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Scout's Eye: Cowboys-Rams review

10/25/2011

There isn’t a weekend that goes by during the football season where you don’t hear a coach or a player tell you how difficult it is to win a game in the National Football League and how grateful they are when they get that victory.

If you are Jason Garrett and the Dallas Cowboys, be grateful that the St. Louis Rams were on your schedule when you needed a victory the most. The Rams defensively are as poor of a football team as I have seen this year when studying these Cowboys opponents.

There is nothing that the Rams do well at all on defense. As we saw on Sunday, they don’t get off blocks in the running game and other than cornerback Al Harris, they struggle to really have any productive plays on pass defense.

Offensively without quarterback Sam Bradford, running back Steven Jackson was going to struggle. Backup quarterback A.J. Feeley was not going to make enough plays to keep Rob Ryan from trying to gang up on Jackson.

ABRAM ELAM VS. STEVEN JACKSON

Jackson had showed the most success running the ball when he was able to bounce it outside, get around the corner and make defensive backs have to come up in support to handle him with a head of steam.

Jackson had two runs that hurt the Cowboys, and they were on back-to-back plays on the Rams’ touchdown drive. Abram Elam played as well as a safety has played here in a while, but he took a bad angle of each one of those runs. Those were the only minus plays that Elam had.

Elam did a nice job of running down Jackson from the backside earlier in the game. He also made a solid hit on Cadillac Williams, causing a fumble, and made an athletic play on the recovery. Then to finish his day, he came up with a sure tackle on the goal line on a fourth-and-1 to prevent a Rams touchdown.

Linebacker Sean Lee didn’t have a great first half by his standards -- overrunning a screen to the outside, getting trapped inside by the guard on a pull and missing a tackle coming from the inside in space. In the second half, Lee was a different player, making quick reads and getting through trash to make stops. Lee was also effective in pass defense, carrying wide receiver Danario Alexander across the formation in zone coverage to defend the ball.

DALLAS D HONOR ROLL

Cornerback Mike Jenkins had a nice game overall as well. Jenkins is playing with that same confidence that he showed in 2009. Jenkins showed good position in routes against the Rams best receiver, Brandon Lloyd. He had a nice interception off Feeley when he was able to keep inside leverage when Lloyd tried to take his route inside and was able to beat Lloyd to the ball. Coverage was so good that Lloyd stopped when going for the ball.

This is back-to-back weeks that Jay Ratliff has played well. Ratliff was active in the way that he was coming off the ball. He showed nice quickness and explosiveness off the snap. Was able to beat center Jason Brown to the front side for a tackle for loss, but he was also able to provide good pressure from the inside as well on the pass rush.

DeMarcus Ware beat the Rams' best tackle, Rodger Saffold, inside for a sack and a caused fumble. He was also able to beat Saffold in the red zone for pressure, which caused Feely to have to unload the ball early for an incomplete.

GOAL-LINE STAND

I always like to try and break down a play for you, good or bad, that happened during the game. This week I am going to take a look at the goal-line stand on the Rams’ final drive. With the game in hand and the Cowboys leading 34-7 with 1:44 left and nothing more to play for except pride, the Rams attempt to go for a touchdown on fourth-and-1.

On the previous play, the Rams had fourth-and-2, but Feeley got Ratliff to jump offsides, moving the ball to the Cowboys one. The Rams bring three tight ends into the game with one fullback. Rob Ryan counters with four down linemen, five linebackers and two defensive backs, which are safeties Elam and Gerald Sensabaugh.

Elam is lined up left, outside wing Michael Hoomanwanui, and at the snap charges up the field. Left defensive end Kenyon Coleman has beaten tight end Billy Bajema badly to the inside, which causes fullback Brit Miller to have to alter his blocking path. Elam is able to fight off the block of Hoomanwanui and knife to the outside.

Jackson wants to take the ball inside but is now forced to bounce it to the outside because Coleman and Elam are so far up the field. Ware and Sensabaugh have now reacted to the play and are there in support. Jackson is moving sideways as Elam stays wide enough to trip Jackson up for the loss and the defense gets the stop.

The play was a nice way to end what was a dominant day for Rob Ryan’s defense.

WHOLE BUNCH OF HOLES

As I mentioned before, the best medicine for an offense that had some questions after two weeks where execution was not at its best is to face a defense that really struggled to do anything right. I am not surprised that the Rams gave up the rushing yards that they did in that game, but I was more surprised to how easy it was for the Cowboys to do it.

When you run the football with success, there are usually two or three reasons why you do it. In this case for the Cowboys, the point-of-attack blocking was outstanding. Jason Witten, Tyron Smith, Kyle Kosier and Tony Fiammetta were all on point in this game. Much will be made about the game that Montrae Holland played at left guard, but the players I mentioned were outstanding.

When you watched the game, the Cowboys were able to down block or combo block effectively. Holland was good in his area’s blocks, but there were plenty of times where he wasn’t as good when he was asked to pull and hit his target. Smith and Kosier were getting so much push on the front side that Holland was having troubling finding a man to hit, and when he did, his adjustment was a little off.

Witten is not the type of guy that is going to hammer you off the line but can be solid when he shield blocks. In this game he was doing a nice job of this, whereas in some of the earlier games, he struggled to maintain his block.

I really do like Fiammetta at fullback and his ability to adjust on the move. He is more of an athlete than a bulky blocker, which makes him different than most fullbacks. Fiammetta has a real feel for how to see the play develop and correctly move to pick up his man. He is outstanding at finding his man then fitting on him to work him out of the hole.

Fiammetta can get in a little trouble when a linebacker attacks him in the hole. Chris Chamberlain got him one time, cracking him pretty good, but that was the only real poor play that he had.

DEMARCO MURRAY’S BIG DAY

The numbers speak for themselves on what DeMarco Murray was able to do with his carries. Jason Garrett always talks about opportunities and making the most of them, and he did.

I have to admit, the more that I watched Murray carry the ball, the more I wondered if Felix Jones would have had the same type of success. Murray made some nice cuts one on one and was a physical runner, but maybe the most important area that he looks like he improved in was as a pass protector.

This is what is going to be the most important thing for Murray going forward because there aren't always going to be days of playing the Rams, so you better be able to help the team when you are on the field on third downs. Murray was able to step up and take on a blitzer square and not allow any ground into Tony Romo.

Something else that I want to point out about Murray was his ability to play with some smarts. In the Washington game earlier this season, we all saw Tashard Choice run out of bounds with time winding down in the game, stopping the clock and allowing Washington to save a timeout. Murray was able to get the ball to the outside late in the game but instead of going out of bounds to stop the clock, he cut back up field to keep the clock running.

In this game, it is not always about all the yards you rush for but things like blitz pickup and trying to finish off the game by being a smart football player.

I also wanted to say a few things about what I observed in Phillip Tanner’s play. I really do believe that Tanner is what Jerry Jones wanted in a third back. Jones has a vision for a player that can play well on special teams, which Tanner does, but he also wants a hard running back with some explosiveness and power.

The most impressive thing about Tanner is his ability to make himself small to get through those holes. He has a real knack for inside power, keeping his legs working and getting positive yards in the rushing game when things get tight. If he can continue to grow as a pass protector, then he will have a chance to get more opportunities in this offense.