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Scout's Eye: Cowboys-Patriots review

10/18/2011

After a much-needed bye, the Cowboys traveled east to take on the New England Patriots and their Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady.

The theme all week in the media was how Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan would choose to attack Brady and this Patriots offense that puts so much pressure on your ability to not only cover their outstanding skill players, but still keep enough defenders in the box to deal with a running game that was physical at the point of attack.

I will give Ryan and his defensive staff a great deal of credit for putting together a game plan that made it difficult for the Patriots to move the ball for the majority of the day. Ryan's troops were able to force the Patriots into something that they don't normally do -- turn the ball over. The only other game I studied getting ready for this game in which I saw the Patriots struggle with turnovers was their loss to the Bills.

I thought it would be difficult for the Cowboys to force this Patriots offense into turnovers, but they forced fumbles and put enough pressure on Brady to force him into two interceptions. Ryan did it with a variety of fronts and coverages.

One of Brady's greatest strengths of is his ability to come to the line, check the defense and move his personnel around to make you pay for the look you are giving him. Ryan played with his nickel-and-dime packages throughout the contest, which allowed him to get his best cover men on the field at all times. It was the first time that he was able to do this since the first week of training camp in San Antonio.

ORLANDO SCANDRICK VS. WES WELKER

We all know the type of player that Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker is. He is a dynamic weapon who rarely allows the defense to rest. He will line up all over the formation and can be used in so many different ways.

With all that being said, there was no doubt in my mind that Orlando Scandrick could line up against him and battle him for 60 minutes. Welker is so dangerous not due to his speed or hands, but his quickness. He is an explosive athlete. Scandrick has always been able to play with quickness.

Of all the cornerbacks on the Cowboys roster, Scandrick is best suited to play the slot because he is comfortable carrying receivers all over the field. When you play the slot in this league, you better be ready to have to cover the whole field.

Where Scandrick was so effective was his ability to understand what Welker was trying to do to him.

One of the best examples of this was on the last drive of the game for the Patriots. With 1:39 left and the ball sitting on the Cowboys 30, Ryan had his dime package on the field. At the snap, safeties Gerald Sensabaugh and Abram Elam dropped into a Cover 2 look with the middle of the field open.

Scandrick was one-on-one in the slot with Welker, who started on an inside route. Scandrick was able to use his quickness, maintain his position and defend the ball as Brady tried to fit it into a tight window. The cornerback was right there to knock it down.

If Scandrick does not get his hand on that ball, there is an outstanding chance that Welker scores on the play. Most cornerbacks in this league playing that route would have been flagged for pass interference.

I was not one bit surprised that Scandrick was able to play Welker so well. His conditioning appeared good and I knew that he would be prepared mentally to have to deal with Welker.

For the Cowboys going forward, this was a great sign with Scandrick back in the lineup. He can do so much in coverage and also be used as a blitzer, which is something that Ryan makes as part of his package.

JASON GARRETT'S GAME MANAGEMENT

I respect Jason Garrett as a head coach. I believe he is the right man for the job, but I also believe that with the newness of the job comes situations in game management that will need to be addressed.

I can't tell you how many questions I get about the play calling, whether it is at the end of a game or in the red zone. I don't understand why everyone is so up in arms about Garrett's red-zone play calling. What have you been watching the last two years?

I go back to a game in which Garrett tried to force the ball to special teams ace Sam Hurd against Champ Bailey in Denver while Jason Witten blocked air. I remember a game against the Chargers where Leonard Davis and Andre Gurode couldn't secure the linebacker through the "A" gap but Garrett continued to call that play until Marion Barber was stopped on downs.

In a game in which the Cowboys needed touchdowns, they had to settle for field goals. Let's take a look at the plays that were called with 6:39 left in the fourth quarter with the ball on the Patriots 10:

First-and-goal from the 10: Witten starts at fullback then motions left, Martellus Bennett is in line with Miles Austin in the right slot. Dez Bryant is wide right. Tashard Choice is the single back. The Patriots are in their nickel package.

Garrett makes a nice call on a delay screen to Bennett, who holds for just a second as a blocker then releases to his left. Guard Bill Nagy and center Phil Costa release from the inside to work in front of Bennett. Nagy is the lead blocker and throws his body into the support. Costa misses his man, who trips Bennett.

On the front side, Andre Carter has rushed wide around left tackle Doug Free, who doesn't finish his block. Carter, hustling on the play, gets back to the outside and makes the tackle after a 5-yard gain.

