Dallas Cowboys: Ryan Fitzpatrick

Tony RomoAP Photo/Tony GutierrezTony Romo has 18 fourth-quarter comebacks and 19 game-winning drives, including five last season.
Last week ended with the news of a massive contract extension for Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo. Although this news had been expected for some time, it was accompanied by the predictable wailing and gnashing of teeth about how Romo has never won anything, always blows it in the big games and isn't worth that kind of money. Few players are as polarizing as Romo, and everybody from Dez Bryant to Donovan McNabb offered a reaction of one extreme or the other.

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Fitzsimmons & Durrett discuss Tony Romo's contract extension and what it says about Jerry Jones.

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Then came the quarterback news from the early part of this week, and with it a heavy dose of perspective about just what Romo is and how thankful the Cowboys are to have him locked up long-term.

In case you missed it, the Oakland Raiders acquired Matt Flynn from Seattle in a trade, then traded Carson Palmer to Arizona. Kevin Kolb, formerly of Arizona, signed with the Buffalo Bills, who recently released Ryan Fitzpatrick. This week has been a big game of mediocre quarterback musical chairs, desperate teams settling for the least lousy options they can find on a market bereft of franchise quarterbacks.

Romo is not one of the elite quarterbacks of the NFL. That tier is reserved for record-breakers and champions. But he is a franchise quarterback -- someone around whose skills and ability a team can confidently build. Do the Cowboys wish he hadn't thrown three interceptions in the regular-season finale against the Redskins with the division on the line? Of course they do. But when they step back and see the big picture, they find ample reason to believe Romo is the quarterback for them.

PODCAST
ESPN Insider Ed Werder joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to discuss Tony Romo's contract extension and what needs to happen for Romo to lead the Cowboys to a championship.

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He has delivered for them. Not on the level Cowboys fans demand, which is to say a playoff and championship level, but Romo's career is not simply a laundry list of choke jobs. He has 18 career fourth-quarter comebacks and 19 game-winning drives, including five this past season alone. The Cowboys were 3-5 at one point in 2012 but won five of their next six to get back into contention for the division. The wins in that stretch included Romo-led comebacks against the Browns, Eagles, Bengals and Steelers. During that stretch, he threw 11 touchdown passes and three interceptions.

None of this erases or excuses Romo's miserable flop in Week 17 in Washington, but it does serve to illustrate that he can play quarterback at a high level. He isn't completely clueless about how to win games that need to be won when things aren't going well. If a quarterback shows he can do that, you have reason to believe that someday he might come through in that really big game that always has seemed to vex him. Romo is certainly good enough to win playoff games and a championship for the Cowboys. The fact that he hasn't done it yet doesn't rule out the possibility that it could happen someday. The Cowboys have seen enough good from Romo to warrant hope that he won't always be bad when they need him the most.

If that sounds like damning with faint praise, just look around and tell me who is both available and better. The main reason the Cowboys locked up Romo long-term is because they like him and believe they can win with him. But the deal also helps them against this year's salary cap and, more important, gives them the peace of mind. They won't have to sift through dispiriting, insufficient options year after year at the most important position on the roster.

Romo can't hide his flaws. His term as starting quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys has coincided with a down period in franchise history. He bears some responsibility for this, as does everyone connected with the team. Although the criticism of Romo can be over the top at times, it is not always without merit. He has flopped too many times in critical spots.

But oh, could it be worse, Cowboys fans. Whatever else he is, Romo is a quarterback who gives you a chance to win every week. He's a quarterback you've seen come back in the fourth quarter, many times. You've seen him make brilliant throws on the run after the play breaks down. You've watched him succeed and thrive, for weeks at a time, behind poor offensive lines and in spite of incompetent performances by injury-ravaged (or simply incompetent) defenses. He is exciting, and regardless of how many times he has played poorly in big games, he offers you legitimate reason to believe you're never out of it.

And when it comes right down to it, this week's NFL quarterback news poses the question quite clearly: Would you rather be stuck with Romo for the next half-decade or be one of these teams that has to play in the Flynn/Palmer/Kolb/Fitzpatrick end of the quarterback pool every year? Put it that way, and Romo's contract extension makes a lot more sense. The Cowboys are, in fact, lucky to have him.

