Dallas Cowboys: Andre Roberts

IRVING, Texas – For a variety of reasons the Dallas Cowboys need their cornerback trio of Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick and Morris Claiborne to play better in 2014.

One reason is the addition of DeSean Jackson to the Washington Redskins.

We documented Jackson’s efforts against the Cowboys while with the Philadelphia Eagles. He’s scored just one touchdown against the Cowboys and averaged 3.5 catches a game in the regular season.

Maybe things become a little different now that he is with the Redskins. He will have a first-time head coach in Jay Gruden, who loved to throw it when he was the offensive coordinator of the Cincinnati Bengals. He has Robert Griffin III trying to recapture the magic of his rookie season. He has Pierre Garcon, who lit up the Cowboys, and free-agent pickup Andre Roberts.

Carr struggled badly with Garcon (11 catches, 144 yards) in the second meeting of the season last year at FedEx Field so much that Scandrick moved in late in the game when the defense made a stop. Roberts has played twice against the Cowboys with the Arizona Cardinals and has two 100-yard games.

He caught five passes for 110 yards and a touchdown in the Cardinals’ 27-26 win in 2010 and six passes for 111 yards in the Cardinals’ 19-13 overtime win.

New defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli will have to blend what Carr, Scandrick and Claiborne do well into the scheme better than last year’s coordinator, Monte Kiffin. Carr and Claiborne have to play better to give Marinelli options.
IRVING, Texas -- About three days into free agency and the Dallas Cowboys are not a better team today than they were on Monday.

They cut DeMarcus Ware. They cut Miles Austin. They have signed two defensive linemen in Jeremy Mincey and Terrell McClain that figure to be rotation parts, not cornerstone pieces.

Meanwhile elsewhere in the NFC East …

The Philadelphia Eagles have added Malcom Jenkins and Noland Carroll and traded for Darren Sproles. The Eagles also did some nice special teams' shopping with Chris Maragos and Bryan Braman and also re-signed their punter, Donnie Jones.

The New York Giants added a piece to their offensive line in Geoff Schwartz and brought in running back Rashad Jennings. The key move, however, was re-signing linebacker Jon Beason. They backed out of a deal with O'Brien Schofield.

The Washington Redskins have added wide receiver Andre Roberts, guard Shawn Lauvao and linebacker/special teamer Adam Hayward. Bruce Campbell is a low-risk help to the offensive line.

Too often we get caught up in the splashes in free agency only to see them not live up to the billing down the road.

Before free agency started Stephen Jones said the Cowboys would be efficient with their spending in free agency. To see them sit back and wait should not be surprising, but that doesn't mean fans can't be aggravated.

There are good players still to be had. The Cowboys could still re-sign Jason Hatcher or add Henry Melton. While they can afford both, I don't think signing both would make sense. They could keep Anthony Spencer and hope his repaired knee comes around. They could take fliers on some of the bigger names you want if those prices come down as free agency rolls along.

As maddening as the 8-8 finishes have been, the Cowboys have been the only team in the NFC East to compete for a division title the last three years. It's a hollow accomplishment for sure, especially when stacked up against the franchise's history, but spending for spending sake is not the best solution.

There is a plan and it has to be more than Mincey and McClain, right?

Five-star: Victor Cruz better than Steve Smith

December, 8, 2011
Five-star question: Will Victor Cruz be the fourth consecutive receiver to have a 100-yard game against the Cowboys' secondary or will another Giants' receiver do it?

Mike Jenkins, the Cowboys’ best cornerbacks, expects to spend most of Sunday night battling with Hakeem Nicks. That means Victor Cruz will have be matched up against Terence Newman or Orlando Scandrick.

Those aren’t good matchups for the Cowboys.

If Arizona’s Andre Roberts catches six passes for 111 yards against Newman/Scandrick, there’s little reason to doubt that Cruz will crack triple digits.

Cruz has three consecutive 100-yard games and five this season, when the undrafted free agent has emerged like Miles Austin did for the Cowboys in 2009. He’s also had games of 99, 98 and 91 yards.

Newman is susceptible to giving up big plays because of his tendency to bite on underneath routes, making double-moves against him especially dangerous. Cruz has become an elite big-play threat. His 17 receptions of 20-plus yards tie him with Detroit’s Calvin Johnson for fourth in the league in that category.