Second-and-goal from the 5: Garrett goes with the gun, putting Choice in the game next to Romo. Kevin Kowalski is now in the game at left guard because of the injury to Nagy. Austin is in the slot to the right with Laurent Robinson wide right. Bryant is outside left. Witten is in line on the right side. Patriots are in regular personnel.

This was the one shot that Garrett was going to take with Bryant on the jump ball. Bryant goes inside then works back out near the sideline. Leigh Bodden is in coverage and is off-balance but recovers. Witten goes vertical but is doubled, Austin runs the out. Robinson is one-on-one with Devin McCourty, who is in man coverage runs across the back of the end zone with some separation right to left. Choice goes through the line then works to his left.

Tony Romo looks left to check Witten and Robinson but comes back to the left side. Bryant is deep in the left corner without much room. Safety James Ihedigbo is sitting on the goal line in coverage with Brandon Spikes waiting on Choice. Romo throws the ball into the ground.

Third-and-goal from the 5: Robinson is wide right and comes in motion toward Austin in the slot. Romo is in the gun with Witten to his right and Choice to his left. Bryant is wide to the left with Ihedigbo once again on the goal line. Bryant releases inside.

At left tackle, Free checks inside with his hand on Spikes, who is blitzing from the backside, but doesn't pick him up. Costa blocks back, getting his man. Spikes is now chasing the play from the backside as Free lets him go to pick up Carter. Spikes quickly closes down as Choice gets the ball from Romo on the shovel pass.

Play looks like it has a chance if Spikes was blocked, but he is not and Choice is tackled for a 3-yard loss, which results in a field-goal attempt.

Here is the breakdown of the second-to-last series for the Cowboys, when Garrett choose to run the ball three straight times:

The situation for the Cowboys was first-and-10 from their own 28-yard line with 3:36 remaining and the Cowboys holding a 16–13 lead. Before the snap, Romo has to move Bryant across the formation because he was lined up in the wrong spot. Bryant is now wide right with Witten lined up behind him before coming in motion inside to line up right off Tyron Smith's hip. Bennett is in line on the left side, Phillips is lined up at full back.

At the snap of the ball, Spikes attacks Costa on the blitz over his nose, which Costa tries to adjust to handle his charge. As Costa is fighting Spikes, he bumps into Phillips, whose path is now thrown off. DeMarco Murray never gets started with the ball in his hand. Phillips doesn't get enough of his man. Witten on the front side is beaten by Ihedigbo, who makes the tackle for a 2-yard loss.

Second and 12 after a Patriots time out: Garrett sticks with his three tight end package. Austin is wide right, Murray is the single back. Witten is in line to the left, Bennett on the right. Phillips is a wing left. Phillips motions left to right, Kowalski pulls from his left to right.

The line blocks back to the left. Kosier blocking down hits Spikes but falls off the block, which causes Murray to have to adjust. Bennett doesn't move his feet at the point of attack. Shaun Ellis swims Bennett and is able to adjust to Murray for the tackle and a loss of one.

Third and 13: Garrett goes with three wide receivers and one tight end. Witten slot left, Austin and Robinson outside left. Bryant is lined up wide right. Shotgun with Choice left of Romo. Patriots counter with seven defensive backs. But Tyron Smith is flagged for a false start.

Third and 18: Garrett keeps the same personnel group in the game. The Cowboys go bunch left with Witten, Austin, and Bryant. Robinson is wide right with Choice lined up left of Romo. The Patriots go with six defensive backs. Austin motions left out of the bunch. The Cowboys use draw blocking on the inside handoff to Choice. Costa and Kowalski again cannot handle Wilfork, who makes the tackle.

ROMO'S INTERECEPTION

Bryant is wide right, and Austin is in the slot inside of him. Witten is slot left. Robinson is outside him. Choice is to the right of Romo, who steps up for the blitz pickup. Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington is covering Austin in the slot and drops into his zone. Bryant runs up 8 yards then inside but really rounds the route off at the top. Choice picks up Spikes on the inside blitz, but Spikes spins off him because he doesn't hit him square.

Romo is affected by the pressure in his face and now is trying to throw the ball off his back foot. Smith gives up outside pressure to Andre Carter. As Bryant is running his route, I question whether he is really running it at full speed. Romo's pass was way off his back foot and not accurate, hitting Arrington in the chest. I thought it was a poor route but a poor pass as well.