Final Word: NFC East

December, 23, 2011
12/23/11
12:34
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 16:

Wow, does something have to give: The Minnesota Vikings have played nine games in a row without intercepting a pass -- the longest such streak in the league since the NFL-AFL merger. Their six interceptions for the season is the lowest total in the league, obviously. But this week they get to face Washington Redskins quarterback Rex Grossman, who has thrown at least one interception in 10 straight games and whose 18 interceptions for the season are one short of Ryan Fitzpatrick's league lead -- remarkable considering Grossman has played in only 11 games. One of these streaks ends Saturday. Which way are you betting?

[+] EnlargeHakeem Nicks
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesHakeem Nicks and the Giants' receivers are among the NFL leaders in dropped passes.
Third and wrong: The New York Giants are working on a streak of five games in which their opponent has converted at least 50 percent of its third-down opportunities. That's the longest such streak since the merger, and the Giants are 1-4 in those games. The good news is that the Jets' third-down conversion percentage of 36.5 is only the 18th-best in the league, much worse than that of any of the five teams the Giants have played during that stretch.

Hang on tight: Even if the Giants' offensive line can keep the Jets away from quarterback Eli Manning, Manning will need his receivers to catch the ball. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Giants receivers have 28 dropped passes this season, second-most in the league behind the Cleveland Browns. Hakeem Nicks' drop of what would have been a long touchdown pass early in the Week 15 loss to Washington stands out, but the team has five drops in the past two weeks. Victor Cruz leads the team with seven this season, and Nicks, Jake Ballard and Mario Manningham have five.

Thank the big guys up front: Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy is in the midst of a special and historic season, having already set a team record with 20 touchdowns and amassed 1,579 yards from scrimmage. But a large part of his success as a runner is due to the job the Eagles' offensive line has done blocking for him. According to ESPN Stats & Info, McCoy leads the league in the percentage of his yards that are gained before initial contact -- 64.4 percent. Of his 1,274 rush yards, 820 have come before he has been hit. McCoy is extremely shifty and excels at finding his way through holes. But his line is also doing a great job of making those holes for him.

Playing clean: Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has played three games in a row without throwing an interception and has just two interceptions (against 18 touchdown passes) in his past seven games. If he can avoid turning the ball over against the Eagles, the Cowboys will greatly improve their chances of winning. Philadelphia leads the league with 35 turnovers, and its minus-12 turnover margin is the second-worst in the league.

Source: Frank Walker fined $7,500

November, 30, 2011
11/30/11
4:13
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IRVING, Texas -- Frank Walker’s unnecessary roughness penalty cost the Cowboys 15 yards on Thanksgiving and it ended up costing the veteran cornerback $7,500 in a fine from the NFL, according to a source.

Walker shoved Anthony Fasano after the tight end was out of bounds, giving the Dolphins the ball at the Dallas 3. The Cowboys held the Dolphins to a 23-yard field goal three plays later.

It was the third fine of the season for the Cowboys. DeMarcus Ware was fined $15,000 for a hit on Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Kevin Ogletree was fined $7,500 for a facemask in the Week 2 win at San Francisco.

Scout's Eye: Cowboys-Bills review

November, 15, 2011
11/15/11
9:30
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Scout's Eye
Jason Garrett has received much criticism for his play calling this season. In my view, not all of it has been fair because of the poor execution of the offense at times.

Garrett has struggled the most in the red zone, but on Sunday against the Bills, every play that he dialed up on his call sheet seemed to work just fine.

The DeMarco Murray Effect


I mentioned on 103.3 FM ESPN that not only has DeMarco Murray made this offensive line better, he has helped Tony Romo and made Jason Garrett a better play caller. The goal of any offensive coordinator is to stay ahead of the chains, no negative plays. Murray has allowed Garrett to calls plays at manageable downs and distances.

When you now study the Cowboys on offense, you do see the same plays: the draw, toss, and power. Garrett and this staff are running the same plays, they just have a back that is doing a better job of using his patience, vision and power to finish runs.

There are still plenty of times where Montrae Holland misses when he pulls or Phil Costa gets over powered on the front side or Tyron Smith doesn’t quite get his head across the man on the backside. Murray’s running style helps this offensive line when things aren’t exactly blocked well or clean.

