Dallas Cowboys: Jason Jones

Cowboys position series: Defensive line

February, 13, 2012
This is the seventh installment of our 12-part series breaking down the Cowboys roster. Today we look at the defensive line.

[+] EnlargeCowboys
Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesJason Hatcher (4.5) and Pro Bowler Jay Ratliff (2.0) had the lion's share of the 10.5 sacks compiled by the Cowboys' defensive line last season.
Players: NT Jay Ratliff (signed through 2017), DE Jason Hatcher (signed through 2013), DE Marcus Spears (signed through 2014), DE Kenyon Coleman (signed through 2012), NT/DE Sean Lissemore (signed through 2013), NT Josh Brent (signed through 2013), DE Clifton Geathers (exclusive rights free agent), NT/DE Robert Callaway (signed futures contract)

Top free agents: DE Calais Campbell, Arizona Cardinals; DE Mario Williams, Houston Texans; NT Sione Pouha, New York Jets; DE Jason Jones, Tennessee Titans; DE Cliff Avril, Detroit Lions.

Top draft prospects: DE Quinton Coples, North Carolina; DT/DE Michael Brockers, LSU; NT Brandon Thompson, Clemson; NT Jerel Worthy, Michigan State; DT Devon Still, Penn State.

2011 review: The defensive line performed respectably against the run for the most part. However, it left a lot to be desired in the pass-rushing department. The Cowboys’ defensive line combined for only 10.5 sacks, led by Hatcher (4.5). Ratliff made his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl appearance despite his sacks total declining for the fourth consecutive year. He finished the season with two sacks, tied with reserve Lissemore for second among the team’s defensive linemen. Coleman and Spears were solid against the run but nonfactors against the pass, which is particularly a problem with a secondary as vulnerable as the Cowboys'.

Offseason preview: The Cowboys need more playmaking at this position. Maybe they get that by moving Ratliff to defensive end, a subject that gets discussed every offseason but has not been seriously considered since he established himself as the starting nose tackle. Coples and Brockers, the best 3-4 defensive end prospects in the draft, are likely to be gone by the time the Cowboys get on the clock with the 14th overall pick. Arizona’s Campbell, who dominated Doug Free when the Cowboys played the Cardinals this season, would be a major upgrade in free agency. However, there’s a decent chance that the Cardinals will use the franchise tag to prevent one of the NFL’s best 3-4 ends from testing the open market this offseason.

Bryan Broaddus' Scout's Eye: When the Cowboys played well on defense last season it was usually because the defensive line was handling the run and getting pressure on the quarterback. When things were going badly, I could usually tell on tape it was because the line wasn't getting off blocks and struggling with the pressure. The biggest problem I had with the line was at defensive end. The team lost Stephen Bowen to the Redskins and in my view, that was a tough blow for the defense. The club brought back Spears and Hatcher but also signed Coleman. Hatcher moved into Bowen's role with Spears and Coleman as the starters. As the season wore on, Coleman wore down and his play hurt the defense. Spears was up and down as well. Where there is a need of an upgrade would be at end. I am a big fan of Lissemore and I would not be surprised to see him in the starting lineup next season for Coleman or at nose if Ratliff shifts to end. Speaking of nose, Ratliff made the Pro Bowl which surprised me. I like Ratliff and respect the way he played, but there were times where he was clearly better than the centers that he was playing against and he didnt always take advantage of the matchup. Ratliff doesn't always face double teams. Where Ratliff struggles the most is when he gets wore down. That's why guys like Brent and Lissemore are key to keeping him as fresh as possible. I like the nose men on this team but the front office needs to find some upgrades at end to give the defense a chance.

Need meter (0-5): 3

Scout's Eye: Titans-Cowboys review

October, 12, 2010

The squad meeting after a loss is never easy.

Scout's Eye
Coaches have been in early, graded the players, put their notes together and begin to prepare for how they are going to address the good and bad with their position groups in another round of film study. After a win, the mood is always better in the film room for the players. They joke, cut up and rib each other when they get knocked down or get a kill shot on an opponent, but a loss is a different story.

When the Cowboys study this tape, they are going to see poor adjustments on routes, missed blocks, and dropped passes. In other words, not much to cut up about. When you have 12 penalties, three turnovers, a missed field goal and go 2-of-4 in the red zone, you are going to struggle to win the football game.

*The Cowboys offensive line played well in the Texans game, but it was truly a struggle against the Titans.

