Dallas Cowboys: Marshawn Lynch
In discussing the state of the Cowboys' running game, Calvin quotes coach Jason Garrett saying this:
"We have to do a better job running the football, and you’ve heard me say this a lot, that balance is critical," coach Jason Garrett said when the season was over. "You want to be able to attack defenses a lot of different ways. DeMarco Murray was out for a large portion of this season, but having said that, you have to put the next guy in there and you have to be effective running it."
In theory, that makes sense. But if Calvin's point is that many of the teams having success in the playoffs are strong in the running game, I submit that they're strong around a reliable central figure who takes all of the snaps and the hits and keeps on grinding. Marshawn Lynch in Seattle. Ray Rice in Baltimore. Arian Foster in Houston. Denver got lucky, when Willis McGahee went down in the second half, it was able to turn to a former first-round pick in Knowshon Moreno and keep going.
The problem in Dallas is Murray has an injury history that starts in college and has drastically impacted both of his pro seasons. And as a result, the Cowboys don't know for certain that they can count on him going forward. They not only need to improve their depth around him, they need to see if they can find a running back capable of handling a full-time workload in his absence.
There was a similar problem in New York, where the Giants wanted to give Ahmad Bradshaw the chance to be the lead back this past year but he couldn't hold up physically either. Recurring issue with Bradshaw that has the team thinking about moving on and going with 2012 first-round pick David Wilson in a "lead dog" role. Can that work? You hope so, certainly, when you take a guy in the first round. But the Giants don't know. Issues with Wilson include ball security (famously) and pass protection. And it's not necessarily that Wilson can't pass-protect, but rather that Bradshaw's the best in the league at it, so if you're going to switch from Bradshaw to anyone as your "lead dog" your offense will have to adjust somehow.
The Cowboys and Giants both went into this season thinking they had solutions at running back, but they came out of it with questions -- some fresh and some old. Expect both teams to address this position in some meaningful way this offseason.
On Monday, Tim MacMahon lamented Rob Ryan’s decision to not pressure Seattle rookie quarterback Russell Wilson. Today, Calvin Watkins wonders a little about it.
Didn’t we spend time after the New York Giants' game hearing how Ryan has made some changes to his scheme in 2012? Ryan’s history might say he likes to blitz and bring pressure, but maybe that come-to-Jesus season Jerry Jones alluded to on the radio last week has had something to do with Ryan not being as aggressive.
The Cowboys were killed by the big play through the air last year. To combat that so far, Ryan is banking on his front to get to the quarterback, even against an inexperienced quarterback.
I don’t know if two games offers enough evidence, but Ryan has not been a gambler against the Giants or the Seahawks. He pressured Eli Manning seven times in the opener. He pressured Wilson seven times in Week 2.
Ten times the Cowboys brought four-man rushes against Wilson and they recorded three pressures and an Anthony Spencer sack. Seven times they brought five guys and had a sack, two pressures and a pass deflection.
Eight times they rushed only three guys and didn’t get any pressure. Wilson had four straight completions against three-man rushes in the second quarter that led to a Seattle field goal.
** Sometimes you have to tip your cap when an offense picks the right play against the right defense. That’s what happened on Lynch’s 36-yard run. Ryan brought a will-free safety blitz with DeMarcus Ware and Gerald Sensabaugh, which Seattle ran away from.
Sean Lissemore was double-teamed and had no chance. Josh Brent got turned away. Victor Butler, playing a little soft with the blitz call from the other side, could not hold the point of attack. The fullback blocked Sean Lee. Bruce Carter could not track it down from the backside. Boom, there goes Lynch.
It was a good play by Seattle.
** On the second play of the game, Josh Brent got into a shoving match with Seattle center Max Unger. A play later, he threw a punch (apparently) at Unger and was called for unnecessary roughness. Also on that play, Kenyon Coleman and Jason Hatcher got into some extracurricular activity with Breno Giacomini and Paul McQuistan. It was chippy from the get go and looked as if the Cowboys weren't prepared and too sensitive to Seattle’s aggressive styles -- and it eventually cost them with their poise. They simply can’t be drawn offside (sorry for the pun) that early in the game.
