry a man all over the field. He went through a rough stretch after his Week 2 start against the Giants but rallied to finish the season strong. He can play slot or outside and has been used at safety some, too. He’s fearless as a tackler and has good instincts to read routes. He can probably take Newman’s spot in the not-too-distant future.

Depth isn’t a significant concern, because safeties Alan Ball and Akwasi Owusu-Ansah can play corner. Ball would be the third corner if a member of the established trio gets injured.

Cletis Gordon has an edge over the other bubble guys because of his familiarity with the coaches and the system. Jamar Wall was a draft pick, but he struggled in minicamp. Practice squad is the likely destination for Wall and Bryan McCann.

Broaddus Breakdown: Outside linebackers

July, 1, 2010
Ninth in a series breaking down the Cowboys by position (previous entries):

Roster locks: DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer, Brandon Williams, Victor Butler

Good bets: None

On the bubble: Steve Octavien

Long shots: None

[+] EnlargeAnthony Spencer
Cliff Welch/Icon SMI Anthony Spencer was arguably the Cowboys' best player during the second half of 2009 with eight sacks in the final eight games. He finished with 79 total tackles.
I can’t think of a better outside linebacker tandem in the NFL. Over the last eight games of the season, Anthony Spencer played just as well as DeMarcus Ware.

Ware has incredible pass-rush techniques, never gives you the same rush and has top-shelf athletic ability. He has a great size-speed combination. He can rush inside or outside -- doesn’t matter. He’s always going to the football. He’s the type of player that offensive coordinators have to account for on every down. Wade Phillips does a good job of moving him around to help his effectiveness. He doesn’t get blocked in the run game. He’s a hard guy to hook, plays with leverage and strength at the point and disengages from blocks. He’s a dominant football player.

Spencer really came on after the Denver game last season. Known more as a run player, he became an effective pass-rusher as well. He’s not a one-trick pony. He has a variety of pass-rush techniques. He doesn’t give blockers much of a hitting surface. He’s good in coverage but needs to be used as a pressure player as often as possible. He has strong hands and holds up well at the point in the run game. He’s a complete outside linebacker.

Brandon Williams plays with explosiveness. He’s got good size and pass-rush instincts. He played with his hand on the ground at Texas Tech and probably still needs to learn a lot about the coverage aspects of playing outside linebacker, but you can see his explosiveness.

I had some hope for Victor Butler. I love his effort and intensity. I think he just needs more experience. He’s not consistent enough. He needs to learn how to perform down after down, but you can see that he has talent.

Broaddus Breakdown: Inside linebackers

June, 29, 2010
Eighth in a series breaking down the Cowboys by position (previous entries):

Roster locks: Bradie James, Keith Brooking, Sean Lee

Good bet: Jason Williams

On the bubble: Stephen Hodge

Long shots: Leon Williams, Donovan Woods

[+] EnlargeKeith Brooking
Larry French/Getty ImagesKeith Brooking should be a good role model for rookie Sean Lee, and he proved last year he still can make plays.
This is a solid group with a nice mix of established veterans and promising young players.

I’m not surprised by the type of year Keith Brooking had. He’s always been a guy who has been well prepared and kept himself in good physical condition. He’s a pro’s pro. He’s a relentless player with great effort, intensity, intelligence and leadership ability. I think he helped Bradie James more than Zach Thomas did. Brooking didn’t wear down, like Thomas did the previous season. This guy still has more than enough left in the tank.

James is very good as a run-at guy. He’s a physical, point-of-attack player who is adequate sideline to sideline. He has his shaky moments in coverage, though, which is why he’s on the field less often in passing situations. You can’t jump up and down about him, but you have to admire how steady he’s been.

Sean Lee is instinctive, active and smart. He’s got an understanding of where to fit, and I like what he brings as a nickel linebacker. He should be an immediate upgrade over Bobby Carpenter. He moves well in coverage and does an excellent job making breaks on the ball. He’s also big and physical enough to be a factor in the running game. He’s got the perfect guy to learn from in Brooking and looks like a guy who has a bright future as an NFL starter.

Every time I see Jason Williams, he’s getting yelled at by somebody. But he’s a guy who was hand-picked by Wade Phillips, so he’ll have an opportunity to play. This training camp will be huge for him. He can handle the physical load, but is the mental load going to bring him down? He has to translate his athletic ability into production on the football field.

