My thoughts from the Cowboys’ loss to the Jets:
Coordinator Rob Ryan had his defense ready to play, and he did an outstanding job of mixing his coverages and fronts. When Ryan took this job, the one thing he told us that he was going to find ways to put his players in positions to make plays. He did just that against the Jets.
Ryan used slot and linebacker blitzes. He used three-man lines. He played safeties on the outside in coverage. He brought pressure from the edge and used “gut” blitzes to put pressure in Mark Sanchez’s face.
It was the first time where it appeared that the timing and the execution of the blitzes were in sync, whereas in the pre season, the linebackers looked confused when to rush and from what angle they were to attack.
Ryan did a great job of attacking the Jets’ pocket. He never allowed Jets QB Mark Sanchez to feel comfortable with his reads or getting rid of the ball. There were no easy throws for Sanchez to make.
The communication in the secondary was outstanding as well. There was only one time where it appeared that there were some problems. Gerald Sensabaugh was trying to get Bryan McCann to move from his corner spot to the free safety at pre-snap, but in the direction, Sensabaugh lost track of Santonio Holmes in coverage and Sanchez was able to hit him on the move for a big play.
The Jets are not a pass-heavy team but for some reason their offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer felt that he needed to try to allow Sanchez to make plays with the ball in his hand. To Ryan’s credit, he was able to still function as a defense with a banged-up secondary and the level of play did not drop off that badly.
It appeared that Ryan and his staff made the most head way from the preseason in how the front seven played in the running game. There were too many times against the Broncos, Chargers or Vikings where there was a struggle to get off blocks and make plays in the running game. In this two-gap scheme, it is about playing with your hands and shedding blockers.
The Jets have run the ball well in the past, but in studying them, I really wasn’t that impressed with how they did it scheme wise. I was expecting an offensive line that came off the ball and really hammered you. That was not the case at all in this game. The front seven for the Cowboys did an outstanding job of playing on the Jets side of the line.
Sean Lee has always been mobile and at times even too aggressive, but he was able to read quickly and move to fill the gaps. Lee looked like a different player than what I saw in the preseason. He played with confidence, awareness and with a physical tempo.
The key for Lee going forward is to build on this type of game like he had against the Jets. He can’t have a great game one week then miss tackles or play out of position the next. We have seen this before with Lee in that he appeared to turn the corner against the Colts last season only to struggle in other games.
Has the fact that he has been named the starter helped him relax and focus on the job ahead, making him think less and just go out and play? Against the Jets, Lee looked like a player that just cut it loose and the result was one of the best games of his young career.
There were plenty of questions how the Cowboys’ offensive line would hold up against this Jets defense on the road. I knew it was going to be difficult for them to run the ball because the Jets have a physical group inside at nose and three-technique tackle.
I thought the Cowboys would have some success if they were able to get the ball to the outside and to the edge. Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas were outside linebackers that I thought might give up the edge against the run. Thomas was much better in the game against Jason Witten and John Phillips which hurt the Cowboys in the running game.
The Cowboys had success in the pre season running the ball in this scheme by securing the down guys then working linemen to the second level and handling the linebackers, giving Felix Jones the ability to press the hole then makes cuts from there.
Against the Jets, linebackers David Harris and Bart Scott were able to make plays at the point because they went unblocked. Harris and Scott were able to make plays running through because of the way that their defensive line was able to tie up blockers.
When the Cowboys tried to stretch, they had problems handling Mike DeVito, Sione Pouha, Muhammad Wilkerson and Ropati Pitoitua. These Jets defensive linemen are powerful players and to be honest, the Cowboys do not have power players.
The offensive lineman that struggled the worst for the Cowboys was Bill Nagy. I didn’t see a mental struggle for Nagy but more of a physical one, mainly in the running game. Nagy just doesn’t have the power to move his man off the spot. He can run with his man and work the edges, but to move his man will be a struggle for him. In pass protection, Nagy was able to work in front of his man, but there were times where he was rocked back. Remember that the guards are responsible for the depth of the pocket, so Nagy needs to be careful in how he sets and not getting pushed back into Tony Romo’s lap.
There are many that point to Romo’s fumble as the real turning point of the game, but the Cowboys were able to get the ball back the very next series without giving up any points to the Jets. I understand that Romo’s fumble did cost the Cowboys an opportunity to make it a two-score game, but to me, the blocked punt was the real turning point of this game because it allowed the Jets to get points without running an offensive play.
The Cowboys’ defense had been outstanding to that point and there was little doubt in my mind that if the Jets were going to have to drive the football on the Cowboys and score a touchdown, it was going to be difficult for them. The blocked punt gave them life and it was a horrible mistake by the Cowboys special teams.
Let me try to break down what happened on the play. It was fourth-and-22 on the Cowboys 40. With the team on their own side of the 50, it was a green light for Jets special teams coach Mike Westhoff to go for the block. If the ball was on the other side of the 50, then he would have most likely opted for the return.
The Jets were in an alignment that the Cowboys had seen in the previous punt and were able to block with some success, so it wasn’t like Westhoff came up with something that the Cowboys had not seen. The Cowboys were in their protect right scheme with five blockers to the right of deep snapper L.P. Ladouceur. The Jets had six rushers to the Cowboys’ right side. On the back side of the protection, Victor Butler and Martin Rucker were left to handle the two Jets rushers to that side.
In this look, Ladouceur, Phillips and Jesse Holley were responsible for the three inside guys and Barry Church, Sean Lee and Alex Albright had the outside guys. At the snap, Church, Lee and Albright all worked to their right. Holley worked to his right as well, which left no one in the middle of the formation. Phillips took a step to his left to try to help Ladouceur. Again Albright was already moving right, thus creating a hole inside and a free run at Mat McBriar and the block.
This whole block is confusing because the Cowboys punt team had blocked the look correctly before, but this time a mental lapse at a key point in time of the game cost them six points.