** Jason Garrett said Seattle’s defense was pretty easy to figure out. They play eight guys in the box and dare you to beat them in the passing game. Of the Cowboys' 57 snaps, the Seahawks played an eight-man front 25 times. They had seven guys in the box 14 times. The Cowboys were not awful running into that eight-man box but they did not run much out of their 11 personnel groups when the Seahawks could not load up.
** Seattle corners Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman are big. One way to combat tall corners is to break them down with quick routes. Why didn’t the Cowboys run more slants? They lived on them in the opener against New York. I counted only a handful, including one to Miles Austin at the end of the first half that was knocked into the air. Until Dez Bryant shows he can beat press coverage, like Browner and Sherman played, then the opposition should just get into Bryant at the line. He was a non-factor Sunday.
** A lot of times when the Cowboys lose, people gripe about Garrett getting away from the run. The Cowboys ran it only 14 times (not including two Romo plays). They only ran 19 plays in the second half, so it’s difficult to run it when you don’t have it. What about after the Seahawks made it 20-7? DeMarco Murray got the ball on three of the first four plays and then the drive broke down. On first-and-10 from the Dallas 47, guard Nate Livings was beat quickly up the middle by Chris Clemons, who forced an early throw to the flat to Felix Jones, who was dropped for a 5-yard loss by K.J. Wright. On second down, Tyron Smith had a false start. Do you run it on second-and-20? Third-and-20? The next time the offense got the ball back, it was 27-7 with 7:51 to play. Of the Cowboys' 24 first-down plays vs. Seattle, 18 were pass plays, including the final three in garbage time. The six first-down running plays gained 14 yards. Should Garrett’s abandonment of the running game be boiled down to the one play that lost 5 yards on a pass to Jones? I wouldn’t go there.
Situation: Fourth-and-5 from Dallas 21
Score: Seattle, 3-0
Time: 10:28 first quarter
Taylor's Take: Anytime you allow a special teams touchdown, it usually results in a loss. Malcolm Smith muscled past Dan Connor and took a straight path toward Chris Jones. Jeron Smith scooped up the ball and returned it three yards for a touchdown.
Play: Bruce Carter drops interception
Situation: Third-and-3 from Dallas 3
Score: Tied, 0-0
Time: 11:51 first quarter
Taylor's Take: The game is about making plays. Carter had two hands and the ball and dropped it. If he grabs it, the Cowboys have a huge momentum boost and the fumbled kickoff gets negated.
Play: Marshawn Lynch 36-yard run
Situation: Second-and-7 from Seattle 39
Score: Seattle 13-7
Time: 6:37 third quarter
Taylor's Take: Bad luck sabotaged this play because Rob Ryan sent Demarcus Ware, Gerald Sensabaugh and Bruce Carter on a blitz from the left, but Seattle ran off right tackle. Lynch ran through a couple of arm tackles at the line of scrimmage and zig-zagged for 36 yards, setting up Seattle’s second touchdown.
Play: Tony Romo recovers fumble
Situation: Second-and-10 from Dallas 39
Score: Seattle, 10-0
Time: 2:22 first quarter
Taylor's Take: The comedy of first-quarter errors continued with Romo in the Shotgun. As he approached the line of scrimmage to adjust the play, center Ryan Cook snapped the ball, hitting Romo in the stomach. Romo recovered the fumble for a three-yard loss, but still led the Cowboys on their only scoring drive.
Play: Bruce Carter penalized for unnecessary roughness
Situation: Second-and-12 from Seattle 22
Score: Seattle, 20-7
Time: 13:18 fourth quarter
Taylor's Take: Golden Tate launched himself at linebacker Sean Lee, who was chasing the play, delivering the block that helped Russell Wilson gain 14 yards. A penalty should have been called on Tate, based on a new NFL rule, because Lee was in a defenseless position. Then it would’ve been second-and-27. However, Carter was penalized for pushing Wilson, even though the quarterback still had a foot inbounds. The additional 15 yards put the ball at the Dallas 49 and, seven plays later, Seattle scored.
