Dallas Cowboys: E.J. Henderson

Cowboys preview: Make-or-break stretch

August, 27, 2014
Aug 27
The end of the season has not been kind to the Dallas Cowboys in recent years. It's not been just a Jason Garrett problem, but the Cowboys lost three of their last four in 2013, their final two in 2012 and four of their last five in 2011 to finish 8-8 all three years. This year's late-season schedule is difficult -- five of the last seven away from home -- but the pivotal stretch will be early in the year to make sure the end of the year is relevant. Six of the Cowboys' first nine games are at AT&T Stadium, which has not provided the greatest of home-field advantages since opening. The Cowboys have a three-game homestand from Oct. 19-Nov. 2 against three NFC teams that they almost have to sweep to stay in contention in the division or help in the wild-card standings.

Complete Cowboys season preview.

Scout's Eye: Cowboys-Vikings review

October, 19, 2010

When you lose a game in the NFL, everything that you did during that week in preparation feels like it was all in vain. You question the way you broke down the opponent that week for your scouting report. You question if you did enough for the coaching staff and players.

Scout's Eye
Did I miss a blitz or a stunt that the opponent used to sack our quarterback? Did I miss a route or a blocking scheme that allow the opponent to score on a play?

Losses not only hurt the coaches and players, but they also hurt the guys on the road scouting players. You never want to feel like you didn’t do all you could to help your team win the game, but when you lose, you have to go back and study the tape and be honest with yourself and focus on the areas of the game that gave you problems. Sitting down and reviewing this game, there are three areas that I want to focus on.

* The Vikings have the ball, third-and-4 from the Dallas 10 in the first quarter. Wade Phillips sends in his nickel group to match the Vikings' five-wide receiver package. The Vikings line up in a bunch formation (three WRs) to the right side and Randy Moss wide left. Percy Harvin is lined up in the backfield to the right of Brett Favre, who is in the gun. The Cowboys have four players to the side of the bunch, so coverage-wise, Phillips is in good shape.

[+] EnlargeJason Williams
(AP Photo/Jim MoneJason Williams' response on two key plays led to big gains for the Vikings.
Pre-snap, you see Orlando Scandrick motion to linebacker Jason Williams that he needs to work his way if Harvin’s route takes him into the flat. At the snap, Scandrick’s read is correct and he works to his left to cover Harvin, who heads to the flat. Favre looks to Moss at the left but then comes back to the routes on the right.

The flare route by Harvin causes Scandrick to widen, but Williams does not adjust and is caught inside. The problem is that Sensabaugh and Newman already have Bernard Berrian covered, Williams needs to be in the area that Greg Camarillo was working. Camarillo starts to his right then up working between Scandrick and Williams back inside. Three men are covering one, Camarillo has space and Favre sees this. Easy pitch and catch by Favre to Camarillo, who takes the ball and works into the end zone.

This was the first play that Williams was on the field in a defensive situation for Bradie James, who had played outstanding up until that point. The problem that the defensive coaches have to have with this is that Scandrick told Williams what was going to happen before the play, and he failed to execute, the result was a Vikings touchdown and a 7-7 game.

* Vikings have the ball on the Dallas 32 with score 14-14 in the third quarter. Williams is once again in the game, this time for Keith Brooking. Phillips has his defense in attack mode on this third-and-4 call. It's man coverage with deep free safety help. Ball is lined up 23 yards off the line of scrimmage. Williams is lined up inside of Anthony Spencer, who has his hand in the dirt and ready to rush from the outside. Williams’ job is to cover Vikings tight end Jim Kleinsasser one-on-one.

Favre is in the shot gun and at the snap, the ball hits him in the shin. As the rush develops, Favre recovers to pick up the ball off the turf and Kleinsasser blocks outside on Spencer. Williams, not looking at Kleinsasser, begins to rush up the field to try and get the football. The problem is, Favre has the ball in hand and quickly gets it to the outside as Kleinsasser release inside and into the flat. With no one in coverage or in the flat, Kleinsasser makes the catch and begins to work up the field.

Williams and the defense is now in chase mode on Kleinsasser who carries the ball all the way to the Cowboys 11-yard line. The play not only converted for the Vikings on third down, but it allowed them to continue the drive and later score the go-ahead touchdown on a run by Adrian Peterson, making it 21-14.