Something that I also want to point out about Murray that others have failed to mention is his ability as a pass protector. I counted three different times where Murray was asked to pick up a blitzing linebacker and all three times he was a square protector that did his job with solid skill and technique. One of the biggest things you worry about with rookie running backs is their ability to pass protect, but what you really worry about the most is their ability to block the right guy. Murray had no problem doing this.

Great grab: WR Robinson continues to impress


When the Cowboys signed wide receiver Laurent Robinson before the start of the season, I can honestly say that I didn’t know much about his game or what he could have brought to the team. Robinson has been more than just a reliable third receiver. He functions well as the No. 2 guy.

Robinson has come in, learned the playbook and been super productive. Robinson runs nice routes and adjusts well to the ball on the move. More importantly, he has become a target that the quarterback feels very comfortable throwing the ball to in any situation.

PODCAST
Bryan Broaddus, official scout of ESPNDallas.com, breaks down the film from the Cowboys' impressive win over the Bills.

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On his first of his two touchdowns against the Bills, the Cowboys go empty formation with three wide receivers and two tight ends. Jason Witten is lined up in line to the left, Martellus Bennett in line to the right. Dez Bryant is lined up wide right with Kevin Ogletree slot left and Robinson wide left. Romo is lined up in the shotgun, and by the alignment of the Bills defense, he knows that he is going to get pressure from his left side.

At the snap, Robinson is met two yards deep in the end zone by cornerback Drayton Florence, who carries Robinson deep into the end zone. Robinson feels himself getting cut off in route by Florence. Robinson, running hard to his left, stops after seeing that Romo has now rolled to his side. Robinson shifts his weight, and comes back to the right. Florence loses Robinson on the adjustment, allowing Robinson to gain space in the back of the end zone.

In the blocking scheme up front for the Cowboys, Witten is staying in to block, but it looks like he doesn’t slide down inside with Free to pick up the safety Bryan Scott. Instead he is blocking on the outside on linebacker Arthur Moats. Scott now has a free run at Romo, who sees what is happening and spins to his left out of the pressure. Romo is able to square his shoulders and deliver the ball to Robinson in the back corner of the end zone with no one around him.

Nice adjust by Robinson, great read from Romo and the first of two touchdowns for a player that was picked up off the street before the season that is making a big difference in this offense.

Nowhere to run: Cowboys defense plugs the holes


There are times when you study an opponent and believe there are potential problems that you will have to deal with throughout the day if you are going to find a way to win that game.

My belief going into this game against the Bills was that they would give the Cowboys problems defensively with Fred Jackson running the ball and Ryan Fitzpatrick delivering it quickly from the pocket. I had seen the Bills move the ball with a wide-open attack that stretched defenses to their edges to defend the entire field. This is an offense that uses four- and five-wide sets that features screens and crossing routes at different levels.

The more I studied this Bills offense, the less I fully trusted that this Cowboys defense could truly defend them down after down.

On the other side, the Bills defense did not present that much of a problem from what I was able to observe. Sure this was a team that was ranked first in the league in takeaways but I felt that if the Cowboys protected the ball offensively, they could create some problems of their own.

Defensively, the biggest question for the Cowboys was whether the run defense could contain Jackson, who on tape played with impressive power and explosiveness. He was one of those backs that made you pay if you were not in good position to make a wrap-up tackle.

In the previous two weeks, the Cowboys really struggled in the stopping the run. The primary problem was at defensive end, but run fits with their linebackers were an issue as well. When you have outside linebackers like DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer, they want to get up the field in a hurry. This puts pressure on your ends to hold the point of attack while taking on blocks. Kenyon Coleman, Marcus Spears, Jason Hatcher and Sean Lissemore had been getting moved off their spot and not stacking the point of attack.

When the ends are able to hold that point, it makes the jobs of Sean Lee, Keith Brooking and Bradie James much easier to get to the ball and finish plays.

When I studied this Buffalo line, I was not impressed with their ability to get push but was impressed with their ability to stay on their feet and sustain their blocks. The Cowboys had success in the first half against Jackson, not allowing him any room to run or the lanes to make those cutback runs. Jackson is at his best when he can attack the hole and if nothing is there, then bounce the ball outside.