It should be noted, however, that Lynch ran for 135 yards on 23 carries and a touchdown against the Cowboys last season when Ratliff was in the lineup.
“Jay’s a great football player, we know that,” coach Jason Garrett said. “He’s been a Pro Bowl player for us and one of our leaders, but injuries happen in football. You have to put the next guy in and you have to go forward. We’re excited to get him back when he’s healthy.”
Garrett is not sure if Ratliff, who is recovering from a high ankle sprain suffered Aug. 25 against St. Louis, will be ready to go this week against Tampa Bay. His return could coincide with the loss of defensive end Kenyon Coleman, who suffered a hyperextended knee against the Seahawks.
“He’s making progress,” Garrett said.
The Cowboys had a grand total of four rushing attempts in the second half, so Jason Garrett is going to get criticized for abandoning the run. But that's what happens when a team has to come back from a multi-score deficit, especially when there isn't any room to run anyway. DeMarco Murray had to earn every one of his 44 yards on 12 carries. The Seattle front seven whipped the Cowboys on a consistent basis. Oh, Felix Jones got his first carry of the season. He gained a whopping 1 yard.
Did the Seahawks slip in the infamous K ball while the Cowboys' offense was on the field? How else to explain the drop-fest from the usually sure-handed Jason Witten and Dez Bryant? Bryant was a total bust (three catches, 17 yards). Week 1 hero Kevin Ogletree had one catch for 26 yards. Tony Romo's numbers (23 of 40 for 251 yards and one touchdown with one interception) weren't awful, but the big, tough Seattle secondary won its matchup with Dallas' receivers, with Miles Austin's TD catch being the exception. And Romo's interception came on a bad decision to kill a drive in the red zone. Unlike last week, Romo couldn't overcome protection that was poor on a regular basis.
The good news: The Cowboys held Marshawn Lynch to 22 yards on 10 carries in the first half. The bad news: Lynch dominated the second half, gaining 100 yards on 16 carries as the Seahawks buried the Cowboys. Lynch busted a 36-yard run to set up Seattle's touchdown in the third quarter, which made it a two-touchdown game. He had seven carries for 32 yards and a TD on the dagger drive, when the Seahawks marched 88 yards on 12 plays to go up by 20 points. The Dallas defense was simply dominated physically after halftime.
Rob Ryan and Co. made it easy for rookie QB Russell Wilson to play a poised, mistake-free game, completing 15 of 20 passes for 151 yards and a TD with no turnovers. The Cowboys rarely blitzed despite the undersized Wilson's struggles against pressure in Seattle's Week 1 loss. (According to ESPN Stats and Information, Wilson was 6-of-18 for 47 yards and was sacked three times when the Cardinals rushed five or more men.) Anthony Spencer got two sacks, but that was it for the Dallas pass rush despite the Seahawks playing with two backup offensive linemen. Perennial Pro Bowler DeMarcus Ware didn't exploit his matchup against a second-string left tackle.
What is it with epic special teams disasters for the Cowboys in Seattle? It started off as poorly as possible with Felix Jones gift-wrapping a field goal for the Seahawks by losing a fumble on the opening kickoff. It got even worse soon, with backup linebacker Dan Connor getting beat to allow Seattle's Malcolm Smith to block a punt. Jeron Johnson scooped and scored. Just like that, Joe DeCamillis' guys handed the Seahawks a 10-point head start. Dez Bryant gained a grand total of two yards on two punt returns and was fortunate not to commit a turnover just before halftime. Punter Chris Jones had another strong performance, but special teams killed the Cowboys.