* Cowboys had the ball on their own 23-yard line with 8:10 left in the 4th quarter, with the score 21-21. Jason Garrett is in regular personnel. Miles Austin is in the slot to left with Roy Williams lined up to the outside. The Vikings were playing a single high safety with man coverage across the board.

At the snap, the strong safety comes forward in coverage on Jason Witten to pick up him up. Witten takes an inside release to free himself, and the safety overruns the coverage.

In the middle of the field, Vikings linebacker E.J. Henderson takes five quick steps like he is going to blitz coming forward. Tony Romo has now made eye contact with Witten, who reads “hot” and works into the middle of the field. As Romo is hitting his last step, Henderson begins to retreat into the space that he just left and the space that Witten is now working in.

Romo doesn’t see Henderson at all because the pass he throws doesn’t have the height or the pace needed to get to Witten. The ball is 5 yards short and Henderson is able to make an athletic play for the interception. The Cowboys' defense is able to hold the Vikings to a field goal on the quick change of possession, but that was the difference in the game 24-21.

Rapid Reaction: Vikings 24, Cowboys 21

October, 17, 2010
MINNEAPOLIS -- Some quick thoughts on the Dallas Cowboys' 24-21 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

What it means: I buried the Cowboys after last Sunday's loss to the Titans, but they made it official Sunday in the Metrodome. And it seemed appropriate that it was a couple of special-teams breakdowns that led to this loss. We witnessed two very mediocre teams in action, but as usual, it was the Cowboys who made the most mistakes. At 1-4, the Cowboys have put themselves in the ultimate hole. And they have no one else to blame but themselves.

"Special-teams" unit? The Cowboys had a 14-7 lead at halftime, but the coverage unit gave up a 95-yard touchdown return by Percy Harvin on the opening kickoff of the second half. This is the same unit that gave up a 73-yard return against the Titans last week. Special teams coach Joe DeCamillis vowed it wouldn't happen again, but ... it happened. The Cowboys also had a nice punt return by Dez Bryant wiped out because of a holding penalty on Alan Ball. You won't find a more undisciplined team in the NFL than the Cowboys.

The interception: The score was tied at 21 in the fourth quarter when Tony Romo dropped back to pass and looked for tight end Jason Witten. Vikings linebacker E.J. Henderson showed blitz but then dropped back in coverage at the last second. Romo didn't account for him and threw a lazy pass toward Witten that was intercepted. The Vikings kicked a field goal to make it 24-21 after that play. It was Henderson's second interception of the game. The other one came off a tipped ball. At least six of Romo's interceptions this season have been tipped, according to my numbers.

Where was Miles? Miles Austin had a 68-yard touchdown called back because he was flagged for pass interference. But for some reason, the Cowboys didn't go back to him. He's their best offensive player, and they effectively froze him out of the game in the second half.

What's next: I supposed some folks will make the argument that a win at home next Monday night against the New York Giants would keep the Cowboys' season alive. You won't hear that argument from me. This season's likely over and it's time to try to figure out who will eventually take over for coach Wade Phillips. I certainly don't think that person is on the current staff.

Scout's Eye: Cowboys-Vikings preview

October, 15, 2010

The Minnesota defense dominated the last time the Cowboys and Vikings met.

Scout's Eye
The Vikings sacked Tony Romo six times while cruising to a 34-3 rout in the NFC divisional playoffs, the seventh postseason meeting between the teams. It was also a Vikings’ record for the fewest points allowed in their playoff history.

As the teams prepare for their Week 6 matchup in the Metrodome, there are plenty of questions that both teams will need to address in order not to fall to 1-4.

Against the Titans last week, the Cowboys had a 400-yard passer, a 100-yard receiver and a 100-yard rusher but managed to lose the game by committing 12 penalties, three turnovers, missing a field goal and allowing a kickoff return of 73 yards.

For the Vikings, wide receiver Randy Moss returned to the club that originally drafted him in 1998 and with three days of practice, tried to be a factor in a Monday night contest against the New York Jets. Moss did manage to catch Brett Favre’s 500th career touchdown pass but did not do much else.

When studying Moss in that game, you could still see the ability to get vertical in route. That is something the Cowboys corner back Mike Jenkins and safety Alan Ball really had problems carrying not only in the Titans game but the Bears game as well.