Spears and Coleman were able to hold the point and physically take the game to this offensive line, not allowing any type of movement. The Cowboys defensive ends were physical in this game and that is why the Bills were unable to move the ball in the first half when the game was still in the balance.

In the second half, Jackson was able to hit on some runs that were more a product of spreading the Cowboys out and defenders missing tackles. Jay Ratliff had a missed tackle in the hole, Lee was trying to get Jackson down with one arm and was unable to. Carter got trapped inside and out of position, which led to a good gain, and he also had trouble getting off a block on another play that helped Jackson pad his numbers.

After the game, Rob Ryan said not to worry about what we saw from the run defense. I tend to agree because of what I saw in the first half and the way the Cowboys played at the point of attack. As long as Coleman, Spears, Hatcher and Lissemore can hold up on the outside, then you will see a team that was best in the NFL against the run through the first six weeks.

Sean Lee was much more than a cast player


When Lee dislocated his wrist two weeks ago against the Eagles and had to sit out the Seattle game, there was no question in my mind that if the swelling would go down and the pain would lesson, he would attempt to get back on the field as soon as possible. There was not going to be any questions of Lee’s toughness. It was a matter of whether trainers Jim Maurer and Britt Brown could fit him with a cast that allowed him to play.

What Lee played with Sunday on his left hand and wrist did nothing more than protect his injury. For a linebacker like Lee who is outstanding at playing with his hands, it truly was a handicap. Without the use of his fingers, Lee was reduced to a one-armed football player.

But what you have to remember about Lee is his incredible desire to get to the ball and also the football smarts that he possesses. A player that doesn’t have these two traits would have been no good to his team with the condition he was trying to play under.

Lee had a plan to how he was going to tackle in this Bills game. He is so quick reading the play that it allowed him to almost hesitate just a bit to get his body in position to make the tackle with his shoulder. Once Lee was able to get close enough to the ball carrier, you could see him try to wrap his arms as quickly around the man as he could.

Lee played like he had no fear of using his hands, hurt or not. There were several times where as he was moving down the line, he was able to fire his hands inside, control the blocker, shed and make the tackle.

Watching him drop in his coverage and play in the red zone, you would have never known that he had a club on his hand. I mentioned before that he had one missed tackle of Jackson, but that was the only one that I saw. To his credit, he had an opportunity for several more misses, but it did not happen.

Going into this game, there was so much unknown of how Lee would be able to function in the defense and still be productive. At the end of the day, he was anything but a liability.

One mistake: Only 10 defenders on the field


The only touchdown that the Cowboys defense gave up against the Bills came with only 10 defenders on the field.

With the Cowboys leading 21-0, the Bills break the huddle with four receivers and one running back. Ryan counters with six defensive backs, two defensive linemen and two linebackers, which means there are only 10 players on the field.

In the previous two plays, DeMarcus Ware was not on the field and Victor Butler and Alex Albright were. At the snap, Lee, Hatcher, Ratliff and Spencer all rush. On the left side of the Cowboys defense, Bills wide receivers Donald Jones and David Nelson are lined up with Nelson in the slot and Jones outside. Frank Walker is lined up over Jones with Orlando Scandrick on Nelson and safety Abram Elam two yards deep in the end zone.

When the Bills receivers break off the ball, Elam and Scandrick switch responsibilities. Jones carries Walker into Scandrick. Elam has Nelson on the goal line. Fitzpatrick, feeling the rush, sprints to his right. Jones is now open in the back corner of the end zone but Fitzpatrick makes the more difficult throw to Nelson, who is covered well by Elam. Nelson is able to snatch the ball away from Elam and gets into the end zone for the touchdown.

Garrett wouldn’t say what happened on the play, but I have to feel like that either Ware or one of the backup linebackers were not on the field when they were supposed to be.

Scout's Eye: Bills-Cowboys key matchups

November, 12, 2011
11/12/11
8:00
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Cowboys run defense vs. Bills RB Fred Jackson: After leading the league in rush defense through the first six weeks of the season, the Cowboys have done a poor job of playing the run the last two weeks.