When this club plays a defense that likes to twist, stunt and show movement, that presents the most problems. The Titans were undersized but just coming at the Cowboys throughout the game. Leonard Davis really struggled in this contest, but so did Marc Colombo and Doug Free.

The one that surprised me the most was Free. Through the first three games of the 2010 season, Free had been stable in his pass protection and in his run blocking. I really believed that Free would be able to hold up against the outside rushers of the Titans.

Free was beaten around the corner one time, then beaten inside another. On Tony Romo’s interception that was tipped by end Dave Ball, Free was responsible for getting Ball on the ground, but he was unable to do it. On the play, Ball slow-played Free by not rushing quickly and hanging back, Free threw his cut block too early and Ball was able to stay on his feet and get his hands on the ball. When the pass got tipped, it allowed the corner to drive on the ball for the interception.

On the right side, Colombo struggled with Jason Babin. The biggest problem that Colombo has is when he gets overextended and ends up playing over the tops of his feet. Babin was able to take Colombo hard upfield to the outside for a sack. Colombo was unable to adjust to the speed and quickness of Babin. On his second sack, Babin took Colombo upfield again, then spun inside. Colombo was unable to adjust. Babin on the spin was on the same level as Romo and was able to bring him to the ground.

The bad day for Davis started on the first offensive snap. Romo tries to get the ball to Miles Austin but is unable to step into his throw because tackle Jason Jones beats Davis quickly inside. Davis struggled with his balance all the way until he was removed with two minutes left in the first half and replaced by Montrae Holland.

When Davis is bad, he doesn’t move his feet and like Colombo he gets overextended. There was a play before he was removed that he hopped so badly inside that he ended up on one leg and Jones beat him again inside for pressure on Romo.

When Holland was put into the lineup, he did bring some stability to the position. The line protected better and they were able to move the ball in the running game.

What really was interesting was that when Davis was put back into the lineup, his play was night and day from his first half. He adjusted better and he was in better position in his run and pass blocking. He honestly didn’t look like the same player.

With a trip to the Metrodome and a date with the Vikings on the horizon, the Cowboys don’t need a repeat performance of what happened in the playoffs last season.

*With the score 17-17 and 2:12 left in the third quarter, the Titans have a first down on their own 20-yard line. The Titans open the drive in regular personnel. Tight end Craig Stevens moves from inline to behind the line, then starts back in forth in motion. The Cowboys secondary is lined up with Terence Newman, Mike Jenkins, Alan Ball and Gerald Sensabaugh four across, 9 yards from the line of scrimmage, like they were expecting something short and inside from Vince Young and the Titans offense.

Young takes the snap and play-action fakes to Chris Johnson on his left side. Kenny Britt is lined up wide left and runs at Ball, who has his eyes inside. Jenkins at right corner turns inside and begins to sprint deep as he sees Britt go by Ball. Ball still hasn’t moved and continues to look inside. What he is looking at, I am not sure. Keith Brooking carries Johnson into the flat and the only threat to Ball is Britt, who just went by him.

Sensabaugh and Newman begin their pedal, finally Ball begins to move by turning inside, but Britt is 8 yards ahead of him and just inside Jenkins and able to get a little separation in the route. Young sees that there is no safety help in the middle of the field and he lets the ball fly. Britt makes an outstanding, adjusting finger tip catch at the 32-yard line with Jenkins touching him down there.

Again, what Ball was looking at during the snap and was he supposed to be helping Jenkins with deep coverage? It was one of several big plays that the Titans had down the field.

*In the fourth quarter, with the score 27-27, the Cowboys are forced to kick from their own 15-yard line after a penalty on Colombo for excessive celebration. David Buehler had a solid day of putting the ball deep in the end zone on kickoffs, but he was only able to get the ball to the 16-yard line.

The kick went deep right (Cowboys right) where Marc Mariani fielded the ball and starts to his right (Cowboys left). As Mariani starts up the field, there are eight Cowboys between the hash and the sidelines. The remaining players on the left hand side are Kevin Ogletree, Ball and Jason Williams. Williams then crosses the hash to make it nine on that side but is not aware that the ball is coming to his left.

Sam Hurd, who is inside Williams, sees what is happening and tries to cross the face of his blocker to get into position to make the tackle but is unable to get it done Williams is now trapped inside and can’t adjust. Ogletree doesn’t see the ball coming his way but works further to his left and now really widens the hole between himself and Williams. Ball is caught in the middle and is being blocked well by Nick Schommer.

