Dallas Cowboys: C.J. Spiller

Beat Writers Recap: Cowboys vs. Bills

November, 15, 2011
11/15/11
12:15
PM ET
The Cowboys played their most complete game of the season on Sunday, beating up the Bills, 44-7, at Cowboys Stadium. We review in our weekly Beat Writers Recap.

*In our Stock Report we gave Bradie James a stock down for no tackles. A review of the game shows he unofficially didn't get any snaps on defense. James isn't very good in pass coverage and the Buffalo Bills like to spread defenses out with four and five receiver sets. Buffalo lines up running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller as wide receivers too. The Cowboys used five and sometimes six defensive backs in the game and had Sean Lee defend a running back if a DB didn't do it. It was interesting to see Alex Albright and Bruce Carter in garbage time at inside linebacker and not James. The Cowboys defensive coaches might give James more snaps when they see teams who don't spread them out as much. But no snaps at all vs. the Bills? Wow.
Update: After another review of the game, we found James played one snap. A third and one with 17 seconds left in the first quarter. James lined up on the strong side as an outside linebacker. He was blocked on the play. Still, one play for James. Wow.

*DeMarco Murray does a lot of things we like. He's got great vision and knows how to pick his spots to move up field. When John Phillips was blocking linebacker Nick Barnett on a run, Murray cut inside to get more yardage because he saw a slight hole develop. When he gets in the open field he seems to need less space than Felix Jones to make defenders miss. Murray runs low to the ground and uses his balance well to keep defenders off balance when he runs. He's a smoother runner than Jones.

*Tony Romo attempted 26 passes on Sunday but his two best throws were at the start of the game. His third pass of the game went for 25 yards to Jesse Holley. Romo let the ball go with Holley's back to him, but he turned around and caught the pass over a shorter corner Terrence McGee. Romo's next pass, a 34-yard touchdown, came on a stop and go. Romo made the throw with Dez Bryant's back to him, it was almost like a back shoulder fade throw, instead it turned into a jump ball and Bryant made the play look easy when he jumped over Leodis McKelvin, another short corner, for the score.

*Laurent Robinson is a good receiver, who reminds me of Patrick Cryaton, now in San Diego. Robinson runs the correct routes, catches the ball and unlike Crayton, doesn't talk smack. (We don't mind smack talk, but Jason Garrett isn't a big fan). Here's another thing: Robinson does: He blocks on run plays. Murray's 25 yard run late in the second quarter was a result of him finding no room one side of the field and going to the other. Murray raced down the Cowboys sideline, there was Robinson blocking Drayton Florence.

* Best thing about Terence Newman's day is not the two interceptions, but how fresh he looked. Cowboys take Newman out from time-to-time to give him a breather. It's not because he's 33 or out of shape, he's in good shape. But a healthy Newman makes the Cowboys secondary so difficult beat agaisnt. The team has three athletic corners with speed and the safeties are strong physical tacklers.

*The return game is bad, just bad right now. Felix Jones is a player the Cowboys can use in this area. He did it his first two years in the league. The problem is the durability factor. Last year was the first where Jones didn't miss any games due to injury. If the Cowboys move Jones to kick returns, it's a risk because of his health but it can reward the Cowboys with a dynamic playmaker on special teams, something they don't have right now.

*Romo has eight touchdown passes and one interception the last four games. ... If James isn't getting any snaps on defense, or maybe one or two, what's the point of keeping him active on gamedays? Special team snaps. ... How come almost everytime Romo throws a pass to Holley he catches it? Can he get more offensive snaps? ... Remember all the discussion about the Cowboys offensive line and how it's struggling? Romo hasn't been sacked the last two weeks. ... Funny how teams forget to block DeMarcus Ware. He got a sack on the first play of the game when left tackle Andy Levitre blocked down.

Scout's Eye: Cowboys-Bills preview

November, 11, 2011
11/11/11
9:00
AM ET

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.

Cowboys in six-way tie for draft spot

December, 21, 2010
12/21/10
9:00
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IRVING -- The Vikings' loss to the Bears created a six-team logjam for the No. 7 spot in the 2011 NFL draft.

The Cowboys, Browns, Texans, Redskins, Vikings and Titans are all tied with 5-9 records.

Next up for the Cowboys: The Arizona Cardinals, who are in a three-way tie with the Lions and Bills for the No. 4 spot in the draft.

The more the Cowboys win, the lower they'll draft in the first round. We believe that the Cowboys will be looking to draft a defensive back or offensive lineman -- both pressing needs -- in the first round.

Todd McShay ranked these corners with the highest grades before the start of the year: Nebraska's Prince Amukamara (95), Virginia's Ras-I Dowling (93) and Janoris Jenkins of Florida who got a 92.

Mel Kiper's Big Board, released earlier this month, had Amukamara at No. 5 and LSU's Patrick Peterson at No. 4.

At offensive line, McShay has Colorado tackle Nate Solder with the highest grade at 93. He's followed by Florida center Rodney Hudson (92) and Wisconsin's Gabe Carimi (91).

Carimi is No. 21 on the Big Board.

Here's what McShay had to say on our Insider Blog about Carimi: "He's a better overall player now than the one I saw during preseason film evaluation. Carimi continues to improve his technique, especially his hand use, and he playing more under control and with better balance. In terms of athleticism in pass protection he's a notch below Jake Long when Long came out of Michigan, but Carimi is a very strong run blocker and at the very least will be a starting right tackle as an NFL rookie."

We're not saying the Cowboys can get any of these players, it's just interesting to know what's out there -- especially if the Cowboys finish at 6-10.

Last year, the Bills finished 6-10 and had the ninth pick of the draft and got running back C.J. Spiller.

What's available if the Cowboys should win their remaining two regular-season games and finish 7-9? Last year's case example: the Dolphins, Jaguars and Bears.

The Bears gave up their pick in the Jay Cutler trade to the Broncos, which picked 18th. The Dolphins would have drafted 12th, but they traded down. The Jags picked 10th.

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