Scout's Eye
In those first six games, the front seven was rock solid in getting off blocks and tackling. Last week against the Seahawks, the linebackers were better, but still the biggest problem was how defensive ends Marcus Spears and Kenyon Coleman continued to struggle to get off blocks and play with a physical nature at the point of attack. When Spears and Coleman struggle in the running game, there are going to be problems because they set the edge by holding up blockers and allowing the linebackers to make plays.

Jackson presents a new challenge for the Cowboys' defensive front. When you study Jackson, you see a slasher that is able to make quick, explosive cuts. Jackson has the size to be physical finishing runs and can be dangerous when he takes the ball inside, then quickly bounces it outside. Jackson also shows the ability to run the ball inside with toughness.

The Bills' offensive staff will line him up all over the formation. There have been several plays where Jackson lined up at wide receiver, caught the ball cleanly, then made the defense have to make a tackle in space. Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan also has to be careful if the Bills spread his defense out and run the ball inside out of the shotgun with Jackson. Last week, Barry Church was used as a nickel linebacker and played well in that role, so this could be the answer that Ryan has for when the Bills try to spread out.

The Bills are not a physical offensive line and will struggle with consistent movement up front. If the Bills do have success running the ball, the focus will once again turn to the Cowboys' defensive ends.

Cowboys WRs vs. Bills CB Drayton Florence: Last week against the Jets, Bills cornerback Terrence McGee went all over the field in coverage against Santonio Holmes. McGee is the best secondary player the Bills have. The defensive back that struggles the most is Florence, the starter on the right side.

The Cowboys need to try to stay away from McGee, who does a really nice job of running with his man, playing the ball in the air and tackling. Florence is the opposite player of McGee. He doesn’t play with the same passion or intensity of McGee.

There is some softness in his game when it comes to defending the pass. Florence tends to give up slants or inside breaking routes. In both the Giants and Jets games he allowed easy access inside.

At one time, Florence had outstanding timed speed, but in the games I studied, players were able to run by him without much effort. Receivers were able to take him on vertical routes.

McGee is a good tackler, but Florence really struggles. Against the Eagles, he really had a problem with bringing ball carriers down in space.

The Bills will play press man, and Dez Bryant did a much better job fighting of that coverage last week. I look for the Cowboys to try and attack that side of the field with Bryant and the other receivers against Florence if a play needs to be made.

Cowboys OLB DeMarcus Ware vs. Bills LT Andy Levitre: Levitre is normally the starter at left guard, but he has had to make the move to left tackle because of the injury to Demetrius Bell (shoulder).

This will be Levitre’s third start at tackle and probably his most difficult assignment. Levitre likes to use his hands more as placement than as a puncher. The way tackles have had success against Ware is by making him have to restart his rush. Levitre really doesn’t have the upper body strength to do that to Ware, but he does have good enough feet to work against him if Ware tries to take him wide.

There are two ways the Bills will try and help Levitre. The first would be what Seattle did -- keep extra blockers in on Ware’s side. If that’s the case, then Anthony Spencer will have to make plays like he did last week. The second and most effective way will be for quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to continue to get rid of the football quickly.

One of the best traits that Fitzpatrick has is taking the football and quickly firing it to the receiver. There are times where you do see pressure from the defense, but getting Fitzpatrick on the ground has been difficult. The Bills are first in the league when it comes to sacks per attempt.

Levitre is a much better guard than he is a tackle. If the Cowboys are able to get pressure on the Bills, it will most likely come from that left side of the line.

Scout's Eye: Cowboys-Bills preview

November, 11, 2011
11/11/11
9:00
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Scout's Eye
We all play this game in the media where you take the Cowboys' schedule when it comes out and go through it game by game, circling win or loss.

Then when you are done with that you make your prediction for the team's overall record, which is usually wrong. This year I had the Cowboys at 9-7 and not making the playoffs, but the Buffalo game was one that I had circled as a win.

I still believe the Cowboys will defeat the Bills at Cowboys Stadium on Sunday afternoon, but I have a feeling it will be a victory that they will have to fight to get.

Jackson leads versatile Bills offense


Offensively, the Buffalo Bills are led by Ryan Fitzpatrick, who isn’t your typical NFL quarterback. He is not the most skillful athlete or passer, but he does a tremendous job of taking the snap and getting rid of the ball quickly.

