Dallas Cowboys: Antrell Rolle

It’s the Dez Bryant dilemma.

The Cowboys can’t trust him. He makes too many killer mistakes, like running a sloppy route that results in an interception or losing a fumble on a reckless punt return.

But the Cowboys can’t ignore his talent. He has such potential to make plays, like catching a couple of deep balls that counted and one that didn’t but would have capped a crazy comeback against the Giants. He’s one of few receivers in the NFL with the ability to make that amazing catch in the end zone, although it was overturned on review because his fingertips touched the end line.

Does the awesome outweigh the awful? The talent outweigh the trouble? The potential outweigh the problems?

The weekly Dez throw-by-throw:

5-yard gain: Lines up wide left on first-and-10 from the Dallas 12 and runs a quick hook. Cornerback Corey Webster, who didn’t jam Bryant, made the tackle immediately, tossing Bryant out of bounds and shoving him in an apparent attempt to get under the skin of the emotional receiver. Bryant responded with a shove before an official got between them.

Interception: Lines up split left on first-and-10 from the Dallas 45 and runs what was supposed to be an intermediate crossing route. Bryant, who got past Webster’s jam with ease, rounded off the route instead of making the sharp cut that Tony Romo expected, ending up 20 yards downfield on a designed 15-yard route. That allowed safety Stevie Brown to break in front of Bryant to pick off the pass. “It was no miscommunication,” Bryant said. “It was more that as I tried to flatten my route out, I was kinda off-balance at the same time. The guy came down and made a great play.”

Incompletion: Lines up wide right on third-and-6 from the Dallas 46 and starts to run a shallow crossing route before seeing that the shotgun snap sailed over Romo’s head. Bryant turns upfield and runs up the right hashmarks for a few yards as Romo rolled right, then floated back to the middle of the field. Romo’s throw across his body came up short. Bryant could have helped out his quarterback by breaking toward the sideline to give him a much easier target.

55-yard gain: Lines up wide left on second-and-1 from the Dallas 21 and runs a go route, getting wide open because of a coverage bust, as Webster appeared to be the only player in the Giants secondary not playing Cover 3. Webster thought it was Cover 2, allowing Bryant to run free, expecting a safety to be playing the deep half. A severely underthrown pass by Romo allowed Brown to come from the middle of the field to make a touchdown-saving tackle.

Incompletion: Lines up wide left on third-and-19 from the New York 33 and runs a corner route against good coverage from Webster. It appeared that Romo expected Bryant to run a 19-yard out route. Romo’s pass landed several yards away from Bryant.

30-yard gain: Lines up wide left on second-and-2 from the Dallas 42 and runs a go route, beating Webster’s press man coverage. Bryant falls as he makes the catch with Webster trailing close behind.

Incompletion: Lines up wide left on second-and-4 from the Dallas 28 and runs a comeback route against physical, press man coverage by Webster. Bryant, who was hand fighting with Webster, drops a ball thrown high and outside, away from the defender. He tried to cradle the ball instead of snatching it with his hands.

4-yard gain: Lines up wide left on third-and-4 from the Dallas 28 and runs the same route as the previous snap against press coverage by Webster. Bryant goes to the ground to catch a low throw by Romo and move the chains.

Incompletion: Lines up wide left on first-and-10 from the New York 45 and runs a go route against man free coverage, with Webster playing press and Rolle in center field. Romo throws the ball in the window between the two defenders, but Bryant fails to make a leaping catch on the sideline for what would have been a 25-yard gain. He’s hit by Rolle a moment after the ball bounces off his hands. It would have been a difficult catch, but it’s one Bryant is capable of making.

16-yard gain: Lines up wide left on second-and-10 from the Dallas 43 and runs an intermediate out against soft zone coverage in the final minute. Gets both feet in bounds as he catches the ball before Webster pushes him out.