The head coach gets a big share of the blame when his team lays an egg like that after 11 days to prepare. It's also fair to question whether Jason Garrett's constant messages about mental toughness are really getting through after the Cowboys roll over like they did in the fourth quarter, when the Dallas offense had a couple of three-and-out series while the Seahawks ran 25 offensive plays. And defensive coordinator Rob Ryan's game plan was puzzling, to put it politely. Why play soft against a rookie quarterback who struggled badly when blitzed last week?
In the first 29 plays of the game, Seattle had 130 yards on offense.
The Seahawks picked up 90 on the next eight to take a 20-7 lead and impose their will on a Cowboys defense that had no answer.
The biggest play was Marshawn Lynch's 36-yard run after the Seahawks caught the Cowboys in a blitz. Bruce Carter was unable to drag Lynch down close to the line of scrimmage and the bruising runner was able to break free for his longest run of the game.
Lynch finished with 122 yards on 26 carries, giving him more than 100 yards rushing in two straight games against the Dallas defense.
Seattle finished off the drive by going to tight end Anthony McCoy. At the snap, linebacker Anthony Spencer lunged at McCoy and was in trail mode, allowing rookie quarterback Russell Wilson to thread a throw down the seam for a 22-yard score and a 20-7 lead with 5:05 left in the third quarter.
Feeling good: The Cowboys' receivers should have enough speed to take advantage of the weaknesses in the Seattle secondary. The Seahawks' cornerbacks are unusually big and physical, and likely will try to disrupt Dez Bryant, Miles Austin and Kevin Ogletree at the line. But if they cannot do that, Tony Romo should be able to find at least one of them open downfield, potentially for a big play. A high-scoring game will favor Dallas, and it likely would feature several long pass plays since the Seattle defense gets shakier the further back it goes.
Cause for concern: The Dallas defense looked great in Week 1 against the Giants' pass-heavy attack, but they will get a very different challenge in Week 2 as the Seahawks try and run the ball down their throats with Marshawn Lynch. It will be important for the defensive line and the inside linebackers to stay patient and strong up front to slow down the Seattle run game and limit big gains there. The Seahawks will want to control the clock and keep the ball out of Romo's hands as much as possible, and this week's defensive challenge is quite different from last week's.
Against a standard pass rush, however, Wilson was much better as he completed 12-of-16 passes and threw his only touchdown. Giants quarterback Eli Manning also had little problem passing in Week 1 against the Cowboys’ standard pass rush, finishing 18-of-25 for 189 yards and a touchdown.
Here are three other statistical areas to watch Sunday:
" The Seahawks will need to contain Tony Romo’s passing outside the pocket. Neither the Cardinals’ John Skelton nor Kevin Kolb tested the Seahawks on passes outside the pocket as they combined to go 0-for-3 in Week 1. Romo, however, was 3-for-5 passing for 50 yards outside the pocket in the Cowboys’ opening week win over the Giants, which included a pair of touchdown passes Kevin Ogletree. Romo tied for first in the NFL last season with 10 touchdown passes outside the pocket, and was the only quarterback with touchdown passes from outside the pocket in Week 1.
Passing Outside the Pocket, Week 1 (Total QBR)
Tony Romo 98.1*
Aaron Rodgers 90.3
Tom Brady 69.7
Ben Roethlisberger 64.6
Matt Cassel 62.2
*3-5, 50 yds, 2 TD in Week 1 vs. Giants
" Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch picked up plenty of rushing yards last season after contact. Lynch finished third in the NFL in yards after contact with 620 in 2011. Lynch had 135 rushing yards in a Week 9 loss to the Cowboys last season, 56 of which came after contact. Since Week 9 last season, no NFL player has rushed for more yards than Lynch, who has 1,026 yards in that span with more than half of them (524 yards) after first contact.
Most Rush Yards Since Week 9 of 2011 Season
Marshawn Lynch 1,026*
Ray Rice 943
Maurice Jones-Drew 943
Reggie Bush 820
Willis McGahee 803
*Includes league-high 524 yds after contact
" The Cowboys’ DeMarcus Ware will be the focus of the Seahawks’ pass protection scheme. Ware has 68 sacks since the start of 2008, which is the most in the NFL. The Cowboys, as a team, have the third-most sacks in the league in the span with 181. Ware has been on the field for 174 of the 181 sacks. The Cowboys record a sack every 20.8 plays when Ware is on the field. When Ware is off the field, the Cowboys’ sack per play rate is more than double at every 46.3 plays.