Hodge played at TCU while I was on the staff there, and I had really high hopes for him. But the knee injury has potentially robbed him of this opportunity. If healthy, he could be a dynamic special teams player. He’s crazy, he’s always around the football, and he’s physical. He’s really not a very fluid moving guy. He’s more of a stand-in-there-and-be-physical type of player. He’s a tough son of a gun.

Broaddus Breakdown: Defensive line

June, 28, 2010
Seventh in a series breaking down the Cowboys by position (previous entries):

Roster locks: Jay Ratliff, Igor Olshansky, Marcus Spears, Stephen Bowen, Jason Hatcher

Good bet: Junior Siavii

On the bubble: Sean Lissemore, Marcus Dixon

Long shots: Junior Aumavae, Lorenzo Washington

[+] EnlargeJay Ratliff
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesJay Ratliff is on the small side for a nose tackle, but he's tough to block on both running and passing plays.
Jay Ratliff might not fit the mold of a traditional nose tackle, but the way he plays with leverage, strength and movement causes problems for the majority of centers in the NFL. He’s active, he’s relentless, he’s just darn hard to block. He’s just as effective against the run or pass. He’s a sideline-to-sideline player. The only knock against him is his size, but he more than makes up for it.

Igor Olshansky is known as a run stuffer, but he’s not a bad pass-rusher. He’s powerful and has the ability to hold the point of attack. If he has a deficiency, it’s struggling with his lateral play, but he’s good at the point of attack and moving forward. And the guy gets a push as a pass rusher.

There’s nothing flashy about Marcus Spears. He’s been steady, but you’ve always expected more out of the former first-round pick. He has his moments of solid play against the run but doesn’t give you much as a pass-rusher. The fact the Cowboys haven’t extended his contract gives you a strong clue of what they think about him. They like having him, as long as it’s at their price.

Stephen Bowen and Jason Hatcher are very good nickel players, run or pass. They’re both good athletes, play with good technique and pursue to the ball very well. They give you something as upfield pass rushers, particularly with Bowen as an inside rusher. They’re both playing under one-year tenders and could earn lucrative extensions with continued productive play, but I don’t see either challenging for Spears’ starting job this season.

Junior Siavii was much better early in the season than late. He showed the ability to give you 10 or 12 good plays, but that’s about his limit. He’s a try-hard, high-effort guy who holds his ground, but he’s not going to make many plays. Bill Parcells would have referred to him as a hold-the-fort player. The Cowboys should eventually try to upgrade at backup nose tackle.

I like the little bit I’ve seen of Sean Lissemore. He made an impression with his relentlessness during pass-rush drills in minicamp.

Broaddus Breakdown: Guards/centers

June, 27, 2010
Sixth in a series breaking down the Cowboys by position (previous entries):

Roster locks: Andre Gurode, Leonard Davis, Kyle Kosier

Good bets: Montrae Holland, Travis Bright

On the bubble: Pat McQuistan

Long shots: Phil Costa

[+] EnlargeAndre Gurode
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezCenter Andre Gurode has been selected to the last four Pro Bowls.
The Pro Bowlers need to perform better than they did last season, when unheralded Kyle Kosier was the most consistent player in the group.

Andre Gurode failed to secure his man too many times. He failed to get to the second level too many times. He didn’t finish his block too many times. You’re always going to have mental mistakes and consistency issues with him. I see guys running through and making plays on him. I see guys getting off blocks and making plays. He shouldn’t have been a Pro Bowler last season.

Leonard Davis is extraordinarily strong, but he struggles in space and against quick players. If you bull-rush him, he’s going to beat you. If you make him move and get to his outside shoulder, he’s going to have problems. In the San Diego game, when the Cowboys couldn’t punch the ball in from the 1-yard line, Davis was a significant part of the problem because he did a poor job of adjusting to the run-through linebacker. The longer he has to hold his block, the harder it is because he doesn’t have the athletic ability to sustain blocks. He has to grab and hold. The weakness of the offensive line is center and right guard.

Kyle Kosier doesn’t have great size for a guard, but he has tremendous desire and determination. He knows how to finish blocks and is consistent down after down, run or pass. He does a nice job of tying up his man in the running game and is effective when he pulls. He’s good in space and very good in combination blocking, working well with the tackles.

The plan is for Kosier to slide over to center if Gurode goes down, but Kosier has never played center. This presents an opportunity for Bright, a guard who focused all offseason on learning the center position. He’s been in the Cowboys’ program for a year and has a chance to prove that he deserves a roster spot this preseason. He could be the guy that bumps Pat McQuistan off the roster.

