Scout's Eye: Cowboys-Eagles review

November, 1, 2011
11/01/11
11:22
AM ET
One of the first things Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo talked about Sunday after his Cowboys fell to the Philadelphia Eagles 34-7 at Lincoln Financial Field was the need to sit down and study the film to see what happened.

Scout's Eye
Usually you have an idea what took place, but there is so much more that you miss when watching the game live. It has always been my experience that you can always find one or two things about the game that you didn’t see the first time around that you can grab off the film.

Going into this game, there was no doubt in my mind that the Eagles were going to be ready to play because their season was on the line. A loss to the Cowboys at home would make them 0-2 in the division, with both losses coming at home, and 2-5 overall.

The Eagles have too much talent to be in the shape they were in, but like Bill Parcells has said, "You are what you are."

Defensive front falters

Through the first six games of the season, Rob Ryan’s front seven had been outstanding when it came to defending the run. Against the Eagles, it was this same front seven that struggled to get off blocks to make plays in the running game or put consistent pressure on Michael Vick when he went back to pass.

[+] EnlargeJason Hatcher & Sean Lissemore
AP Photo/Matt SlocumIt was a tough day at the office for Jason Hatcher (left), Sean Lissemore (95) and the Cowboys' other defensive ends.
The poor play of the defensive ends surprised me most. Kenyon Coleman, Marcus Spears, Sean Lissemore and Jason Hatcher did nothing right against an Eagles offensive line that pushed them around from the opening whistle.

Too many times, Coleman or Spears needed to be strong at the point of attack and were washed down inside with ease. In my game notes, I must have written down four times where Spears was driven out of position by a down block from Jason Peters or Todd Herremans and then the ball would go outside of him. This was something that I didn’t see coming from either of these tackles against Spears. Coleman is known for the strength and power that he plays with at the point, but he struggled getting off blocks in the running game, allowing Vick to bounce the ball outside of him as well.

Hatcher had played well before a calf injury sidelined him, but he was no factor at all in his return after a three-game absence. There were too many times, like with Spears and Coleman, that he was washed down inside.

Hatcher had given Ryan some inside pass rush in the nickel in the first two games of the season. Against guards Danny Watkins and Evan Mathis, he didn’t get a sniff when he was asked to rush the passer. Time after time, he played high and was stuck on blocks.

Inside linebackers exposed

The Eagles really exposed the Cowboys defense by taking advantage of inside linebackers Bradie James and Keith Brooking in coverage once Sean Lee went out of the game.

[+] EnlargeBradie James
AP Photo/Matt SlocumBradie James tries to make a play on Eagles tight end Brett Celek.
James is one of those players who really only has a chance in coverage if the ball is in front of him. If anything is behind him or over his head, he is not going to make the play.

For example, the Eagles had a first-and-goal at the Cowboys 9. The Eagles go with two tight ends, two wide receivers and one back. Tight end Clay Harbor is in the wing to the right and tight end Brent Celek is outside Harbor in a flex. Wide receiver DeSean Jackson is just outside Celek on the right side. Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin is wide left.

At the snap, Vick looks left at Maclin as safety Gerald Sensabaugh sprints from the middle of the field to the outside to help Mike Jenkins on Maclin, leaving no safety help in the middle of the field. Celek releases up the field against James, who tries to jam him in coverage. Terence Newman, Abram Elam and Anthony Spencer are trying to sort out the coverage on Jackson and Harbor.

After the contact, Celek manages to gain about 4 yards of separation on James in the middle of the field. Vick, who is sitting in the middle of the pocket as Ryan rushes five but gets no pressure, lets the ball fly toward the goal post before Celek even breaks inside. James has his back to Vick and never sees the ball, which hits Celek in the hands for the touchdown.

Ware, Ratliff, Sensabaugh make positive impacts

I mentioned before when you studied these games, good or bad, there is always something you notice that your eye didn’t catch the first time. We all were able to see what DeMarcus Ware was able to do in this game with the four sacks. Jay Ratliff was another player that played winning football despite what was going on around him.

[+] EnlargeJay Ratliff
Eric Hartline/US PresswireMichael Vick is an explosive runner, but he must stay healthy for the Eagles to be a title contender.
I thought that Ratliff was relentless in his effort to get off blocks where others struggled. For the third straight week, Ratliff has been outstanding against both the run and pass. The best inside pressure against the Eagles came in the form of Ratliff, and it’s a shame that he didn’t get any help from anyone else other than Ware.

One other player that I would like to point out was safety Gerald Sensabaugh. His night started on a strong safety blitz from the front side, getting home and causing Vick to have to move up in the pocket and into the rush. Sensabaugh was impressive when he was asked to tackle.

