Dallas Cowboys: Terrence McGee

Detailing Dez Bryant: Week 10

November, 16, 2011
It started with the spectacular and ended with six catches on six targets. The weekly Dez Bryant throw-by-throw:

34-YARD TOUCHDOWN: On first-and-10 from the Buffalo 34, Bryant lines up wide left and runs a stutter-go against Leodis McKelvin, who was playing off coverage. McKelvin is in position to pick off a slightly underthrown pass, but Bryant makes the former first-round pick look like a little kid, soaring over the cornerback to make a spectacular leaping catch. “He will win ties,” Jerry Jones said. “He does do that. That’s what he’s always done. He’ll win those. We’ve got to feel good about it.”

13-YARD GAIN: On first-and-10 from the Buffalo 23, Bryant lines up wide left and runs a stop route against Terrence McGee, who was playing off coverage. After pivoting, Bryant cleanly catches a pass delivered a couple of steps toward the sideline. He doesn’t gain any yardage after the catch.

4-YARD GAIN: On first-and-10 from the Buffalo 40, Bryant lines up wide right and runs a drag route. Romo has to double-pump because of a defensive lineman leaping to block the original window for the throw. That allows cornerback Drayton Florence to close quickly and make the tackle before Bryant can turn upfield.

NO GAIN: On first-and-10 from the Buffalo 22, Bryant lines up wide right and motions toward the backfield, reversing direction at the snap. Romo throws a swing pass to Bryant, who can’t make McGee miss in the open field. This play worked well with Kevin Ogletree earlier in the season, but the Bills McGee wasn’t fooled.

11-YARD GAIN: On third-and-6 from the Buffalo 18, Bryant lines up wide right and runs a slant against McKelvin, who was playing press coverage. McKelvin, who doesn’t jam, appears to anticipate the fade route and bites badly when Bryant releases to the outside. McKelvin gets completely turned around when Bryant plants hard with his right foot and makes his break. McKelvin and safety Jairus Byrd make the tackle immediately after the catch.

12-YARD GAIN: On second-and-8 from the Dallas 36, Bryant lines up wide left and runs a deep in cut. Florence plays press coverage at the line of scrimmage, but Bryant gets a clean release inside and is wide open when he catches the ball at the Buffalo 48. He loses four yards while trying to avoid linebacker Kelvin Sheppard.

Scout's Eye: Bills-Cowboys key matchups

November, 12, 2011

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

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.