Dallas Cowboys: Mark Sanchez

Cowboys Twitter mailbag, Part 2

January, 25, 2014
Jan 25
12:00
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- The second part of the Dallas Cowboys’ Twitter Mailbag is ready for you guys.

If you have questions for next week or beyond, hit me up on Twitter (@toddarcher) and use the #cowboysmail hashtag.

Away we go:
 
One of Tony Romo's strengths is his ability to make plays under duress. The Dallas Cowboys quarterback's ability to move away from trouble makes him one of the best players at his position.

PODCAST
Glenn "Stretch" Smith, Randy Galloway and Matt Mosley discuss the latest on Doug Free's role with the Cowboys and the Cowboys' first-round draft pick Travis Frederick.

Listen Listen
Or does it?

According to ESPN's Stats and Information, Romo was fourth in the NFL with 505 yards outside the pocket and was tied for the lead with seven touchdown passes. Romo who completed 56.7 percent of his passes outside the pocket last season for a 116.3 quarterback rating. He also threw just one interception.

However, when Romo was rushed by five or more defenders, he was tied with New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez for a league-worst eight interceptions. Romo made 206 pass attempts against five or more defenders last season and finished third in the NFL with 1,443 yards.

The Cowboys' offensive line gets criticized for its struggles in pass protection. Romo was sacked 13 times when faced with five or more defenders, 12th-most in the NFL. That's not bad.

How a quarterback performs under pressure can make or break games and, eventually, seasons. While Romo has shown he can make plays on the run, sometimes he has a tendency to hold onto the ball too long. According to Pro Football Focus, Romo threw the ball away 13 times in 2012.

I would think that number would be higher, given how Romo was rushed at least 200 times last season. I understand Jerry Jones wanting the Cowboys to use Romo's ability to dodge defenders more, but when Romo does that, it's only because there was a breakdown somewhere once the play started.

One of Romo's biggest strengths is eluding pressure to make throws all over the field. The Cowboys believe Romo is an elite quarterback, and his numbers under duress give them confidence in that belief.

Can he keep that up in 2013?

Scout's Eye: Cowboys-Patriots preview

October, 14, 2011
10/14/11
10:55
AM ET


If you believe in fate and are a fan of the Dallas Cowboys, here is something that maybe you can hang your hat on. The last time defensive coordinator Rob Ryan had a week off to prepare for Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, his Cleveland Browns walked away with an impressive 34-14 victory in 2010.

Scout's Eye
Cowboys defense vs. Patriots offense

Ryan's defense has played outstanding through the first four weeks of the season, but the task ahead is different from any of those that you generally face during an NFL season. When you play an elite quarterback such as Tom Brady, the amount of pressure he puts on you is greater than when you face Mark Sanchez, Alex Smith or even Matthew Stafford.

Mistakes in assignments are magnified when you play against Brady because of his ability to read defensive schemes and take advantage of the situation by adjusting his protection and moving his personnel to attack the void. In the NFL, it's all about the matchups, how you create them and then take advantage of the ones in your favor.

The Patriots take advantage of match-ups better than any other team in the league. When you study the Patriots, it's about "scheme fits." It's not only about a player like Wes Welker. You also have to be wary of tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, and running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead as well.

The Patriots create match-up problems for a defense because there is so much flexibility where their skill players can line up in the formation. Rarely do you see the Patriots use the same formation early in the game, because this exposes your game plan defensively. Once Brady has an idea of how you are going to defend the offense, then he goes to work.

Patriots WR Wes Welker vs. Cowboys secondary

It's interesting to watch the Patriots on offense because they no longer have a straight vertical threat like Randy Moss. Instead they use Welker, Gronkowski and Hernandez all over the field. Welker is a crafty route-runner, but maybe his greatest strength is his ability to read coverages and react to what the defense is doing to him. When Welker's on the move, you can see his eyes looking at the secondary and plotting where he will take his route.

Brady has a tremendous understanding of where Welker is going to be in his route to deal with the coverage. With the Patriots, you will see several routes down the field that are crossing routes. The Patriots like to take routes through zone coverage, running to open spaces -- which is effective against teams that like to play Cover 2.

Last week, the Jets were able to match Darrelle Revis against Welker, who really struggled to generate any type of separation or space. Revis was physical off the line but, more importantly, he was able to carry Welker all over the field. The Cowboys will get an important piece of their secondary back this week when cornerback Orlando Scandrick returns from a high ankle sprain.