Running back Marshawn Lynch (5-11, 215) makes it hard for defenders to bring him down with arm tackles, and defenses must gang tackle him.
Outside linebacker Anthony Spencer said that was a major point of emphasis this week in practice: Getting to the ball carrier. In Seattle's Week 1 loss to Arizona, Lynch rushed 21 times for 85 yards. With Seattle starting a rookie at quarterback and with two nicked up receivers, the Seahawks will need Lynch to get about 18 to 20 carries Sunday afternoon.
"He's not going to let anyone arm tackle him or one person bring him down," Spencer said. "You see that on film all the time. Even after contact, he’s still running and trying to run through people even guys, 300 pound guys, have him wrapped up. We know we have to get after him and get everybody to the ball."
In the loss to Arizona, Lynch broke three tackles, which leads the league according to Stats Inc. In 2011, Lynch finished third in the league with 19 broken tackles -- three more than 2010 when he finished with 16.
The Cowboys will have to stop Lynch without nose tackle Jay Ratliff. He's going to miss the second consecutive game with a high-ankle sprain. Josh Brent and Sean Lissemore will share the snaps at nose tackle for the Cowboys. In their Week 1 victory over the New York Giants, the Cowboys allowed 82 yards rushing.
Stat you need to know: Lynch has never lost a fumble in the fourth quarter or overtime.
IRVING, Texas –The Cowboys allowed four 100-yard rushers last year. On Sunday, they get their first crack at revenge in a way when they visit Seattle.
Marshawn Lynch ran for 135 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries in the Seahawks’ 23-13 loss at Cowboys Stadium. This year’s defense knows it has to be ready for the bruising Lynch. He had 85 yards on 21 carries in Seattle’s Week 1 loss to Arizona.
“When you look at Marshawn Lynch and the way he runs the ball, we know they have a commitment to the run,” inside linebacker Sean Lee said. “We’re going to have to be at our best if we want to stop them.”
Lee did not play in the Seattle game last year because of a dislocated wrist suffered the previous week when Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy ran for 185 yards on 30 carries against Dallas. If you thought the training camp battles between Lee and DeMarco Murray were fierce, then you should expect more of it Sunday.
“He’s similar to DeMarco where he’s got an attitude in how they run,” Lee said. “He has good vision, good burst and you really have to rally to make tackles on guys like that.”
Vick's voice, given where he came from and what he endured, is powerful. It carries weight, particularly with guys in their 20s playing in the NFL who have watched him since they were kids. Vick spoke at the rookie symposium this year. It was a natural fit.
But the league should buy copies of Vick's book and distribute them to all of its players, rookies and veterans. Get a copy in the hands of Bryant, Marshawn Lynch, Elvis Dumervil and the others who have run afoul of the law this offseason. Make sure they read it so they can see that their decisions, good and bad, have consequences.
Maybe it will help wake them up and realize that this game can be taken away from them, and that being in the NFL is a special opportunity not to be wasted by making bad decisions.
I like Ashley's premise, as crazy as it may sound when you first hear it. In the case of Bryant, given his track record of bad decisions, it's likely going to take something weird and unexpected to jolt him out of his current behavior patterns and make him realize he has adult responsibilities. Undoubtedly, the idea of Vick giving advice on how to live your life and stay out of trouble can qualify as weird and unexpected.
But it's a fact that Vick is a perfect example for athletes who get in trouble and want to avoid getting in trouble again. He's carried himself exactly the way he's supposed to carry himself since he got out of prison, and he seems to be a guy who's been changed by his self-inflicted traumatic life experience.