Incompletion: Lines up wide left on second-and-6 from the New York 37 and runs a vertical route, getting open in the end zone despite the Giants playing prevent defense. Bryant got Webster to hesitate with a double move, with the corner nibbling on the out fake, and safety Brown was a little late to help. Bryant make an amazing, leaping grab over both defenders for what appeared to be the game-winning touchdown, landing hard on his hip. However, instant replay showed that Bryant’s fingertips landed on the end line before any other part of his body hit the ground. The most impressive catch of Bryant’s career will go down in history as simply a spectacular incompletion.

Scout's Eye: Cowboys-Giants preview

November, 12, 2010
11/12/10
9:02
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This season’s second game of this longtime series takes a new twist.

Jason Garrett takes over for a departed Wade Phillips, who was unable to deliver the hopes and dreams of a Cowboys Super Bowl in the home stadium. Garrett out front has appeared to alter the culture of the franchise that struggled with issues throughout this 1-7 start to the season.

Scout's Eye
Make no mistake about it, the Giants are the last team the Cowboys need to be facing right now. When I study this squad, the first thing that comes to mind is how physical they are on offense. This is not a pretty offensive line in the way they sustain their blocks, and it’s not a group of running backs that are fleet afoot, but they beat up on you. If you are not ready to handle that, they can make you look poor playing defense.

The one advantage that the Cowboys have is that beating along the front is fresh in there minds. The Giants were able to rush the ball for 200 yards in the last meeting between the two clubs. Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs both are down hill runners and provide little relief for those in their path.

Bradshaw is the perfect back in this offense for Kevin Gilbride because this line likes to push and shove opponents around the field. Shawn Andrews has been added to the mix and he will play at left tackle this week for David Diehl, who hurt his hip blocking for an extra point. Kevin Boothe moves inside to left guard off the physically unable to perform list and Rich Seubert moves from left guard to center to play for the underrated Shaun O’Hara.

The Giants wear you out with the size they bring at you at the point of attack. Kevin Boss and fullback Bear Pascoe are difficult to separate from once they get their hands on you.

The receiving crew has been super productive not only this season but games in the past against the Cowboys. Steve Smith was hurt in practice on Thursday and has shown up questionable on the injury report, which would be a huge break for the Cowboys. He has been a killer in the last three meetings with 25 catches for 345 yards and two touchdowns.

Hakeem Nicks has had his share of production as well. Three of his 11 catches against the Cowboys have been for touchdowns. He has 14 catches for 20 yards or more this season.

Offensively, the one player who can derail the Giants or keep them on the track is the quarterback Eli Manning. With this offense, Manning doesn’t need to be great but steady works nicely. This team has the ability to run the football effectively and with purpose. The tight ends are dependable and the receivers are some of the best in the league. Manning just needs to be steady and not make the mistakes that have plagued him in years past.

It will be interesting to see how the Cowboys attack Manning to make him feel rushed. Will you see more zone coverage against these receivers that appear to eat up man coverage?

If the Cowboys are going to have any success on defense on Sunday, it will take a huge effort. If they don’t match the physical play of the Giants offense, then this will be a difficult opening trip to the new Meadowlands Stadium.

At the halfway mark, the Giants have the top-ranked defense in the NFL. It’s not by luck or playing against weak opponents, but a complete and total team effort of using talent and scheme to physically handle opponents each week.

Its starts up front with defensive ends Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck. Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell likes to give you different looks up front and the Giants do a nice job of working Umenyiora and Tuck around the defensive front to create different mismatches. The pass rush has been outstanding this season for the Giants and it’s helped them in the secondary as well.

Cornerback Terrell Thomas and Corey Webster both do a nice job in zone coverage of playing their responsibilities but have been equally as good when playing in man. There is not much room in this Giants secondary because of their ability to play tight and stay in route position, but the safety help has been solid too. Antrel Rolle has been an outstanding free agent signing for the Giants and Kenny Phillips can play up or back to help in the running game or work deep with these corners and offer support. When the Giants go to their nickel package, it’s Aaron Ross that comes into the game.