The Bills’ offense is similar to a college offense in the way they get in four- and five-wide receiver sets. They use running backs like C.J. Spiller as a wide receiver or wide receiver David Nelson as a move guy, like an H-back across the formation, and as a blocker.

The strength of this Bills offense is running back Fred Jackson. Jackson is most dangerous when he takes the handoff and attacks the line, then slashes to a hole on the backside.

[+] EnlargeFred Jackson
Richard Mackson/US PresswireFred Jackson has been running all over NFL defenses and is the key cog in the Bills' attack.
Jackson is athletic enough to make you miss in the hole. He can spin, cut and dodge defenders with the best of them. I saw plays where defenders had Jackson stopped, but he was able to start, stop, then restart again.

Jackson plays a lot lighter than the 215 pounds he carries. He will bounce the ball to the outside in an instant and has the vision to see where he needs to go and how to get in and out.

Jackson catches the ball with ease. He is used on screens and swings out of the backfield and even split out wide.

There was a nice design of a screen against Washington, where Jackson started his route to the outside from the backfield then planted his outside foot and broke to the middle, which allowed his linemen to set up their blocks. It was an easy throw for Fitzpatrick and a huge gain.

The Bills also can show a college look when they use third quarterback Brad Smith in the “Wildcat” formation. Smith has made a nice career as one of the best kick returners in the NFL, but he can be an effective quarterback throwing and more importantly running the ball out of the shotgun. Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has to be careful on third downs with the Bills sneaking Smith into the game to run the scheme.

Receivers are reliable weapons for Fitzpatrick


At wide receiver, I mentioned what Nelson brings to the game with his ability to line up anywhere in the formation. Nelson in my view has the best hands on the team. He catches the ball away from his body and is natural doing it. Nelson is a deceptive route runner, so it looks like he is not running, but he is getting open. His height can make him a mismatch player, so the defensive back who covers him will have to be ready to be physical with him.

If Nelson has the best hands, Stevie Johnson is the best overall receiver when it comes to routes and getting open. Johnson is comfortable whether you play him in press or off coverage. He can get off the jam with nice technique. He’s Fitzpatrick’s best friend thanks to his ability to adjust to any type of pass that is thrown.

I only saw one drop by Johnson and that came against the Jets when he misplayed a slant. Usually Johnson eats those types of throws up because of the way he can position his body to keep himself between the defender and the ball.

Former Cowboys tight end Scott Chandler has also become a reliable weapon for Fitzpatrick in this offense. Chandler can get up the field, but he lines up more than just inline. The Bills like to flex him outside and try to give him space to operate.

The Cowboys have done a nice job this season when Ryan puts Frank Walker on the tight end. If the Bills try to move Chandler around, look for Walker to try to be right there with him, breathing the same air.

Offensive line misses injured starters


In the games I studied, the Bills' offensive line was struggling to replace injured starters. Andy Levitre was moved from guard to left tackle to replace Demetrius Bell, who has a shoulder problem and hasn’t practiced all week. Levitre is not the biggest guy, but he battled the best he could.

Against the Jets last week, Levitre was beaten badly to the inside. He was much better against the Redskins the previous week.

Chad Rinehart was the starter in Levitre’s place at guard. He struggled with a man on his nose with power and wasn’t all that good as a puller. If Bell is not able to go and Levitre has to play at left tackle, watch the matchup on that left side. Against the Jets, Rinehart failed to adjust to a blitz, twist stunt that caused pressure on Fitzpatrick.

Center Eric Wood is a nice player, as is guard Kraig Urbik. Tackle Erik Pears is a much better pass blocker than run blocker. Pears can be overpowered at times, but his footwork is good.

The ability of Fitzpatrick to get rid of the ball quickly helps this line from giving up pressures and sacks. In the running game, they are not a physical group, but the slightest bit of crease can be taken advantage of by Jackson. It might be hard for Ryan to attack this offense because they like to spread you out. The key to this game will be how physical the Cowboys are with this line.

Defense isn't model of consistency


Defensively, the Bills struggle to get off blocks with any consistency. Rookie Marcell Dareus isn’t playing like the explosive player from Alabama I studied on college tape last year. Kelvin Sheppard is a rookie starter from LSU who at times will be good reading the run and filling the hole and fighting the block. He gets into trouble when he doesn’t read plays quickly enough.