If it hasn't yet occured to Bryant that the choices he makes and the situations in which he puts himself when he's away from the field could jeopardize his football career, he'd do well to look at Vick. If Bryant thinks his talent alone will keep his career afloat no matter what kind of trouble he gets himself into, he should watch tape of Vick's final season at Virginia Tech. As great as Bryant is, Vick was better -- maybe as purely talented and electric as any player who's ever come into the league. And he lost two years out of the middle of his career for making stupid, inexcusable, criminal decisions. That means it could happen to anyone. And that's worth Bryant's attention, and Lynch's attention, and the attention of a lot of NFL players who just can't seem to stay out of trouble during the times of the year when there's nothing to do.
|Are the Cowboys sniffing around Peyton Manning? Not a chance, but ESPN Dallas' Todd Archer tells Ben and Skin that the Redskins are a major threat for his services.
That could have a direct impact on the Cowboys.
According to multiple reports, Miami, Washington, Seattle and Arizona could be the top suitors for Manning, who did not play in 2011 because of a neck injury. His future is still unknown to a large degree.
The Cowboys would be better served if Manning stayed in the AFC.
The Redskins desperately need a quarterback and have the cap room necessary to land Manning. Washington has some decent pieces in place, but Mike Shanahan’s return to the sidelines as not gone well largely because he has not had a quarterback.
A healthy Manning would give Shanahan a quarterback and force the Cowboys to prepare for him two times a year. Now, Shanahan would have to alter his offense some to fit Manning – forget those bootlegs and waggles – and live with the idea that Manning would be the de facto offensive coordinator.
There’s a lot of ego involved there, and would the Mannings – Peyton and Eli – want to deal with the stress NFC East faceoffs twice a year? The Manning Bowls would be mean huge television numbers.
Why should the Cowboys care about Seattle? The Seahawks are on the Cowboys’ schedule this year. That Seattle defense is going to be good. They have committed to high picks on the line. They just re-signed running back Marshawn Lynch. And, according to reports, they would be interested in signing one of Manning’s favorite receivers, Reggie Wayne, as a package deal with Manning.
Like the Redskins, the Seahawks don’t have a quarterback either and a healthy Manning would make Pete Carroll happy.
Why should the Cowboys care about Arizona? Arizona gave Kevin Kolb a sizeable contract last year but the Cardinals have questions about him after injuries largely ruined his first year. Add a healthy Manning to the mix with Larry Fitzgerald and a defense that was better last year and it’s not difficult to see a Kurt Warner-like turnaround in the desert.
If you believe in San Francisco’s turnaround in 2011, then the Cardinals would figure to be a wild-card contender at worse with Manning, and that would affect the Cowboys.
Manning is 2-2 all-time against the Cowboys, winning in 1999 and 2002 and losing in 2006 and ’10. The 2006 loss ended Indianapolis’ run at a perfect season and came in the midst of Romo-mania when Tony Romo took over the starting job. The ’10 loss was to Jon Kitna in overtime, 38-35, in what was Sean Lee’s breakout game.
In those four games, Manning has completed 107 of 159 passes for 1,184 yards with seven touchdowns and seven interceptions, four of which came in 2010.
It’s never easy when the Cowboys travel to the desert to face the Cardinals, and this season will be no different.
Offensively, the Cardinals present two reasons for concern: Larry Fitzgerald and Beanie Wells.
Cardinals' Fitzgerald could exploit Cowboys' weakness
You do not have to be a professional scout to know that Fitzgerald is one of the best wide receivers in the game. The Cowboys have struggled with receivers making plays down the field the past two games. I was concerned about what Brandon Marshall was going to do against this secondary, but I am even more concerned of the challenge that lies ahead with Fitzgerald.
When you study his game, you see a tremendous route runner -- not in the sense of an explosive player, but much like Miles Austin in that he runs his routes at the same speed throughout the route. Fitzgerald doesn’t give the corner any type of hint when he is going to break in his route. Most receivers in the NFL have to chop their steps or slow down to make cuts, but not Fitzgerald.