Of the three Giants linebackers, Michael Boley is the one that can really run. Boley plays all over the field and he has the speed to be an effective blitzer as the Cowboys learned in the first meeting with the Giants. Longtime Tennessee inside linebacker Keith Bulluck now plays the strong outside linebacker and is a hard guy to move in the running game. It’s been his physical play that has helped the Giants control the opponents’ running game. The inside three of Jonathan Goff at middle linebacker and defensive tackles Chris Canty and Barry Cofield play with more power than quickness.

It will be a difficult task for the Cowboys to run the ball against this front and we all know the pitfalls if this turns into a passing game for them. The Giants on defense will put a great deal of pressure on the Cowboys and challenge their ability to move the football.

Jason Garrett has to be smart mixing his play calls and not allowing Fewell to put his defense in attack mode.

The strength of this Cowboys offense has been its receivers and their ability to make plays. Protect and get the ball into your playmakers’ hands. Miles Austin, Roy Williams and Dez Bryant can put pressure on the Giants secondary.

Again, the Giants don’t give you much room back there but when given the opportunity, they need to convert on the chances they have. Jason Witten is going to have to play well. When Fewell puts coverage to the outside, it’s Witten working against linebackers that allows Jon Kitna an opportunity to deliver the football for a positive play.

If the Cowboys have to consistently play behind the chains, this offense will suffer too many three-and-outs, which puts their defense in harm’s way. Garrett needs to be aggressive, but he needs to put his players in the best possible situations to make plays.

More importantly, he needs to find a way to have his team play a physical game on both sides of the ball. They will need to match the intensity of their opponent this week down after down. If not, this Giants team will put a physical beating on them.

Scout's Eye: Giants-Cowboys preview

October, 22, 2010
10/22/10
2:00
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Scout's Eye
If the Cowboys are going to make any kind of run this season, it needs to start against the Giants on Monday night.

The goal of the Cowboys should be to even their record at 4-4 by the next time these two teams meet on Nov. 14 in New Jersey.

Three weeks ago, the Giants were in the same shape that the Cowboys are now. A loss to the Titans left the Giants with the reality that penalties and turnovers were killing their season. Tom Coughlin stood before the media after that Titans loss and took the heat for the struggles of his squad and vowed there would be changes the following week.

The Giants have since won three straight, while the Cowboys have lost two of their last three. It’s the Giants that are getting the turnovers and committing fewer penalties. The Cowboys on the other hand, have talked about making corrections and changes but still have been unable to get past those issues that have caused them defeat.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw
AP Photo/Evan PinkusThe Giants' running back tandem of Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs has been carving up opposing defenses.
In studying the Giants on offense, there are some areas of this offense that really stand out. When they run the ball now, Ahmad Bradshaw not only does it with power but with more speed than Brandon Jacobs. The ball gets to and through the hole quicker than it had in the past.

The Giants’ offensive line is that of “mauler/brawler” types and not that of a sleek, athletic group. The Giants’ front likes to push and lean on you. When they go to extra tight end packages, they bring in tackle Shawn Andrews as an extra blocker. There is nothing pretty about the way they look or play, but they are effective.

In this contest, I will be interested to see how DeMarcus Ware plays against tackle David Diehl. If Diehl has problems, it’s when rushers take him down inside. In watching Diehl, he really fights hard to work outside with his footwork and set. Ware has the ability to take Diehl up the field then counter on him inside.

The Giants will do all they can to keep Manning upright in this game. Backup tight end Bear Pascoe will line up in the backfield and play as the “F” and help in protection if needed. Manning has been sacked 27 times in career games against the Cowboys.

Manning struggles the most with turnovers when he feels pressure. There are times where his decision-making is poor because of the way he handles pressure. There are times when faced with a rush that he is nowhere near as accurate as he needs to be. He will make his receivers work for the ball way too often.

