Dallas Cowboys: David Thomas

Scout's Eye: Saints-Cowboys review

November, 30, 2010
11/30/10
12:02
AM ET
Scout's Eye
On a weekly basis, an NFL game usually comes down to five plays that are the difference between winning and losing. Coaches always say that it wasn’t that one turnover, missed field goal or missed tackle that got their team beat that day but a combination of plays that cost them the game.

To Jason Garrett and his squad, it’s a bottom line league. You are measured by wins and losses. The Cowboys had just as much of a chance to win that game against the Saints as they did to lose it. Some plays went in their direction as others didn’t.

The pass to Roy Williams on third-and-6 with 3:46 left in the fourth quarter was a prime example of that. Williams had given his teammates everything he had that day as a pass catcher and blocker, but this is the play that everybody remembers.

On this play, Williams lines up wide left with Jason Witten inline as the tight end to the left. Miles Austin is in the slot to the right with Dez Bryant outside of him. Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins is in the middle of the field. The Saints had done a nice job of mixing coverage in this game, playing with two safeties on the hash to take away the receivers on the outside but also playing some single safety.

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Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Roy Williams jumps on The Ben and Skin Show to discuss his Thanksgiving day fumble.

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At the snap, Cornerback Patrick Robinson lunges at Williams, who he jammed earlier in the game with a similar technique. Robinson takes a jab at Williams then begins to retreat. Williams takes an outside release and with perfect technique, swims inside Robinson (something that Bryant needs to learn how to do). Williams has Robinson beat as the cornerback falls to the ground.

Jenkins, seeing what has happened, comes flying from the middle of the field to try to play Williams. As Williams works inside, Jenkins overshoots him by a wide margin. Williams, in clean air, takes the ball from Kitna on the Saints 49 with Jenkins outside the numbers on the Saints 42.

As Williams works his way up the field, he is between the hashes on the 38 with Austin blocking Tracy Porter to his right. Williams transfers the ball from his right hand on the Saints 35 to his left hand. Jenkins is now in full sprint and reaches Williams at the Saints 19, catching him and using his momentum to pull the ball away from Williams as they both fall to the ground on the Saints 10.

It was a heck of a play by the Saints safety. What is usual about the play was that earlier in the quarter, Williams catches a similar pass with Robinson ripping at the ball and covers it up with both hands to secure the play.

* When the Saints took the ball with 3:03 left in the game on their own 11, there had to be a thought among the Cowboys defenders that they could make a stop and close out this game.

On the previous drive, the Cowboys forced a three-and-out with tremendous pressure on Drew Brees and some of the tightest coverage that the secondary and linebackers had played all day. But just the opposite happened with the game on the line.

On first-and-10, Marques Colston runs vertically from the slot then breaks to the outside. Nickel back Orlando Scandrick is in man coverage on the play and in good position. Defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni rushes four against the Saints, who kept tight end David Thomas to help block. Brees has to move forward in the pocket, then to the right as he lobs the ball to Colston, who is able to make a high adjusting catch.

First-and-10 from the Saints 33, Devery Henderson nods inside then heads vertical. Strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh is level with cornerback Terence Newman on the route when he should have had more depth. Newman is able to rally to make knock the ball out of Henderson’s hands on the play.

[+] EnlargeRoy Williams
AP Photo/Waco Tribune-Herald/Jose YauSaints safety Malcolm Jenkins made a game-changing play when he tracked down Roy Williams and stripped the ball.
Second-and-10, Brees feels pressure from outside linebacker Anthony Spencer, who over runs right tackle Jon Stinchcomb. Brees tries to move forward but throws the ball too high to Thomas, who is working against Keith Brooking on the coverage.

Third-and-10, Robert Meachem on the outside against Newman in coverage. Meachem heads vertical then again, nods to the inside, causing Newman to pause slightly. Newman then has to turn and run with the 4.39 Meachem. The pause buys Meachem the separation that he needs to get by Newman. Alan Ball is the safety to that side, but he is held in position watching Thomas work against Brooking.

At first, I thought Newman was sitting on the sticks playing the route for the first down. Meachem’s route was outstanding and the throw from Brees was even better.

The Saints now have the ball on the Cowboys 12. Out of the huddle, receiver Lance Moore lines to the right. Cornerback Mike Jenkins goes with him. Moore then motions right to left with Jenkins as well. At the snap, Moore starts left, then breaks inside. Jenkins, not sure, gets caught trying to adjust. Sensabaugh tries to drop and help but can’t get there.

Jenkins tries to grab Moore and pull himself into position, then tries to play the ball with his off hand. But the throw from Brees was perfect with no chance to make the play at the end of the game-winning drive.

* Throughout the season, if you have followed The Scout’s Eye, you have seen me comment on the problems with the Cowboys running game and second-level blocking. On the fourth-and-1 play that Barber was stopped on, second-level blocking played a major role in the Cowboys having to turn the ball over to the Saints.