If the Bills are going to get pressure on an offense in the passing game, it will be when they run twists inside with the defensive tackles in the nickel or inside linebacker cross-blitz stunts.

The Bills have a physical safety in George Wilson who is always around the ball. Wilson is a good tackler and he can cover a tight end. He will also be used as a blitzer off the back side.

Backup safety Bryan Scott is used in a role similar to the one we saw the Cowboys use Barry Church in last week. He will play as a nickel inside linebacker and is much better in coverage than he is against the run, unlike Church, who made his best plays taking on blockers and getting to the ball.

The Cowboys need to take advantage of Scott when he is in the game by running the ball right at him. He doesn’t play with the physical style of Church, which hurts the Bills in this area.

In my scouting view, the best defensive player on the Bills is cornerback Terrence McGee. Last week against the Jets, McGee went all over the field covering the Jets' Santonio Holmes. McGee can cover well and does a nice job in the slot. He is solid playing the ball in the air and is a willing hitter.

On the other side, Drayton Florence is not as good as he needs to be and I now understand why the Bills drafted Aaron Williams out of Texas with an early second-round pick. Florence plays way too soft and he will give up routes to the inside. He doesn’t do a good job of defending the slant. In the Jets and Giants games, receivers had an easy time getting inside on him.

The Giants’ Hakeem Nicks was also able to take him vertically down the field. One other thing noticable about Florence is that he really doesn’t like to tackle and he is not that good at it when he gets the chance. Watch for the Cowboys to work the ball to his side of the field and make him play in this game.

In the three games I studied, the Bills had four interceptions. It was amazing the amount of tipped passes they were able to come down with. In the Jets game, Mark Sanchez had one get knocked up in the air off Plaxico Burress that ended up in the defense’s hands. Defensive end Alex Carrington tipped a Michael Vick screen that ended up being picked off. On the other two, Sanchez overthrew his man in the end zone, and Chris Kelsay was able to put pressure on Vick to cause a poor, off-balance throw.

Offense will put Cowboys to the test


If the Cowboys are going to win this game, it’s going to come down to how well Rob Ryan’s crew matches up with the Bills' offense. I believe the Cowboys' offense will be fine, but it’s the Bills' offense that I worry about.

The Cowboys have really struggled the last two weeks in run defense when the defensive ends were pushed inside or tied up on blocks. Marcus Spears and Kenyon Coleman will need to play much better than they have the last two weeks.

I don’t see the Bills being powerful enough to physically go toe to toe with the Cowboys, but I didn’t think that Seattle could, either. Jackson is an outstanding back and is the type of player that will come at you all day. Getting pressure on Fitzpatrick will be tough, but if they don’t tackle Jackson, pressure will not matter.

Offensively the Cowboys will make plays against the Bills defense. The key for the Bills is creating turnovers, as it has been in their five victories.

On Sunday afternoon, the Cowboys will need to be the more physical team on both sides of the ball. And I think they will.

The Other Side: Buffalo News' Mark Gaughan

November, 10, 2011
11/10/11
9:09
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IRVING, Texas -- Sorry for the delay, but this week we bring you Mark Gaughan of the Buffalo News in our weekly The Other Side post to break down the Bills’ 5-3 start.

Archer - Jerry Jones has said he regretted firing Chan Gailey after two seasons, how has Gailey gone about turning things around apparently in his second year with the Bills?

Gaughan - The Bills had been in a decade-long offensive slump before Gailey arrived. They've finished in the bottom eight in the NFL in yards gained eight straight seasons entering this year. ... Gailey has brought a cohesive offensive philosophy and identity to the team, which was sorely lacking under previous coaches. The Bills have aimed to get bigger and more physical on the offensive line. They've changed personnel to reach that end. They have utilized the spread offense. ... But they're not as much of a pass-happy spread as some teams. They've kept a good commitment to run out of the spread. Gailey has adjusted to his personnel, and he has squeezed great production this season out of unheralded players.

Archer - Fred Jackson is coming home this week and I don't know the people in Arlington knew he could be this good. How is he doing it?