In going back and studying the first game that the Cowboys and Giants played in 2009, Manning used a quick game to his wide receivers and allowed them to break tackles to make plays. It was a solid game plan by the Giants and their receivers showed the ability to make the Cowboys defenders miss and gain positive yards.

Where the Cowboys also have to be alert in this game is when the Giants try to run vertical and hit plays down the field. All three of the Giants’ receivers can get down the field and make plays. Hakeem Nicks is the most dangerous of the group, then Steve Smith.

Nicks is an impressive player because of his size and his ability to cover ground. Nicks has been Manning’s go-to guy. He plays with dependable hands and will take his routes all over the field.
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Smith was a Cowboys’ killer in 2009 with 16 catches in two games. He, like Nicks, will go anywhere for the ball and has the ability to take short catches and make them into huge gains due to his 4.44 speed coming out of USC.

Mario Manningham is not the fastest of the three receivers, but he has averaged 16 yards a reception this season.

The Cowboys secondary has struggled with the ball going down the field. To combat that last week, safety Alan Ball was playing 23 yards deep. Terence Newman has been the Cowboys’ most consistent defensive back and along with Mike Jenkins will need a huge day against this talented group.

When these two teams met last December, nickel back Orlando Scandrick played much better than he did in September. Scandrick is going to have a key role in this game because the way that the Giants like to use the three-wide receiver packages.

As important as it is for the Cowboys to focus on the Giants’ running game, how they play against these wide receivers could determine if they win the game on Monday night.

*Last week against the Vikings, the Cowboys faced a defense line that had the ability to take over a game and control the line of scrimmage. This week, they face a Giants defense that might not have the inside power of Pat Williams and Kevin Williams but their outside rushers, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck, are just as difficult to handle as Jared Allen or Ray Edwards.

When you study Umenyiora and Tuck, they are both playing at a high level. Umenyiora is back to that attacking style that gave offensive tackles so much trouble over the years. Umenyiora has a wide variety of moves so there will not be one move that Doug Free can sit on.

Against the Lions last week, he carried Jeff Backus up the field on one move, he drove hard inside on another and then he used a spin move free himself from a set. Free will need to be on his toes on Monday night.

The Cowboys as a whole across the line will need to do the same because defensive coordinator Perry Fewell will move Umenyiora and Tuck all over the defense to try and get matchups they could win. When the Giants give the Cowboys one of those looks on defense with Umenyiora and Tuck standing up inside, it will be important for Romo to set the protection and the communication of the offensive line takes over to handle the games the Giants play out of those looks.

Terence Newman
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images Terence Newman, a 2-time Pro Bowler, has been the Cowboys' most dependable defensive back.
Something to note that could be a problem for the Cowboys, with Montrae Holland starting for Kyle Kosier at guard, watch how well, he, Gurode and Davis are able to communicate and handle what is going on inside. The Giants like to use their linebackers and defensive line in games and stunts to create confusion in blocking schemes. If the Cowboys struggle with the communication of these calls, the offense can get exposed and the results can kill a drive or create a turnover.

I would not be the least bit surprised to see Jason Garrett once again roll out the game plan that he used in Minnesota with the quick passing game, the screen packages and selective running plays to keep their rush off Romo.

Where the Giants are better than the Vikings is in the secondary. Corey Webster and Terrell Thomas are solid corners, but where the Giants have made the most improvement and upgrade is the addition of Antrel Rolle from Arizona at safety.

Rolle paired with Kenny Phillips has been a good combination. Rolle and Phillips are always around the ball. They do a nice job with the range plays as well.

The Giants really struggled last season with the play of their safeties. When Phillips went on IR after the Dallas game in September, it was just one bad game after another for the defense, but you no longer see that for this defense. If you study the numbers, the Giants are ranked as one of the top defenses in the NFL.

The Cowboys can go toe to toe with them on several offensive areas, but if they continue to not protect the football and suffer untimely penalties, it will not matter how many third downs they convert or how many yards they throw for, it will just become another loss.

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