On the play, Jon Kitna tosses the ball going right to Barber with right tackle Marc Colombo in front trying to get to first support. As Colombo is working outside, safety Roman Harper comes forward and cut him down at the legs, creating a pile and causing Barber to have to jump. That causes him to lose his momentum going forward, but to Barber’s credit, he struggles forward and to the edge trying to gain the line.

From the inside, center Andre Gurode is trying to work front side or to his right and cut off linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar. Dunbar works away from the attempted block by Gurode, who ends up on the ground, and is able to work down the line of scrimmage. Barber gets to the edge but is met by Dunbar who is able to make the tackle for no gain, giving the ball to the Saints and stopping the Cowboys drive without any points to show for it.

Once again, when problems arise in the running game for the Cowboys, it’s usually when players are not secured at the point of attack or a defender was left unblocked. That has happened quite a bit in 2010.

Scout's Eye: Saints-Cowboys preview

November, 24, 2010
11/24/10
9:05
PM ET


Thanksgiving Day begins a stretch for the Cowboys where they play three of the top-rated quarterbacks in the NFL in consecutive weeks as they try to dig themselves out of this hole that has become the 2010 season.

Scout's Eye
Since Wade Phillips was replaced as the head coach by Jason Garrett, the Cowboys have done a much better job of consistently making plays in all three phases of their games.

The running game, which struggled for the majority of the season, has shown signs of improvement in the last two weeks against the Giants and Lions. It has not been a dominant unit but as a whole is doing a much better job of running with a purpose. The balance is due to the offense playing with a lead or the game in a manageable position.

The secondary has been helped with defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni relying more on a zone-coverage scheme, replacing the man scheme that exposed the defensive backs to big plays when the pass rush was unable to get home. Pasqualoni is focusing more on sound principles than the high-risk and pressure style of Phillips.

Quarterback Jon Kitna has been more than adequate leading an offense that is in the process of developing one of the most exciting and explosive players in rookie receiver Dez Bryant. The Saints have been a middle-of-the-pack team when it comes to rushing the passer but are ranked second in the NFL is pass defense.

In studying the last game the Saints played against Seattle, cornerback Jabari Greer was beaten badly on two long completions, one on a “stutter-go” or double move. In the contest that these two clubs played last season, Miles Austin scored on a similar move to get the Cowboys on the scoreboard first.

Both Tracy Porter and Greer are aggressive corners but they can afford to play this way because the safety play of Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper has been outstanding. Harper likes to play close to the line and get in on the action while Jenkins is more of a true free safety.

The matchup with Harper and tight end Jason Witten will be interesting. To play Witten, you have to be physical and have strength but be able to run with him. Harper has those types of traits when you talk about safety play.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Saints have one of the most explosive attacks that you will ever see. Sean Payton does an outstanding job of using all of his players in this attack.

Quarterback Drew Brees is deadly accurate throwing the ball to a talented group of receivers led by Marques Colston. The Saints like to run a three-receiver package with Colston in the slot, Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem on the outside. On third downs, watch Lance Moore. He seems to be a favorite target of Brees when he needs a play.

Speaking of players to watch, tight end David Thomas is an interesting player. He really stands out when you are studying tape. The Saints like to line him up in the backfield, inline and outside. He really plays the role of what John Phillips did for the Cowboys last season. Thomas is not as stiff of an athlete as Phillips and requires the defense’s attention anytime he is in the game. He can get down the field, work short or in the flat.

This week could mark the return of running back Reggie Bush to the Saints lineup. Bush is one of the most dynamic players in the NFL today, but how will his game conditioning be after such a long layoff?

The numbers say that the Saints are ranked 26th in the league running the ball, but rookie Chris Ivory is a player that I would love to have on my team. He is a physical load with the ball in his hands. He runs with power and brute force. If he can line you up in his sights, he will punish you.

The guards for the Saints are the best players along the offensive line. Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans are outstanding. Center Jonathan Goodwin is able to be a marginal player because these guards are so good.

If the Cowboys are going to attack an area of the Saints, it should be Jon Stinchcomb at right tackle. Stinchcomb is not as strong in the running game and will give ground in the passing game. Jermon Bushrod at left tackle is who the Cowboys went at last season, but he appears to be playing better in both the run and pass.

After the game last season, Payton spoke of his team’s inability to protect in the game when it needed to the most. There is no doubt in my mind that the Saints will do all they can to help their tackles in this game against DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer.

When these two teams met last season, the one area that really stood out for the Cowboys was their ability to make plays in their nickel defense. There is going to be a tremendous amount of pressure on the Cowboys secondary in this game. Mike Jenkins, Terence Newman and Orlando Scandrick will need to be at their best if the Cowboys are going to be successful in this game.

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