Former Giants slot receiver Steve Smith used to torment Scandrick, who might still have nightmares about the Cowboys Stadium opener. Unfortunately for Scandrick, the Giants managed to upgrade when they let Smith go this summer.

Five-star: Hakeem Nicks will go for 100 yards

December, 8, 2011
Five-star question: Will Victor Cruz be the fourth consecutive receiver to have a 100-yard game against the Cowboys' secondary or will another Giants' receiver do it?

I’ll go with somebody other than Cruz this week. My answer is Hakeem Nicks. He had nine catches for 108 yards and two touchdowns in his last game at Cowboys Stadium.

It’s one thing to allow a wide receiver like Miami’s Brandon Marshall to go for more than 100 yards in a game. It’s a troubling matter when Washington’s Jabar Gaffney and Arizona’s Andre Roberts do it.

Cruz has become Eli Manning’s top target with the wide receivers banged up. He has 62 catches for 1,076 yards and seven touchdowns. He is riding a personal three-game streak of at least 100 yards with 128, 157 and 119 yard games against Philadelphia New Orleans and Green Bay.

But Nicks gets the call for me. He has been targeted 24 times by Manning in the last two games with 14 catches for 175 yards and two scores. He is big, fast and hard to bring down. To me, Nicks is the Giants’ version of Dez Bryant.

If Steve Smith remained with the Giants, I would’ve picked him since he has a history of lighting up the Cowboys.

In the last four games against the Cowboys, the Giants have had four 100-yard games from receivers. Smith had two of them. Nicks had one. Mario Manningham had the other.

It won’t be Cruz on Sunday, but the Giants will have a receiver crack the century mark.

Scout's Eye: Cowboys-Cardinals review

December, 6, 2011

Scout's Eye
During the Cowboys’ four-game winning streak, I learned that no matter the opponent's record, there will always be a reason for caution and concern.

The only time this season I've felt the Cowboys would clearly handle an opponent was against the Rams. In breaking down the Cardinals, I didn’t let their record affect me. There is talent on their squad. The more I studied, the more I believed that the Cowboys couldn’t just roll their helmets out on the field and feel like they would get a favorable result.

Where it all started to go wrong for Cowboys

Defensively for the Cowboys, this game really hinged on two areas: Could this secondary hold up against one of the league’s top five playmakers in Larry Fitzgerald and could they control Beanie Wells? For three quarters, Rob Ryan’s defense was up to the task, not allowing Fitzgerald or Wells many opportunities. All that changed on a play to start the fourth quarter to wide receiver Andre Roberts.

With the Cowboys holding a 10-6 lead, Roberts lines up in the slot with Terence Newman in coverage on the defensive right side. Fitzgerald is lined up outside Roberts with Mike Jenkins in coverage on Fitzgerald. At the snap of the ball, Fitzgerald runs a vertical route inside of Jenkins and past him but right on the toes of Gerald Sensabaugh, who is playing single high safety in the middle of the field. The other safety, Abe Elam, is on the left side of the defense near the line and in coverage on tight end Rob Housler, who is lined up as a wing right.

Roberts runs a route like he is going to curl, squaring his shoulders to quarterback Kevin Kolb. Newman, reading the route and feeling that Kolb is going in the direction of Roberts, drives forward to get into position to handle the ball. As Newman gets to Roberts’ back, he spins away from Newman and heads up the field and toward the sideline. There is no safety help in the middle of the field because Sensabaugh is running with Fitzgerald through the middle of the field. Newman is left trailing Roberts who now has separation on Newman.

In the backfield, Kolb is using a play-action fake to Wells and begins to roll to his left after the fake. The protection for the Cardinals is outstanding, allowing Kolb to make a perfect pass down the field to Roberts on the Dallas 49 with Newman still in chase. Newman manages to finally catch up with Roberts, getting him out of bounds on the Cowboys’ 33.

Four plays later, the Cardinals scored to take the lead. If the Cardinals don’t make this play to gain some momentum, I don’t believe that they would have won this game.

