Dallas Cowboys: Charlie Johnson
December, 7, 2010
By Bryan Broaddus | ESPNDallas.com
As bad as the loss was to the defending Super Bowl champ New Orleans Saints, the NFL schedule-makers did the Cowboys no favors with a trip to face the defending AFC champion Indianapolis Colts. In studying the Colts, injuries had taken a toll in several key areas, except for quarterback Peyton Manning.
Despite lacking a running game and a playmaking tight end and having some banged-up wide receivers, Manning still presented a challenge to a Dallas defense that was making the transformation from Wade Phillips' blitzing, man-coverage style to Paul Pasqualoni's zone coverage and assignment-first scheme.
The Colts have been terrible running the football. You could make an argument that the loss of Joseph Addai was a huge hit for this offense, but breaking down the previous games the Colts played against the Patriots and Chargers, you would see an offensive line that struggled to get any type of push at the point of attack. The Colts are a zone-blocking team that gets no movement up front.
When the Colts did try and run the ball on Sunday, Cowboys linebackers Bradie James, Sean Lee and Anthony Spencer were in position to make plays.
James was a physical tackler, attacking the line of scrimmage and not allowing any room for the Colts to run. Lee had some nice plays clearing blocks as well and playing with his hands.
But Lee was even more of a factor in the passing game with the two interceptions, tackles on the edge against backs out of the backfield and blows delivered to receivers crossing underneath.
Lee also made the last tackle on the punt team to keep the Colts pinned in their own end. That was before the series that Manning had the tipped ball by Mike Jenkins that Lee played well for the game-clinching drive for the Cowboys.
To the naked eye, it would have appeared that DeMarcus Ware had a quiet game against the Colts because he didn’t have any sacks. Coming into this game, the Colts were first in the NFL in protecting Manning. There had been some games this season where he had taken hits in the pocket, but not many sacks.
Ware was a handful for tackles Ryan Diem and Charlie Johnson, who coming into the game I thought played soft on the edge. Ware was able to take advantage of some opportunities with his rush that affected Manning in the pocket by using a spin move on Johnson. Ware at times was held but still managed to fight through and get pressure. He also ran down a screen and was able to play off blocks to help in the running game along with the other linebackers.
In the secondary, we all saw the huge game that Reggie Wayne had against this Cowboys secondary and mainly Jenkins.
Jenkins started the game well by doing a nice job of running with Wayne on the route as they both worked down the field, allowing Alan Ball to work over from the middle of the field for the first interception of Manning.
On the touchdown catch that Wayne had, it looked like Jenkins was expecting from the inside from Ball. Jenkins is playing outside technique as Wayne heads inside on the route. Ball is late reacting, giving up the play.
The second big play also involved Wayne, who once again takes his route inside of Jenkins, who appears to be in position to make the play in the middle of the field without safety help. But it was just an outstanding throw and catch.
On the Colts' drive for the game-tying touchdown, Wayne had been running routes inside during the two-minute drill. Wayne fakes the slant, which makes Jenkins react drawing him inside. Wayne then heads up the field as Manning fits the ball between Jenkins and Sensabaugh, who is a little late arriving. Wayne dives to make another big-time reception.
Where Jenkins also struggled once again was as a tackler. He did have one low tackle on the outside, but he also had two misses in space.
With the concussion suffered by Orlando Scandrick in the game, look for rookie Bryan McCann to get the nod as the nickel corner. In the times he was in the game, he wasn’t tested as much as I thought he would be, but look for the Eagles to maybe make it a part of the game plan with their receivers.
The offensive line did a much better job of combo blocking, securing the down linemen then getting a blocker up on the linebackers. This allowed the backs to find the hole without having to deal with a defender in their face immediately.
In the passing game, Jon Kitna did a nice job of moving and buying time when things broke down in the pocket.
There was no doubt in my mind that there would be some struggles on the outside with Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, but I thought it would be more over Colombo and what he was facing in Mathis.
Colombo wasn’t pretty and never is, but for the Cowboys to run over 70 offensive snaps, I thought he played as well as could be expected. That was my same view of what I thought with Free. Like Colombo, gave up a sack and also had two holding calls (one accepted).
Freeney is such a difficult player to play at Lucas Oil Stadium because of the crowd noise and his explosive first step. Freeney can also get you with his bull or power rushes.
There were several times where it took all Free had to stay in front of him, but in the end, Free and Colombo both managed to survive where others had failed.
With the Cowboys leading 17-14 with 5:52 remaining in the third quarter, the Cowboys lined up for a 46-yard field goal. At the snap, Colts DT Daniel Muir tried to jump onto the back of Andre Gurode, who was lined up at guard. Muir halfway got up on Gurode's back, then fell off. After the kick, Gurode asked umpire Rueben Fowler about what Muir had done, trying to get a call for leverage, but didn't get it.
In the fourth quarter, the Cowboys, trailing 28-27, moved the ball to the Colts 1 and again opted for a field goal. David Buehler made the kick to give the Cowboys the lead, but a flag on the field and a delay of game call against the Cowboys wiped out the kick.
On the play, Muir once again jumped on the back of a Cowboys blocker -- this time, snapper LP Ladouceur. Again Gurode pointed to Fowler, who did nothing. After the penalty was assessed, Buehler again tried the kick, but this time DE Eric Foster jumped squarely on Gurode's back in plain sight of Fowler, who had no choice but to throw the flag and give the Cowboys a first down.
The Cowboys got a fresh set of downs, ran clock and were able to cap the drive with a touchdown and a 2-point conversion instead of settle for three points. Under Wade Phillips, the Cowboys played like a dumb football team. But now, under Jason Garrett, they appear to be a little smarter -- thanks to a heads-up play by Gurode.