In my view, the most impressive trait he possesses is his hands. Other than Kurt Warner, Fitzgerald has played with some bad quarterbacks throughout his career in Arizona. Never have I seen a receiver that adjusts to more bad balls than this guy, but he is always coming up with the play.
The Cowboys have to be careful with Fitzgerald when he runs the inside routes, getting the ball on the move and exploding through the middle of the secondary. Remember what he did to the Steelers in the Super Bowl several years ago? He has done that this year as well.
The one personnel switch for the Cowboys will be that Mike Jenkins will be in the lineup. That takes Alan Ball off the field in the nickel, and it also allows Orlando Scandrick to go back to his role as the nickel corner.
RB Wells has very similar style to Cowboys' Murray
The Cowboys’ run defense has had stretches where it has been outstanding, then two games where the Eagles and Seahawks were able to gash the defense for some nice gains. Beanie Wells is more of a physical runner than a home-run back. His offensive line doesn’t give him much room, so he has to create opportunities on his own, but he doesn’t have the quickness of LeSean McCoy or Marshawn Lynch.
Wells can hurt you with the ability to use his vision to see a crease then make a cut, much like what we have seen with DeMarco Murray. Wells is not afraid to take the ball to the hole then allow the defenders to commit and bend it backside. The Cowboys’ run defense can be aggressive flowing to the ball, so what happens on the backside with these defensive ends and linebackers will be key if they are going to keep Wells in check.
The Cardinals will attempt to run Wells to keep the rush off Kevin Kolb, who is making his return to the starting lineup after dealing with a toe issue.
Matchup to exploit: Cardinals' offensive line
The biggest weakness of this Cardinals offense is their line. There is nothing pretty about the way they play or the effectiveness in which they operate.
Usually when I study an opponent each week, there are one or two players that I will like on their offensive line. There is no one on the Cardnals’ offensive line I would want if I were building a team.
Tackles Levi Brown and Jeremy Bridges struggle with speed off the edge, and it would be no surprise to me if Rob Ryan starts there to attack this offense. At the guard spot, things aren’t much better with former Packer Daryn Colledge and ex-Brown Rex Hadnot, who really struggle with movement of the defensive line and don’t do a good enough job of handling the twist stunts or games in the middle of the line. Colledge really struggled because he would become engaged with his block, then a linebacker would run through on the blitz and he was unable to adjust off that to secure the blitzer.
The biggest fear for the Cardinals is if they are stuffed on the run with Wells and it turns into a game where the Cowboys can tee off on Kolb. The fear for the Cowboys is that they allow this poor Cardinals line to block them like the Redskins did two weeks ago.
There are questions about Kolb’s health and mobility. The Cowboys need to take advantage of the situation when given the opportunity.
DT Dockett will be handful for Cowboys' line
Defensively for the Cardinals, tackle Darnell Dockett will be a handful for Kyle Kosier and Montrae Holland. I worry more about Holland because he tends to struggle with those players that can get on his outside shoulder and quickly get up the field. That is what we see in Docket’s game.
Dockett is an explosive player that loves to attack on the outside. Holland hates this type of player because he doesn’t always adjust quickly enough out of his stance.
The Cowboys have to be careful when they go to their outside game that Dockett isn’t allowed to get up the field and into the backfield to throw off pullers or John Phillips trying to get to the edge to secure the corner. Any type of penetration throws off timing and the execution of the blockers.
The Cowboys will have an advantage when the Cardinals have to rush the passer. Other than Dockett, this front really struggles with pressure. It is only when they are able to bring linebacker help that they are able to generate a pass rush.
The Cowboys have struggled some this season when teams have brought pressure from the linebackers in the middle of the defense. Center Phil Costa was better last week, but continue to watch how he and Holland handle these games.
Cards' young linebackers making some noise
The Cardinals have two young linebackers that I really like. Former TCU star Daryl Washington and Texas-ex Sam Acho really show up on tape. Both of these players are always around the football. Impressed with the way that they are able to fight blocks and finish plays.