Costly series of mistakes by Terence Newman

In overtime, the Cardinals win the toss and go on offense first. Newman’s problems continued when he allows Roberts to run a slant on the first play, which looked like a sight adjust by Kolb, who takes the snap and the throws the ball to Roberts, taking advantage of a 12-yard cushion.

A couple of plays later, Newman commits a costly penalty. Newman is playing press coverage on Roberts and is in good shape on the jam, but he gets overextended and is out of balance on the route. Newman has to grab Roberts and ends up holding him. That turns a second-and-20 into an automatic first down.

Later in the drive, after a false start penalty against offensive tackle Levi Brown that makes it first-and-15, the Cardinals come with the perfect call against the Cowboys defense. Fitzgerald is lined up in the slot to the right, Roberts is outside right. Kolb is in the shotgun with LaRod Stephens-Howling to his right and fullback Anthony Sherman to his left.

At the snap, Anthony Spencer blitzes off the offensive right side, Stephens-Howling slides underneath from left to right, as the line slides to the right as well to form the blocking for the screen. Kolb manages to get the ball to Stephens-Howling in the flat and he heads up field.

The first line of support is Newman, who is blocked to the outside by Roberts and has no chance on the tackle. Sean Lee tries to chase from the inside along with Bradie James, who gives an outstanding effort but isn’t fast enough to make the tackle.

With Fitzgerald in front blocking on Gerald Sensabaugh, Stephens-Howling cuts back to the inside and then quickly back out. Elam tries to get into position to make the tackle but overruns the play when Stephens-Howling makes his second cut. Sensabaugh has fought off Fitzgerald’s block, but he has a hard time adjusting to make the tackle and misses. Orlando Scandrick tries to get in position to make a play from across the field but is too late arriving. The touchdown on the screen gives the Cardinals victory in overtime.

Missed opportunities for Cowboys offense

Offensively for the Cowboys, when you only score 13 points in a game, there is a pretty good chance that you will lose. This was the case for the Cowboys.

It really was a game of missed opportunities. There were several plays where the normally reliable Dez Bryant dropped balls that he would never put on the ground. Bryant has improved greatly this season as a route runner. This is important because with Bryant finding ways to get open, it’s giving Tony Romo more opportunities to get him the ball.

Throughout this season, I have been critical of Jason Garrett’s play-calling, but in this case I have to give him credit for a nice design of a play. When I worked for the Packers, Mike Holmgren used to have this play he called “swing arrow.” The design of the play is to get the ball to a running back down the sideline after you ran the receiver hard inside to pick off his man in coverage. It is one of those calls that works when you feel like the defense is in man coverage.

On this play, the Cardinals were in man coverage and Garrett tried to take advantage of that. At the snap, Bryant took off hard inside, trying to pick off Felix Jones’ man. Jones appears to start his route too far inside instead of trying to arch wide. If Jones takes his route wider, there is a better chance of gaining separation and getting the ball up the field.

When Jones finally works outside, he is unable to find the football in the air. In the backfield, Romo has to deliver the ball a little early because he is feeling a blitz from safety Adrian Wilson, who is unblocked coming from his right side. Romo has to throw the ball more to the sideline than to the middle of the field where Jones is running. The play was well designed and had a chance to be successful, but the blitz by Wilson made Romo have to hurry his throw.

Jones has to do a better job of running the route and finding the ball in the air. Garrett got the defense and coverage that he wanted and the execution from Bryant, but the result was a missed opportunity.

There are always plays in the game plan that when called have a great chance to be successful. This was one of those times.

Play-by-play: Cowboys' final drive in regulation

On the final drive, the Cowboys get the ball with 2:54 left on the clock. The drive starts with a nice completion to Jesse Holley on a curl when Romo buys time by moving to his right away from the pressure inside.

On the next play, Garrett sends three wide receivers in the game left and Romo wants to throw that way. Holley is on the back side and works to the middle of the field between the corner and safety. Romo again heads to his right with Holley still open in the middle of the field. Now Romo heads back to his left to throw the ball to Jason Witten in the flat for a loss of a yard. Romo never sees Holley in the middle of the field.

On second-and-11, the Cardinals go with single high safety as Romo moves Jones from the right to the left to help with protection. Kevin Ogletree runs the inside slant from the slot, and cornerback Michael Adams can’t stay with Ogletree. Nice throw and catch. Gain of 10.