December, 3, 2010
By Bryan Broaddus | ESPNDallas.com
In the last two weeks, the defending AFC champion Colts have lost a tough battle on the road to the Patriots on a Peyton Manning interception after a late rally and were handled by the Chargers at Lucas Oil Stadium, a place that the Colts rarely lose.
The Colts have been playing the entire season trying to survive injuries at key positions with backup players and to their credit have had those players step up and become productive players.
Tight end Jacob Tamme has filled in well for Dallas Clark, as has former Michigan State walk-on Blair White at receiver for Austin Collie and Anthony Gonzalez. Donald Brown at running back for Joseph Addai, rookie Pat Angerer for middle linebacker Gary Brackett and safety Aaron Francisco for Bob Sanders have all done adequate jobs.
Despite all the injuries, the Colts still have two of the most dynamic players in the NFL in Manning and Dwight Freeney.
In studying the Colts on offense against the Patriots and the Chargers, there were three areas that really stood out to me: the number of pocket hits that Manning was taking, the struggles of the offensive line to get movement in the running game and some missed opportunities by the receivers to bring in accurate passes from Manning.
I will start with the offensive line. The anchor of the group is veteran center Jeff Saturday. Saturday doesn’t play with much power and really is a catch-and-steer blocker. Tackles Ryan Diem and Charlie Johnson tend to give ground on their sets and can be taken back into Manning. Where the Colts have struggled the most has been inside at guard with Kyle DeVan and Jeff Linkenbach.
Last week the triangle of Jay Ratliff, Keith Brooking and Bradie James did a solid job against the Saints. Look for the Cowboys to attack the middle of the pocket against the Colts. Manning does have mobility, but in the games I viewed, he had problems with the rush that was in his face. The Patriots and Chargers were able to alter his launch angles when delivering the ball to his receivers.
If the Cowboys can squeeze the pocket from the outside with DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer, inside pressure from Ratliff and Stephen Bowen could create inaccurate passes from Manning. How well the Cowboys play in their four-man or nickel front will go a long way to deciding the outcome of this game.
The one area that Manning has struggled in the past against the 3-4 teams is his understanding of where that fifth rusher was coming from in the scheme. When Manning is at his best, is when he is able to take the entire play clock and break the defense down.
Defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni has to be careful committing his defensive look too early and giving Manning a pre snap read. Early in this game, watch the movement of the Cowboys’ front and secondary to see if they try and throw Manning off with disguise. It’s difficult to fool Manning because of his preparation, but you can’t allow him the ability to get a read on your defense pre-snap because he will break you down with his personnel.
The Colts’ offensive line, much like the Cowboys’, has really struggled to run the football. Addai has been out with a neck injury and could be back to action this week. The Colts struggle to get any type of movement or push at the point of attack. When the Colts run the ball it’s a stretch or zone-blocking scheme that they use, but it hasn’t been the least bit effective.
The Cowboys faced this type of scheme when they played the Redskins and Texans earlier in the season. If the Colts can get the running game going, then Manning will use his play-action game to create opportunities down the field. Manning is one of the better ballhandlers in the league and puts serious pressure on the linebackers when he fakes to the backs.
The Dallas secondary has the difficult task of dealing with Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon and White, who has stepped in nicely for Collie. The Colts will play in a three-wide package the majority of the time. The will put the Cowboys nickel on the field to match.
These Colts receivers will run routes all over the field. Wayne and White tend to handle the inside and crossing stuff, while Garcon is more to the outside. Manning will find that matchup that works for him.
The safety play for the Cowboys will be huge because of the crossing and vertical routes and the way that the Colts use the tight end in the passing game. The pressure will be on the corners, but there will be more pressure on Alan Ball and Gerald Sensabaugh to help make plays. With Manning and this offense, things happen quickly and any hesitations by the safeties will create a host of problems.
*The Colts’ defense runs a similar scheme to that of the Bears, which the Cowboys faced earlier in the season. It’s a Cover 2 look with a quick, moving front.
The biggest difference of the two teams is that the Colts have two outstanding pressure players in Freeney and Robert Mathis. Where these guys really shine is when they are playing at home and they have a lead, letting them pin their ears back and really come after the passer.
Cowboys offensive tackle Doug Free has played outstanding this season and will once again draw the difficult assignment of Freeney, who is all about getting up the field as fast as he can. He will try to hit you some with a bull or power rush, but he is at his best is when he explodes to the corner and around the edge.
Free needs to be quick out of his stance but do everything in his power to get his hands on Freeney immediately to stop his charge and make him restart his rush. Any momentum that Freeney gets will work against Free.
On the other side, Marc Colombo will have to deal with a similar rusher in Mathis, whose big pass rush move is the spin. I know this is going to sound crazy, but in the game plan, if I was the Cowboys staff, I would try and focus on helping Colombo with the hope that my best offensive lineman is going to handle their best pass rusher one-on-one.
Colombo will need help against Mathis. Colombo doesn’t move anywhere near as well as he once did. He will fight Mathis, but when Mathis really explodes to the edge, Colombo will struggle to move his feet quickly enough to handle his movement. Look for Jason Witten, Martellus Bennett, or one of the backs to help to that right side.
The Cowboys have played better on the offensive line since Jason Garrett has taken over as the head coach. He will tailor his game plan to try to control this rush. The way to do that is with a balance of runs and screens.
I really do like Tashard Choice in this game if given the opportunity. He shows better vision than Felix Jones at times, but he can run with the power of Marion Barber. Garrett has to do all he can this week to help his defense not have to play a large number of snaps against Manning.