Dallas Cowboys: Brian Hartline
November, 29, 2011
By Bryan Broaddus | ESPNDallas.com
The Dallas Cowboys ended November with a 4-0 record and the 18th career win for Tony Romo in the month since he took over as the starting quarterback for the Cowboys.
As impressive as that stat is, fans care more about what you do in December, January and now February. You have heard me mention many times before how difficult it is to win in the National Football League. You fully appreciate how hard it really is and how grateful you are when it happens after being in offices around the league.
The 2011 Cowboys have done a nice job of playing their best football at the right times. There are too many times that we get caught up in what the opposing team’s record is, using that as a base for how we think the Cowboys will play on a weekly basis.
In the tradition of things to be thankful for, I am grateful that I get the opportunity to break these games down for you, trying to give you a clear idea of why and how with this Dallas Cowboys squad.
Romo overcomes mistakes to save Cowboys
For the second week in a row, Romo won this game for the Cowboys with the way that he managed the quarterback position despite some early mistakes with the interceptions.
The first interception, which was intended for Martellus Bennett, was clearly Romo’s fault with the lack of depth as he tried to fit the ball to Bennett up the sideline. Romo threw the ball too much on the line instead of putting air under it. Cornerback Vontae Davis was able to adjust his coverage on the route because he was really not threatened by Bennett’s vertical route. The safety was not a factor in the coverage coming over, and Romo was not pressured at all to have to make that throw much like others that he had to make under duress.
Laurent Robinson took the blame for the second interception. At pre-snap, Jason Witten and Robinson flip spots on the line. Witten moves to the slot and Robinson outside. At the snap, Robinson tries an outside release against Sean Smith, who doesn’t lose position in the route. Robinson really doesn’t buy himself much space.
Smith is in great position and Romo throws the ball to the curl with Smith standing in front of Robinson. Romo threw the ball in tight coverage, evidence of the confidence that Romo has in Robinson and that receiver is going to run the right route.
Romo-to-Robinson connection clicking
Speaking of Robinson’s route running, his first touchdown was perfectly executed. This play in the red zone now has a chance because the way that DeMarco Murray has been running the ball the last several weeks. Without the threat of a running game, you don’t get this type of bite on a play-action.
On the play, Robinson is the only receiver on the field and lined up wide left. At the snap of the ball, the line blocks full flow going to their right, Murray starts to stretch right, and Romo fakes to Murray while moving right to draw the Dolphins’ defense up and to that side. Robinson holds one count like he is going to block, then explodes to the inside, leaving his man.
Romo’s eyes now find Robinson in the middle of the field uncovered with the linebackers moving forward. Romo throws the ball to an area, and Robinson is able to adjust and make the catch for the touchdown.
One more example of Robinson and Romo clicking was on the second touchdown throw.
With the Cowboys down 16-10 at the start of the fourth quarter and the ball on the Dolphins’ 18-yard line, Garrett goes with three wide receivers, one tight end and one running back. Dez Bryant is lined up wide left, Witten is on the line to the right, and Kevin Ogletree is in the slot to the right with Robinson outside of him.
At the snap, Witten starts vertical, working the middle of the field between the hashes. Bryant drives hard inside to cross the path of Witten. Ogletree works outside then up like he is running a wheel route. Robinson clears Ogletree going vertical. The protection is able to hold up to a point while all of this is developing down the field. Romo then flushes to his left, with his eyes down the field. Romo is able to square his shoulders and finds Robinson running along the backside of the end zone.
Robinson has a step on Smith and safety Yeremiah Bell doesn’t react well enough to Robinson, who crosses behind him. Romo throws the ball in a manner that allows Robinson to adjust to the pass by extending his body to make his catch, then drag his toes. Smith dives to try and defend the pass, but the ball is so well thrown that he has no chance to make the play.
Big-time throw, big-time catch.
Dolphins' Marshall gets best of Newman
Coming into this game, there were going to be several players on the Dolphins that were going to present problems for the Dallas defense.
Brandon Marshall is an outstanding wide receiver. In studying him, you could see that Terence Newman and Orlando Scandrick were going to have their hands full because of his physical style and the way he likes to use his hands to push off in route. Scandrick learned this firsthand on a play-action pass down the field. Marshall shoved Scandrick off the line to get separation. It was clearly pass interference, but it was not called, which resulted in a big gain for the Dolphins.
Marshall also took advantage of Newman on a touchdown pass. Newman had been playing well in his press coverage, but in this case, he missed with his hands on the jam and allowed Marshall to get up the field. Safety Abram Elam played shallow to try to help Sean Lee with tight end Anthony Fasano. Elam is trying his best to do two jobs but is unable to really help Newman fully. Anthony Spencer is applying late pressure on quarterback Matt Moore, but it’s not enough and he is able to deliver the ball down the field to Marshall, who makes the catch with Newman around his neck. The coverage really broke down for Newman when he missed with his hands on the jam.
Cowboys' Ware vindicates himself
The position that played well for the Cowboys in this game was their outside linebackers. I had been very critical of DeMarcus Ware in the Redskins game for his lack of production on the final drive as the game was in the balance. In this Dolphins game, Ware was outstanding not only as a pressure player but in coverage as well.
One of the plays that I wanted to point out was when Ware carried Reggie Bush up the field in the red zone. We all know what an outstanding rusher Ware is, but in this play, you see what an aware football player he really is.
On the play, Ware is lined up as an inside linebacker in the middle of the defense. At the snap, Lee is trying to cover Bush by banging him at the line. Lee loses contact with Bush as he escapes through the middle of the defense. Ware sees that Bush is clear of Lee and adjusts to play him in coverage. Moore sees Bush clear Lee but has to try to float the ball over Ware, who is in outstanding shape on Bush. Moore would have to make a perfect throw to get the ball to Bush with Ware on coverage and he is unable to do that.
It was a nice, heads-up play by Ware that saved a touchdown.
Cowboys' Spencer stellar on goal-line stand
Anthony Spencer also played one of his better games of the season. Spencer was all over the field, whether it was in the running game, pressuring Moore or in coverage.
One of the key series of the game was in the fourth quarter when the Dolphins managed to get the ball to the Cowboys’ 3. Spencer played a key role in holding the Dolphins to a field goal.
On first-and-goal, the Dolphins try to run the ball on the edge, but Ryan slants his defensive line inside toward the center and Spencer is able to shoot the gap and make a tackle for a loss of two yards.
On second-and-goal, Moore tries a play-action pass. Spencer is now outside of tackle Marc Colombo and takes a sharp angle down inside off the edge. Colombo tries to work down then back to the outside but is too late to take care of Spencer, who is now in the path of Moore’s arm and is able to slap the ball out of his hand for an incomplete.
On third-and-goal, Ryan decides that he wants to bring two rushers from the same side. Ware and Spencer both are lined up together off the Dolphins’ right side. At the snap, Newman gets beat inside by Brian Hartline. Spencer rushes hard inside against Colombo again. Moore has to flush to his right to avoid the rush, and Elam turns in the middle of the field as he sees Newman struggling with Hartline in the back of the end zone. Elam is able to keep himself between Moore and Hartline. Moore, throwing the ball on the move, throws it too high and to the right of Hartline with Elam in position. Elam defends the pass, and instead of coming away with six points, the Dolphins have to settle for three.
The entire Dolphins drive was affected by Spencer, who at times shows the ability to make those types of plays.