Washington showed the ability to work through the trash, keep his balance and make the tackle in the hole. I would not call Washington a thumper like a younger Bradie James, but at the point of attack, he has done a nice job.
Acho is a nice player off the edge. In the Rams contest, he showed the quickness to come around the corner, beat the tackle and get a sack of Sam Bradford to cause a fumble. He and Dockett are the two best pressure players the Cardinals have in the front seven.
Don't overlook Peterson as defender, either
Rookie Patrick Peterson has created quite a buzz with his ability to return punts for touchdowns. Peterson is a talented cornerback, but I have heard the whispers that early in the season he wasn’t playing as well and was struggling in coverage.
I studied four games -- Eagles, 49ers, Rams and Ravens -- and did not see the struggles that scouts were speaking of. There was one play against the 49ers where he slipped on a stutter-go to Michael Crabtree and it ended up as a nice gain, but overall, I only observed a corner that could read the route, drive on the ball and defend the play. Didn’t see a corner that played with wasted steps or was not quick enough to keep position in the route.
In the Ravens game, Peterson did a nice job in press coverage, turning and running with his man, then finding the ball. In my view, Peterson did not look like a player that was struggling to do his job. We’ll see if Jason Garrett’s game plan will be to try to attack Peterson, but there are other areas that he can go to for better results.
Cowboys run game: Watch safety Wilson
When the Cowboys run the ball, they must be aware of safety Adrian Wilson, who likes to work around the line of scrimmage. Wilson is a physical player who is not afraid to mix it up against the run or pass.
When the Cardinals need a big play in the secondary, it will usually come from Wilson. Wilson can hurt you as a blitzer. He has a nice feel for how to time his blitz and be that disruptive player.
“I heard he ran the ball well,” defensive end Marcus Spears said, “but I watched DeMarco [Murray] run for 250-something on that same defense.”
Wells’ second 100-yard game of the season was at least impressive enough to get the Cowboys’ attention.
The Cowboys have played well against the run most of the season, including the last two weeks. But you don’t have to go too far back for evidence that this defense can get gashed.
The Cowboys allowed 185 rushing yards to Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy, 135 to Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch and 114 to Buffalo’s Fred Jackson over a three-week span. They don’t want to let Wells add his name to the list of backs to crack triple digits against the Dallas D, and they anticipate he’ll get plenty of opportunities.
“Guys play well,” Spears said. “If you don’t have an answer for them, they’ll hurt you. We’re not immune to that if we don’t go out there and prepare to play. Obviously, it makes you pay attention, because if I was a coach and I ran for 250 one week, I’d probably try to run it the next week.”
Welcome to Fred Jackson’s world.
Jackson will play at Cowboys Stadium Sunday as the NFL’s third-leading rusher on the very spot he once played touch football as a kid with his friends.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Jackson, who did not even star at Arlington Lamar High School. “We were young kids playing football out in the middle of the street. It will be good going back.”
He grew up an Emmitt Smith fan and wears No. 22 in honor of the NFL’s all-time leading rusher. Jackson has 803 rushing yards and 1,194 scrimmage yards. He is the first Buffalo back to average more than 100 yards a game through the first eight games of a season since Thurman Thomas in 1993.
“It’s a homecoming. I’ve yet to play there,” Jackson said. “I’m excited to play. Growing up in the state of the Texas you either want to play for the Cowboys or play against them. To get the opportunity to go down there and play, we’re coming down with a really good team that’s doing really well right now and we’ve got to win this game. You have to show up and play big.”
The Cowboys are coming off back-to-back nightmarish games for the run defense. Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy ran for 185 yards and Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch had 135 last week. Defensive end Marcus Spears called the work “terrible.”
“Whenever a team runs the ball against you you’ve got to look at it that way,” outside linebacker Anthony Spencer said. “If you can’t stop the run in this league, it’s hard to win games. Everybodu on this defense knows that.”
It’s up to the defense to ruin Jackson’s homecoming.