On third-and-1, Romo gets the team to the line for the quarterback sneak. First down.

Garrett sends three wide receivers, one tight end and one back in the game, but Montrae Holland moves at left guard for a false start that costs the Cowboys five yards. With the Cardinals in a two-deep look, Laurent Robinson gets doubled on the outside. Late pressure from linebacker Paris Lenon causes problems because Holland doesn’t adjust. Incompletion.

On second-and-15 from the 50, Garrett and the offense get a delay of game penalty. This was strange because it comes after an incompletion with the same personnel on the field for the Cowboys as the previous play. Don’t understand why there would have been a delay of game there.

On second-and-20, there are two missed blocks on the play by Holland and Jones that cause Romo to have to throw off his back foot. He manages to get the ball to the outside to Bryant, who does a wonderful job of working the sideline and coming back to the ball for the reception for a gain of nine.

On third-and-11 from the Cardinals’ 46, Bryant is lined up wide left, Ogletree slot right and Robinson outside right. Witten is on the line to the right. Jones is next to Romo to his left in the gun. At the snap, Witten heads up the field, then out, Ogletree drives hard inside and sets up over the ball, Bryant runs his best route, which is the “In” 10 yards behind where Ogletree is set up. Romo throws the ball over the top of a jumping Ogletree, and Bryant adjusts low to make the catch with Peterson on his back. Great throw and even better catch.

On first-and-10 from Cardinals’ 31, Romo -- with direction from Garrett -- spikes the ball to set up the attempted game-winning field goal.

Dan Bailey has been money all year for the Cowboys. With the game on the line from 49 yards, there was no reason to believe that he would not be able to get this ball home for the win.

With every successful kick comes a good snap and hold. The snap to Mat McBriar was slightly above his eyes. As Bailey moves forward with his eyes down, he sees the laces are facing him. Two steps from the ball, McBriar does the best he could to get the laces forward before Bailey gets to the impact point.

Just before Bailey gets there, McBriar gets the laces away from Bailey, but the ball looks to be moving at impact. That split second of operation can affect the kick. In this case, it did.

Scout's Eye: Cowboys-Cardinals review

December, 28, 2010
Congratulations to those of you that wanted to see the Cowboys lose this game to the Cardinals for the better drafting position this spring. You got your wish.

In a season of missed opportunities, this game played out true to form. Strong efforts by certain players, inconsistencies from others and selfish acts that we have all grown to expect once again cost this team a chance to win a game.

Scout's Eye
Jason Garrett’s on-the-job training as a head coach was once again put to the test when quarterback Jon Kitna was unable to answer the bell after suffering an oblique injury, putting Stephen McGee into the game. McGee played as well as you could have expected for a guy getting his first taste of regular season action.

When McGee met with the media on Monday, he spoke of the challenges of calling the play and even taking the snap correctly. One of the most impressive areas of McGee’s game against the Cardinals was his ability to stand in the pocket and deliver the ball in the face of the rush. One of the hardest things for a quarterback to do is stand there and deliver the ball when you know that you are going to get smacked in the face. McGee was able to do that, which gave confidence to his coaches and his teammates as well.

Where McGee needs to improve is stepping forward in the pocket and avoiding the rush instead of trying to take everything outside. One of his better third-down conversions was when he stepped forward and shoveled the ball to Tashard Choice for a first down.

When McGee had to deliver the ball down the field, the route that he appeared to shine in the execution of was the slant. To Garrett’s credit, he understood that the more that McGee had to read, the more trouble that he might face. Garrett went to the slant because it is such a quick read and requires more skill than thought to pull it off. McGee was able to handle this well.

This Cardinals defense doesn’t have impressive ranking numbers wise, but still presents a challenge for even the most skilled veterans such as Tony Romo or Jon Kitna. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis had a nice plan for the Cowboys -- slanting his front, running linebackers through gaps and using zone blitzes. He knew that this Cowboys line struggled against teams that moved their front, with the Bears and Titans coming to mind.

When I asked guard Kyle Kosier about this defense, he said that the Cardinals front never lines up in the same spot and you always have to guess where they are going to end up. The previous week against the Redskins, the offensive line was able to get a gauge how and where the pressure was going to come from because of alignment. Against the Cardinals, that was going to be a difficult task and there were plenty enough times during the game where men were unblocked in the running game but even more importantly in the pass game.