I have always viewed Scandrick as one of the Cowboys' best cover men. To play slot corner, you have to play with a great deal of quickness but, more importantly, you have to have the understanding of what types of routes that the man you are covering might run. Scandrick will have to be prepared to play a ton of snaps, so his conditioning will be tested. In what we have been allowed to see during practices, he looked explosive and confident that the ankle sprain is behind him.

Patriots tight ends are more like WRs

Earlier I mentioned that you have to be wary of Patriots tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, and there was a reason for this. Neither one of these guys plays like a true tight end. Rather, they're more like 255-pound wide receivers that can get down the field. Both Gronkowski and Hernandez are vertical players that run well, but their most impressive trait is their ability to catch the ball.

The Cowboys have done a nice job against some outstanding tight ends this season, but Gronkowski and Hernandez present a different challenge because you see them down the field in combination routes with the receivers. Brady might look to Welker first, but I've seen him throw to Gronkowski and Hernandez in coverage and still they managed to come up with the ball.

Achilles' heel of Patriots offense: RT Nate Solder

If you are looking for a weakness on the Patriots offense, it is rookie right tackle Nate Solder, who has had to start because Sebastian Vollmar has been dealing with a back injury. Solder looks very similar to what I had seen on college tape before the draft. He's not very strong and, for someone that is a good foot athlete, he struggles with rushers off the edge.

Two weeks ago, the Cowboys didn’t take advantage of the Detroit Lions' poor pass blockers. The Patriots' O-line is much better on both run and pass, but it will struggle at times when teams run games on them with movement in the passing game. If Rob Ryan is going to get pressure on Brady, this will most likely be the route that he tries to go.

Cowboys offense vs. Patriots defense

When you study the Patriots on defense, the one area that jumps out at you is how much space their secondary gives up in routes. I didn't see the tightness in the coverage that I have seen with other defenses that the Cowboys have faced so far this season.

Earlier in the season, the Patriots played a great deal of man coverage but with little success. Now you see them playing much more zone. Another area where the Patriots have struggled is their inability to rush the passer. New England doesn't have that dynamic pressure player coming off the edge. Defensive ends Andre Carter and Shaun Ellis are veterans, but they don’t rush the passer like a Brian Orakpo or Kyle Vanden Bosch.

Patriots' defensive force: Vince Wilfork

The strength of this Patriots defense is up the middle with defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, who is one of the more dominate players in this league. For a man his size, Wilfork moves very well. He is not one of those tackles that sits in a spot and just anchors down. He is very active -- not only in his pass rush, but also his ability to play the run right at him or working down the line. Kyle Kosier, Phil Costa and Bill Nagy had to deal with the inside power and the push that the Lions' Ndamukong Suh and Corey Williams were able to get. To the credit of the Cowboys' inside three, however, they were able to hold up the majority of the time. Wilfork has power, but he has pass rush technique.

Breaking down the Patriots' defense

On the other side, Albert Haynesworth will see action. But also be aware of second-year player Kyle Love, who is a much lighter and more mobile player. When the Patriots' defensive line tries to get pressure, it’s usually by using twist stunts. They will also use blitzes from the secondary -- twice using a slot blitz vs. the Jets and a straight corner blitz against the Raiders.

Linebackers Jarod Mayo and Brandon Spikes are very active. Both really try to play downhill and attack the ball. They like to give you a tight look with one of the linebackers at the line, drop him, then fire the one from the other side. Where this group had some trouble was when the Jets went with an empty formation and it caused some confusion.

Also watch passing plays on the outside against this defense. The Buffalo Bills were able to work their screen packages but were also able to make plays in the flat with their running backs catching the ball against these linebackers.

Another potential target spot: Patriots safety

Another potential weakness for the Patriots is at safety. Starter Josh Barrett has been banged up, as has Patrick Chung. The Patriots have been trying to make do with Sergio Brown, who tends to misplay the ball in flight and is a poor tackler. James Ihedigbo is a better player when he can react to the ball in front of him. It will be interesting to see if the Cowboys can take advantage of this defense.

Concussion tests for 49ers quarterback

September, 21, 2011
9/21/11
9:28
PM ET
For the second consecutive week, hits delivered by Cowboys defenders on opposing quarterbacks have led to a team testing their signal-caller for a concussion.

In Week 1, New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez was tested for a concussion, and now San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith had to be tested following the Sunday game.

"Tough son of a gun," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said Wednesday before Smith's concussion became public according to The Sacramento Bee. "He was making some big-time plays. I think we talked about it after each of these games, definitely watch the tape and see the same thing. Pleased with the way Alex is playing and we definitely want to play better. He wants to, we want to, and that goes for all positions on the offensive side of the ball, and include coaching in that. We're striving to do it all better."