Montrae Holland is an expensive insurance policy again. He’s a short-area, phone-booth type of player. He’s not quick or agile. He doesn’t offer much other than strength.

Broaddus Breakdown: Offensive tackles

June, 25, 2010
Fifth in a series breaking down the Cowboys by position (previous entries):

Roster locks: Doug Free, Marc Colombo, Alex Barron

Good bet: Robert Brewster

On the bubble: Sam Young

Long shots: Mike Tepper, Will Barker

Flozell Adams is gone, but the Cowboys should be fine at tackle.

[+] EnlargeMarc Colombo
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezMarc Colombo missed the last seven regular-season games last year with a broken leg but returned for the playoffs.
Doug Free proved me wrong for eight games, and he’ll benefit from playing next to consistent Kyle Kosier. I thought there was going to be a collapse when Free replaced injured Marc Colombo last season, a chink in the armor, but that didn’t happen. He’s everything you want in a tackle but strong, and he can improve that. The footwork is going to be totally different for him on the left side, but the guy is smart enough to make those adjustments. He got a taste of left tackle in the playoff game in Minnesota last year and held his own. He’s got a great knack of keeping himself between the defender and the quarterback. He’s more of a get-in-the-way, shield run blocker than a physical, point-of-attack push blocker. That’s fine for a left tackle. He’ll be doing a lot of cut-offs, reaches and things like that, which is right up his alley. This guy is a good player in space.

Two years ago, Colombo was the Cowboys’ most consistent offensive linemen. But his performance in last season’s playoff loss was by far his worst in a Cowboys uniform. He has toughness, desire, nastiness. He really brings an attitude to the way he plays. He’s effective blocking on the edge in the running game. His footwork in pass protection was flawed in the playoffs last season, but that’s probably because of rust and being less than 100 percent after rushing back from a broken fibula. When healthy, he’s still effective in space in the running game, a good second-level blocker and is able to finish his blocks. He tends to bend at the waist and get overextended in pass protection, but he’s a fighter and scrapper. The technique is never pretty with this guy, but he manages to get the job done.

Alex Barron is dancing bear. He has outstanding, quick feet, but his strength is marginal. He has trouble finishing blocks, but his athletic ability can get him out of trouble. I like his ability to mirror the defender in pass protection, but he doesn’t always have the strength to sustain his block. He’s very good in space but lacks push in the running game. His high amount of penalties indicates that he has concentration lapses, which is a concern. He has almost five full seasons as an NFL starter, so he’s great value as a backup swing tackle.

I don’t know anything about Brewster other than what I’ve seen in T-shirts and shorts. The Cowboys probably made the deal for Barron because they didn’t know what they had with Brewster. He’s a bad body guy, but he has decent feet. He might project more as a guard than a tackle.

Young has a better body of work than Brewster, as a highly decorated high school recruit who set a Notre Dame record for games started, playing against good competition on a weekly basis. He’s much stronger than I anticipated. He’s competitive, and his feet and hands work well together. He reminds some of Colombo.

Broaddus Breakdown: Tight ends

June, 24, 2010
Fourth in a series breaking down the Cowboys by position (previous entries):

Roster locks: Jason Witten, Martellus Bennett, John Phillips

Good bets: None

On the bubble: Scott Sicko

Long shots: Kevin Brock

[+] EnlargeMartellus Bennett
Howard Smith/US PresswireMartellus Bennett's physical tools haven't translated into success on the field yet.
Jason Witten is one of the best mismatch players in the NFL. He can play anywhere in the offense -- inline, flexed, backfield, out wide -- and is the one player that defensive coordinators most have to worry about when game-planning for the Cowboys because of his ability to make plays from all these spots. I’d like to see him get more opportunities in the red zone. He’s the most reliable target on the team. The quarterback will go to him at any point in a drive. He’s not a trained killer as a blocker, but he’s strong enough to get push at the point and athletic enough to hook his guy. He’s dependable. He’s a top-five tight end without a doubt, the best in this division.

Martellus Bennett is a heartbreaker. You see talent and ability, and it doesn’t always translate onto the field. He can be a good blocker at the point because of his size and athleticism, but he doesn’t always do it. He should be more of a factor in the two-tight end packages, but he needs to be more reliable in his assignments. After watching training camp last year, I thought he would be a huge factor in this offense, but he was a major disappointment. He’s a big man that can really run. His agility is very good, his hands can be very good, but he’s just not dependable. He could be a dominant player if all factors come together.