Mariani sees the hole and takes off for it. Ball is late to get off the block and tries to dive to make the play but is unable. As the ball spills outside, the kickoff team is in the trail, chase position. Buehler is able to run Mariani out of bounds but also gets a facemask penalty which takes the Titans half the distance to the goal, setting Tennessee up to score and take the lead.

The penalty on the offense put the kickoff team in a bad situation, but the execution of the coverage compounded the problem.

Grudge Match: Titans-Cowboys

October, 9, 2010
*Titans quarterback Vince Young vs. Cowboys defense: Young has come a long way since he made his first career start against the Cowboys in 2006.

When Young first broke into the league, his attitude was more of a runner than a passer. Young’s throwing motion will never be confused with a classic, dropback quarterback. It always drove me crazy when coaches said “We can fix his throwing motion.” It didn’t work with Kerry Collins or a guy like Drew Henson. Young does not throw the ball overhand but more three-quarters style and with a flick of the wrist.

The Titans like to run routes across the field and inside where he can make easier throws. Offensive coordinator Mike Heimendinger tries to make this offense as easy as possible for Young to make the right reads and throws.

Where the Cowboys need to try to affect Young in this contest is two areas: attacking the middle of the pocket and getting their hands up when they are along the line of scrimmage.

Young has the mobility to break tackles from the outside; teams have had success is pressuring him in his face. A matchup to watch inside is Titans center Eugene Amano on Jay Ratliff and nickel rusher Stephen Bowen. In my view, Amano is the weakest of the Titans’ linemen and should be attacked.

If the Cowboys can hold running back Chris Johnson in check, the focus of the Titans attack then falls on the shoulders of Young to make plays on a consistent basis.

*Cowboys guard Leonard Davis vs. Titans defensive tackle Jason Jones: The Titans’ defense doesn’t have the stars it once had rushing the passer, but they still get a tremendous amount of pressure with this current group.

Jones is the type of player than tends to give Davis fits. He is mobile, quick and athletic. Davis tends to struggle with these types because he doesn’t always move his feet. He will struggle when these defenders attack his shoulder and he has to adjust. When Davis gets in trouble, he overextends and tries to block off balance.

Jones is not a powerful player and there is no way that he can go toe-to-toe with Davis run or pass and think that he will have success. The Titans like to get their linemen on the move, so Davis cannot allow Jones to be a factor in the middle of the pocket and in the running game.

If Davis does struggle, there is a good chance the Cowboys will suffer some negative plays on offense.

*Cowboys receivers vs. Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan: There are going to be some great matchups across the board in this game but, this is the one I am really going to pay very close attention to.

Finnegan is one of the top five cover men in the NFL. He is not the biggest guy, but he has outstanding talent. He plays with an ease of movement and skill.

Finnegan is a hard man for a receiver to run away from because of his burst and acceleration. He plays very tight coverage and is hard to fool. Sometimes you find cornerbacks guessing on the routes, but not this guy. He is very smart and he has a great feel of how to read and play routes.

Finnegan has good ball skills and the hands to make a quarterback pay for their mistake. In the last two seasons, he has had five interceptions each year. He is a willing tackler and not afraid to stick his nose in the action.

In the past, the Titans have used Finnegan as a blitzer off the edge. In the Broncos game last week, he got his first sack of the season on a third-and-15 play.

I can see the Cowboys trying to attack rookie corner Alterraun Verner, who is not a bad player but nowhere as productive as Finnegan. If the Cowboys do have success on Finnegan on Sunday, the Titans’ defense might be in trouble.

Scout's Eye: Titans-Cowboys preview

October, 8, 2010

Scout's Eye
One team is going to leave Cowboys Stadium on Sunday night with three losses and questions moving forward. The other will gain much-needed momentum and the opportunity to build on that.

The Dallas Cowboys are coming off a bye week. The Tennessee Titans suffered a difficult home loss to Denver in which their defense was able to get six sacks on Kyle Orton but couldn’t get him on the ground when they needed it the most to close out the game.

The one thing you know about the Titans and Jeff Fisher is that they will be well prepared. Since the league’s realignment in 2002, the Titans have been one of the NFL’s most successful teams in interconference play with a record of 24-9. Only the Patriots and Colts have a better record during that time period.

When you study the Titans, there are two areas that really stand out on their offense. The first is running back Chris Johnson and the second is the offensive tackles, Michael Roos and David Stewart.
[+] EnlargeChris Johnson
Icon SMIThe Cowboys' defense will have its hands full with the Titan's explosive running back, Chris Johnson.