Where the Cowboys offensive line struggled the most was on the outside at tackle with Doug Free and Marc Colombo.

Free was coming off a game against the Redskins where he was technique sound and assignment perfect. In this game, he had a poor set which led to a pressure and he missed on an inside cutoff that led to a tackle.

On the other side, Colombo was late off the snap, got beat inside for a sack when he set too wide, didn’t move his feet, allowed another sack, and had trouble adjusting on a twist stunt that gave up more pressure.

This also wasn’t one of Kosier’s better games. Kosier was beaten inside two different times and missed on a blitz pickup. Kosier is usually one of the better Cowboys offensive linemen when it comes to playing against defensive linemen they play with movement but in this game, it was a struggle for him adjusting.

*Defensively the Cowboys continued their trend of the inability to finish a game. For 58 minutes they allowed this Arizona offense nothing except for one big play.

Rookie John Skelton played like a rookie and one of the best players in the league, Larry Fitzgerald, struggled to even come close to a reception.

In my film study of the Cardinals offensive line, I thought this was one of the worst lines that the Cowboys were going to face all season. The Cowboys were able to take advantage of this group, particularly DeMarcus Ware as a pass rusher and Anthony Spencer in the running game.

Cornerback Terence Newman had a bounce-back game from how he played the previous week against the Redskins. Newman drove well on the ball and was a factor as well as a tackler.

But in the end, it was a fourth-down play that killed the Cowboys’ chances to finish the game. On fourth-and-15 with 1:17 left, Cowboys defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni calls for his dime package, which he had run the previous three snaps using a three-man rush.

Safeties Alan Ball and Gerald Sensabaugh are lined up 20 yards deep on the hash in a two-deep look, and linebacker Keith Brooking is lined up 14 yards deep between the two safeties but in the middle of the field. Corners Mike Jenkins, Newman, Orlando Scandrick and Bryan McCann are four across lined up 5 to 7 yards deep. The Cardinals are in an empty backfield with a five-receiver package, three of their receivers to the right and two to the left.

At the snap, the Cardinals run their first inside slot receiver at Brooking, which holds him in the middle of the field. Fitzgerald, the second slot receiver, also heads vertical but manages to run his route in between Sensabaugh and Scandrick, who doesn’t appear to drop deep enough. Stephen Bowen beats right tackle Jeremy Bridges for inside pressure but can’t get to Skelton. Fitzgerald curls inside of the leaping Scandrick and the driving Sensabaugh.

Fitzgerald cradles the ball at the impact of Brooking and Sensabaugh, making the catch for the first down and keeping the drive alive.

*One other play that I would like to focus on is what happened to Mike Jenkins in the second quarter on the Cardinals’ only offensive touchdown.

Jenkins is in man coverage on receiver Andre Roberts, who starts on the right side of the formation and works his way across. Jenkins carries him to the outside.

At the snap, Gerald Sensabaugh blitzes from the right but is picked up by Beanie Wells, allowing Skelton a clean pocket to make a throw. Jenkins is six yards off as Roberts starts to the outside. Jenkins squares his feet, then tries to open to the advancing Roberts.

With this technique, Jenkins really puts himself in no man’s land and is caught between driving on the ball and catching Roberts. Jenkins’ feet stop and he is forced to try and grab Roberts. Jenkins draws the flag for the contact as he goes to the ground.

Ball is playing safety on the other hash, turns to react to the throw and heads to try to make a play. Roberts catches the ball on the 35-yard line as Ball tries to pull even with him. As Ball adjusts to try to force Roberts out of bounds, Robert makes a cut back into the middle of the field, leaving Ball to have to turn and try to make the play. But Ball overruns it, leading to a Cardinals touchdown.

*On one final note from the Arizona game, on David Buehler’s missed extra point, he kicked the laces on the attempt, which might have affected the flight of the ball.

From a coaching point, holders are taught to try and spin the laces away from the kicker on longer field goals but on extra points or shorter field goals, they don’t mess with the football. In this case, holder Mat McBriar held the ball steady, but it’s the responsibility of the kicker to make the correct adjustments and get the kick home.