In my preparation for this week’s game, I went back and studied the playoff game from that January day. There were two areas that really stood out for me on defense for the Cowboys. One was their ability to get decent hits on Favre in the passing game and two, their inability to play the ball down the field. On the big plays that the Vikings were able to get in the passing game, wide receiver Sidney Rice was a major factor, but Rice is recovering from hip surgery and will not play until December at the earliest.

With Rice out of the lineup, the thought was to try and go with Bernard Berrian, Percy Harvin, Greg Lewis and Javon Walker until Rice was ready. As the preseason wore on, it was evident that this group would not be good enough and a trade was made for the productive Greg Camarillo from the Dolphins, who played like Favre’s best option in the season opener against the Saints.

With Moss now back in Minnesota, Favre now has a vertical threat down the field which will open up more options for Harvin from the slot and the athletic tight end Visanthe Shiancoe. Harvin is a threat from anywhere on the field. He will line up in the backfield, in the slot and out wide. He is a true weapon with the ball in his hands and Brad Childress creates opportunities for him to play a role in the offense.

For the second time this season, the Cowboys defense will face an elite running back. Adrian Peterson really needs no description. He is explosive, powerful and difficult to bring down one-on-one in the open field. Peterson can run the ball inside but is at his very best when he gets the ball on the edge.

This is not the most athletic line and they really try and lean and push on you more than run with you and cut you off. Peterson’s running style and ability makes his own opportunities.

The Cowboys are going to have to deal with Peterson in the passing game. The closer they get to the red zone, the more they like to get the ball in his hands on the screen or swinging out of the backfield.

If there is an advantage for the Cowboys, it will be against this group of tackles. Bryant McKinnie and Phil Loadholt do not have the best feet and really struggle with rushers with quickness. If the Cowboys are going to have some success against this Vikings offense, it’s going to have to be off the edges.

*This will be the best defensive front seven that the Cowboys have faced so far this season. As productive as the Titans line was, this defensive line and linebacker corps are much more talented.

It really starts inside with tackles Pat Williams and Kevin Williams. Both will be a handful inside, but I should also include Jimmy Kennedy, who played well in the playoff game the last time these two clubs met.

Last week, the Cowboys played against an undersized front inside, but this group is powerful and difficult to move. The Cowboys had more success running the ball on the edges and again, that is where they are going to have to try and go.

Ray Edwards and Jared Allen are very good pass rushers. Edwards plays the run better than Allen, but where Allen gets you is rushing the passer. Since 2004, he has 73 sacks. The Cowboys need to be efficient staying ahead of the chains. The Vikings feed off offenses that struggle to keep up with down and distances.

Playing in the Metrodome is a huge advantage for the Vikings. When you studied the game last season, you could see Marc Colombo struggling to hear the snap count in passing situations, which gave Edwards a jump on the snap count.

The linebackers for the Vikings are a solid group. Chad Greenway, Ben Leber and E.J. Henderson are always around the football. Greenway has led the team in tackles in the last two seasons. Leber has accounted for 11 turnovers in his career and Henderson has 12.5 sacks for a career, which ranks fourth all-time among Vikings linebackers.

In the secondary, the Cowboys need to stay away from Antoine Winfield. He is an aggressive, ball-hawking corner that is a dependable tackler and a leader of the group. Winfield is a smart player that understands how to read routes. He will make a quarterback feel his receiver is open, then drive on the football when thrown. He doesn’t have good height but he can go vertical to play the ball in the air. When the Vikings go to the nickel, he will play the slot.

After studying the game tape, I believe the Cowboys will attack second-year pro Asher Allen. Allen had to come into the game against the Jets last week when Cedric Griffin was lost to a knee injury. Allen is not as physical of a player as Griffin and he will struggle with receivers that are physical. Don’t be one bit surprised if Jason Garrett finds a way to match up Miles Austin with Allen as much as he can. There are plays to be made there.

Veteran Lito Shepherd will also see action when the Vikings go to their nickel package.

This will be a huge test for the Cowboys on both sides of the ball. Moss gives the Vikings a whole new dynamic. But how healthy is Favre’s elbow? Can the Cowboys put behind them what happened in the playoffs in 2009?

If not, a 1-4 start is staring them in the face.