Overall as a team, this might have been the worst game for the Cowboys when it came to tackling. There were too many plays where the defense had the opportunity to bring a ball carrier down, but a missed tackle in the hole or in space led to a bigger gain. Sensabaugh didn’t miss his chances and I thought he was one of the bright spots in a secondary that had its struggles.

Big deficit nullifies Cowboys run game

Going into this matchup against the Eagles, I really believed that the Cowboys would have the ability to move the ball on the ground with DeMarco Murray and Phillip Tanner. I didn’t like the size of the Eagles front seven and I was encouraged by what I had seen against St. Louis despite the fact the Rams were one of the worst in the league at defending the run.

There are points in the game where you can tell there is a good chance a team will become one-dimensional. In this case, the Eagles were able to make the Cowboys that way as they built a 21-0 lead. As the Cowboys struggled with possessions, the lead Philadelphia had built allowed it to do defensively it does best -- rush the passer.

The Eagles don’t want to stand in there toe-to-toe and slug it out with teams. They want to get Jason Babin and Trent Cole wide to let them blow up the field and get after the quarterback. Once the Cowboys fell behind, the threat of the run was over and they played right into the Eagles’ hands.

Offensive line gets twisted

The Cowboys had the most trouble against this Eagles defense when it would twist the front. This was minor compared to what the Cowboys have had to deal with in years past from the Eagles with longtime defensive coordinator Jim Johnson. When you faced a Johnson defense, the blitz could come from any place in the secondary or at any level with the linebackers. This version of the Eagles defense is not that way.

[+] EnlargeRoo
AP Photo/Michael PerezThe Eagles sacked Tony Romo four times.
There was plenty of four-man pressure, but it wasn’t anything the Cowboys hadn’t seen before or prepared to face. The Eagles used the twist stunts with defensive tackles and ends to get two of their four sacks.

On the second sack of Romo, Tyron Smith adjusted late to try to pick up defensive tackle Trevor Laws, who came all the way from the inside to grab Romo as the quarterback tried to move to the right in the pocket.

I have said this a great deal about Smith, but it’s worth repeating. Smith has his most trouble when defenders rush him hard to the inside. Babin took him hard up the field but was able to spin hard to the inside, as Smith had all his weight on the outside of his foot, thus becoming a one-legged football player, making it hard to adjust.

Keeping with the offensive line, just a thought here, but don’t be surprised if Derrick Dockery replaces Montrae Holland at left guard. It is very clear that Holland cannot handle movement or he doesn’t move well enough. I am not going to say that Dockery is going to make you think of Larry Allen, but he is better than Holland, who missed a cut block on a screen, got beat for a sack and struggled on a spin move that gave up a pressure.

Eagles keep Austin, Bryant covered

After the game, Romo was asked why he was unable to get the ball to Miles Austin and Dez Bryant more as the game progressed. Romo’s answer was simple and correct: coverage.

The Eagles were outstanding in the secondary other than the long touchdown pass to Laurent Robinson. Asante Samuel, Nnamdi Asomugha and Joselio Hanson did their jobs. Bryant only beat Asomugha once, and that was on an in route, but it happened to be the same time that Smith gave up the first sack to Babin.

[+] EnlargeAsomugha
AP Photo/Matt SlocumNnamdi Asomugha was in the right place at the right time, picking off a pass when Martellus Bennett bobbled it away.
The Eagles also played with their safeties over the top to help as well. Even the routes that Jason Witten ran were contested. Romo really didn’t have much choice where to go with the ball on the outside, again because of pressure and coverage.

I would like to focus on a pass play that turned the game in the wrong direction for the Cowboys: the interception intended for Martellus Bennett.

With the score 14-0 Eagles, the Cowboys have a second-and-8 on their 41. Jason Garrett goes with two tight ends, two wide receivers and one back. Austin is wide right, Bryant is wide left near the sideline and motions toward the formation. Asomugha is in press coverage on Bryant, but he is getting help from the safety inside. Bryant runs up the field as Asomugha passes him to the safety. Bennett, lined up on the line to the left, heads to the flat then up the field on the wheel route.

Linebacker Moise Fokou is in coverage on Bennett. Asomugha sees that safety Kurt Coleman has Bryant covered and turns to his left to help Fokou in coverage on Bennett. Fokou has his back to Romo, who makes a perfect touch pass. Bennett loses the ball and it hits him in the face. The ball goes into the air, which allows Asomugha the opportunity to make the adjust interception.

The Eagles’ offense is able to take the ball and cash it in for points, making the game 21-0 and putting the Cowboys in a real offensive bind.

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