John Phillips was one of the best surprises of the offense last year, other than Miles Austin. He’s become a jack-of-all-trades player. He can line up all over the field and is productive in his roles. The more they played him, the better he got. Good blocker, good toughness, good ability with the ball in his hands. He’s a little stiff, not the best athlete, but he works well with what he has. He’s always going to give you his best effort. The Cowboys can count on him in several roles.

I don’t know much about Sicko. I need to see him play. How is he going to play in pads? Moving around, he looks fine, but I’m interested to see him as a blocker. Can he do some of the things Phillips does? These tight ends are asked to play a lot of roles. Can he fill those roles? That’s going to determine whether or not he makes this team.

Broaddus Breakdown: Wide receivers

June, 23, 2010
Third in a series breaking down the Cowboys by position (previous entries):

Roster locks: Miles Austin, Roy Williams, Dez Bryant

Good bet: Kevin Ogletree, Patrick Crayton

On the bubble: Sam Hurd

Long shots: Verran Tucker, Terrell Hudgins, Manuel Johnson, Jesse Holley, Titus Ryan

This is the position group that’s the most under the microscope.

[+] EnlargeMiles Austin
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezMiles Austin knows how to get open and is adept at picking up yardage after the catch.
You hope Miles Austin does what he did last year. You hope Dez Bryant can be everything you thought when you evaluated him. You hope Roy Williams can be better than he’s been. You hope Kevin Ogletree continues to show signs of improvement. You know Patrick Crayton can play. You know Sam Hurd can play special teams.

One of the most impressive things about Austin is his ability to run routes at the same speed. He puts defensive backs under huge pressure because he can do that. He never changes speed. Everything is run at one speed. It’s hard to cover a guy like that, because there’s no hesitation to break on. He knows how to get separation. His run-after-catch ability is among the best in the NFL. He’s a physical player that will go get the football -- good in traffic, good in the middle of the field. Teams will try to take him out of the game, and he’ll just create opportunities for somebody else. The only knock on him is that he hasn’t done it for a full season. You see all the talent and traits and believe, but is he capable of putting back-to-back seasons together? The great ones do. I believe he can.

Williams may be the most misevaluated player on the team. When the quarterback lost confidence in him, he had no chance. I applaud him for trying to be a stand-up guy and acknowledging that he needs to play better, but can he play better? The ability has not matched the hype. He’s not a consistent route runner. Roy is a stop-start-stop kind of route runner. He tends to get high, has to settle his feet and turn. He’s mechanical. He doesn’t have consistent hands. He will fight through press coverage much better than Terrell Owens ever did, but once you get open, you have to make plays. The best thing this guy does is block. You can’t question his desire or toughness, but he’s not paid to block. He’s paid to make plays, and he doesn’t make nearly enough. I’m willing to give him another year before declaring him an expensive mistake. At least there are options behind him.

The thing about Bryant is that the learning curve does not appear very steep. He has size, and you can see the playmaking ability. His route running will need work, but when he’s open, he’s magical catching the football. I’ve seen him contort his body to catch balls behind him, low, over his head and in front of him. His hands are outstanding. His body type equates to a good run-after-catch guy because he’s so strong and is an explosive player. He seems to relish going against good competition. They need to continue to feed him as much as possible. They need to find out how much he can really absorb, because he has a chance to help this team this season.

Crayton is the most dependable receiver on the team. He’s outstanding at working the middle of the field. He has a real feel for how to get open and has the best natural hands of the veteran receivers. He makes the most out of limited speed. Competitive, tough player. He is the reliable one. If something happens to one of the other guys, plug him in and play. He’s worth his $2 million salary.

I like Ogletree. I like what he brings to the game. He’s a solid route runner. He’s got good hands. But the best thing is his ability with the ball in his hands. His run-after-catch is very good. You saw it with the screens in Philadelphia. He has the ability to catch the ball in traffic and make something happen. The question is: Will he get a chance with this crew? Will they find ways to get him touches? His situation is similar to Tashard Choice’s.

Hurd is strictly on this team because of his special teams ability. Someone is always going to play ahead of him in the offense. He can make a circus catch every once in a while – especially in the Alamodome – and he’s the best blocker among the wide receivers. But he’s just not talented enough to crack this receiver rotation.