Johnson is impressive to watch with the ball in his hands. When I worked for the Packers and we played Barry Sanders, you always had the feeling that on any carry, no matter where the offense was on the field, there was a chance for a huge play. Johnson has that same game-changing type of ability.

When the Titans run the ball, they like to do it with stretch plays, counters and tosses. Johnson has a real feel for how to find the gaps and holes along the defense, then explode through them.

His timed speed is 4.24 coming out of East Carolina and he is every bit of that. He plays with vision and that stop-and-start quickness.

Johnson can also hurt you as well in the passing game. He does a nice job of catching balls in the flat or inside and getting up the field.

On Wednesday morning, Fisher was asked about the make up of his star running back and his qualities. Fisher spoke of Johnson’s ability with the ball in his hands, but if he does have a weakness, I felt like it’s his ability to pass protect. Would not be surprised to see the Cowboys try to make him have to pick up some blitzes in this game early. He didn’t show the ability to hang in there and be square in pass protection. He’s a cut blocker.

When you play a back that has the talent of Johnson, tackling is huge. He will bounce off tackles if you don’t wrap him up. If the Cowboys do not tackle well when Johnson has the ball in his hands, it plays right into what the Titans want to do on offense.

The strength of the Titans offensive line is at their tackle spot. Through the first four weeks of the season, this is the best set of tackles that the Cowboys have had to face. Roos and Stewart are good.

Overall, this offensive line is more mobile than they are powerful. They are very good at getting out on the edge and blocking in space. The Titans use a zone blocking scheme but will also pull on counter plays. They are a productive second-level blocking team and do a nice job of staying on their feet and finishing blocks.
Michael Roos
Scott Boehm/Getty ImagesMichael Roos (71) and David Stewart anchor a Titans offensive line that produced the league's top rusher a year ago.

The Cowboys should have an advantage with the matchup at nose when Jay Ratliff works against center Eugene Amano. Amano will struggle with Ratliff’s quickness and power.

Ratliff puts a ton of pressure on the offense because of his ability to attack the pocket. When you play the Titans, you do worry about Johnson in the running game but you also want to attack Vince Young up the middle in the pocket. Young does not do a good job when he has to face pressure in his face; it’s from the outside where he can avoid and use his legs to escape.

Would not be a bit surprised if the Titans allow Roos and Stewart to handle Ware and Spencer on the outside and try to help inside with guards Leroy Harris and Jake Scott on Ratliff.

*On defense for the Titans, there are not the names that we have seen in the past like Albert Haynesworth, Jevon Kearse, Kyle Vanden Bosch or Keith Bulluck. Instead guys like Jason Babin, Dave Ball and Stephen Tulloch are the players that are the new blood in this eight-ranked Titans defense.

The Titans have different players, but it’s still the same aggressive defensive that has always been a staple of Jeff Fisher teams. The Titans are an undersized along the defensive front, but they are very aggressive when it comes to rushing the passer. Wade Phillips calls it relentless and they do a nice job of playing the run on the way to rushing the passer.

The Titans like to bring four-man pressure and they like to work games up front. You will also see twist stunts, corner and slot blitzes.

The player to watch for the Titans up front is defensive tackle Jason Jones. Jones is one of those relentless players that Phillips was talking about. Jones is always coming forward, always attacking the offensive linemen. He plays sometimes inside eye of the guard as a one-technique or he will line up outside shoulder of the guard and rush from the three.

Jones has good movement inside, so watch for the Titans to try and match him up inside on Leonard Davis, who will struggle with quickness to his outside shoulder.

In the secondary, the Titans have two players that I really like. Cornerback Cortland Finnegan and safety Michael Griffin are outstanding players.
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Larry French/Getty ImagesScreen plays will help Tony Romo and the Cowboys' offense counter the aggressive, revamped Tennessee defense.

Finnegan is one of those corners that doesn’t give you much room in the route. He is a hard guy to run away from. Finnegan plays with an ease of movement and can be aggressive in the running game.

Griffin is a ball-hawking safety. He had a very nice interception against the Broncos and he is a factor when coming forward in the running game.

The Titans like to play two deep and play man coverage underneath. They will try to get their linebackers in coverage and in help with the secondary. When the ball is thrown or run, they as a group really rally to the ball and the ball carrier.

Look for the Cowboys to try to take advantage of the aggressive nature of the Titans defense. The Broncos and Steelers used screen packages to try to slow down the Titans rush and keep them off balance.

Again, this is not a big front for the Titans, but the Cowboys need to handle their movement and stunting to have success moving the ball on Sunday.