Gaughan - Jackson has been underestimated throughout his career because he's not a "speed" back. But don't be mistaken, he is a big-time talent. He's a big man, and he runs with great strength. He has a great ability to get yards after contact. He has incredible vision.

Archer - How much of a revelation has Ryan Fitzpatrick been and are you surprised at the amount of an extension he received?

Gaughan - You can't knock the results Fitzpatrick has produced since being paired with Gailey. In his first 16 games as a starting QB in Gailey's offense (through the first 3 weeks of this season), Fitzpatrick passed for 3,841 yards, with 32 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. ... His contract extension makes him the 16th highest paid QB in the NFL. It's very similar to the deal Kansas City gave Matt Cassel. ... It's the cost of doing business in the NFL.

Archer - Dave Wannstedt won a Super Bowl here. What has he meant to the Bills defense?

Gaughan - The Bills defense is improved this season, so there's no doubt he has helped (as have Marcell Dareus and Nick Barnett). ... Wannstedt is the assistant head coach and inside linebackers coach. He is Gailey's right-hand man and he helps defensive coordinator George Edwards put together the game plan. So he has a ton of input. Edwards calls the defensive plays.

Archer - Clearly Scott Chandler is doing something right. He couldn't get on the field with the Cowboys. Is it a product of the right time and right place for him?

Gaughan - Everyone would agree there's no shame in the fact Chandler could not beat out Jason Witten. Chandler can move pretty well for such a big man (he's 6-7) and he is a better than average blocker at tight end, too. So that has been a huge addition to the Bills' offense, which has not had a tight end of note since 2001. Chandler is a big target and an asset in the red zone.

Bills a good red-zone guide for Cowboys

November, 9, 2011
11/09/11
4:10
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- On Monday coach Jason Garrett said the offensive coaching staff would look at things the Cowboys have done in the past successfully in the red zone as well as look at what other teams do well in order to correct a flaw.

If Garrett wants, he can look at what Buffalo has done inside the opponents’ 20 for a guide.

Only Tennessee has a better touchdown percentage in the red zone than the Bills. Buffalo has scored a touchdown on 18 of 28 red-zone drives for a 64.3 percentage. Tennessee has scored touchdowns on 14 of 19 tries.

Buffalo is even better on goal-to-go situations, scoring a touchdown on 12 of 14 times.

The Cowboys have scored touchdowns on just 10 of 26 trips inside the opponent’s 20. Only Tampa Bay (3.4%) has a worse percentage than the Cowboys. In goal-to-go situations, the Cowboys have scored touchdowns on eight of 19 tries. Only Jacksonville has a worse percentage at 37.5.

“Your quarterback has to play good in the red zone,” Gailey said. “Your receivers have to go to the right place and you’ve got to have some guys down there who make some plays. [Ryan Fitzpatrick] and the receivers have done a great job of making plays in the red zone. We were fortunate early in the year to play extremely well there, and we’ve done OK lately. We need to get back to where we were earlier this season.”

Chan Gailey's trust in Ivy League QBs

November, 9, 2011
11/09/11
3:53
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- Chan Gailey must have an affinity for Ivy League quarterbacks.

Gailey was Miami’s offensive coordinator with Dartmouth grad Jay Fiedler in 2000 when the Dolphins went to the second round of the playoffs.

Now in his second year as Buffalo’s coach, Gailey’s offense is led by a Harvard man, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and the Bills are in playoff contention.

Should Gailey have given the Princeton grad a chance during his two-year run with the Cowboys in Jason Garrett?

“Well, the UCLA guy was pretty good,” Garrett joked.

Troy Aikman went 14-11 with Gailey has his coach from 1998-99. Garrett went 4-3 to help the Cowboys salvage two playoff seasons.

A few weeks ago Aikman, now Fox’s lead analyst, asked Gailey about Fitzpatrick, which prompted the coach to say, “He’s certainly the smartest quarterback I’ve had.”

“He set that one up,” Gailey said. “That one was so easy. He said tell me about Ryan Fitzpatrick. It was just a setup. I was able to hit the ball out of the park on that one. Troy was a great quarterback and extremely smart. I was fortunate to be around some good quarterbacks in my career.”

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