Sanchez told ESPN Radio's New York affiliate last week that the team "checked my baseline tests and compared it to my balance test and everything now."

Sanchez was ruled fine by Jets officials, and it appears the same has happened to Smith.

This week, the Cowboys take on Rex Grossman and the Washington Redskins.

Dallas leads the NFL with 10 sacks through two weeks.

Nicked up Mike Jenkins wants action

September, 17, 2011
9/17/11
1:00
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- He's recovered from a stinger, is still recovering from a hyperextended knee and now has a bruised shoulder. What more can go wrong for Cowboys starting cornerback Mike Jenkins?

He's as nicked up as anybody on the Cowboys roster right now, and he will start Sunday afternoon at the San Francisco 49ers.

But Jenkins has been nicked up before.

"I played running back in high school," said Jenkins, who attended high school in Bradenton, Fla. "But I was taking a lot of nicks. I got God on my side. I've been nicked up before, it's a small thing [and] once I get over this it will be over and I'll be back to football 100 percent."

When an opponent knows a player is dealing with health issues, it will attack. In the season opener when Jenkins returned in the fourth quarter after going out with a shoulder injury, the first pass play was toward Jenkins, who tackled Plaxico Burress. Jenkins saw quarterback Mark Sanchez do a check-down call and directed the first pass his way.

"I knew what time it was," Jenkins said.

Regardless of whether he's coming back from an injury, Jenkins said he's not afraid of the action. He wants quarterbacks to challenge him.

"I hope that's what they're saying," Jenkins said. "It gives me the opportunity to make plays. Last week, they came after me a few times and I made the best of it. That's what you want. I don't like being in a game and not get any action. That's kind of boring. You just got to capitalize on every situation."

Scout's Eye: Cowboys-49ers preview

September, 16, 2011
9/16/11
8:00
AM ET


Something I learned a long time ago when I was starting out as a young scout with the Packers was that when you lost a game in the NFL, there is no one in the league that felt sorry for you. You study the tape, make the corrections, and you move on to the next week.

Scout's Eye
As hard as that loss against the Jets was to take, this team must move on. What awaits the Cowboys in Week 2 is a trip to San Francisco against a 49ers team that smothered the Seahawks on defense and then made them pay for their inability to cover on the punt and kickoff return with reserve wide receiver Ted Ginn returning one of each for a touchdown to put the game away.

The 49ers have some nice talent in some key spots, but I would not say that quarterback is one of those spots. Alex Smith was selected with the first overall pick in the 2005 draft, the same draft with Aaron Rodgers who went some 22 picks later. Rodgers has thrown for over 8,000 yards his first two years as a starter and has a Super Bowl MVP to his credit, while Smith is working with his third head coach in the last seven years.

Breaking down Smith, he stands tall in the pocket, keeping his feet active. When he feels pressure, he will slide to safety. If receivers are covered down the field, he will check the ball down to the backs underneath.

Smith did a nice job in the Seattle game of keeping his eyes down the field but running with the ball to convert third downs or put his offense in a positive position. The Cowboys have to be careful with Smith if Rob Ryan plays man coverage chasing receivers all over the field and Smith takes off running to try to make a play.

The ball comes off his hand with some velocity with an overhand throwing motion. Smith will try to look off receivers then come back the other way with the ball.

Head coach Jim Harbaugh is the play caller, so he really tries to run the offense to give Smith the best opportunity to make an easy throw in the passing game. Harbaugh will move the pocket with waggles or boots giving Smith high/low reads with receivers.

In the Seattle game, Harbaugh mixed his formations throughout, lining up in one look then shifting pre-snap to try to create confusion. Harbaugh went unbalanced several plays, then ran the ball weak side with Frank Gore, which was a different wrinkle.

Along with tight end Vernon Davis, Gore is the 49ers’ best offensive player. Gore doesn’t have explosive speed, but what he does have is the ability to keep coming at you. He is a physical back.

There were times where Harbaugh was able to start Gore one way then bring him back with misdirection with a pulling tackle and a backside tight end. Gore has the vision to see the creases and holes. Again, he just isn’t a burner.

The Seahawks had some success against Gore making him stop and have to restart. Gore is one of those backs that builds up speed as he runs. The Seahawks were able to get some defenders into the backfield, causing him problems getting going again.

This will be the second week that the Cowboys defense will have to face an athletic tight end. Last week, it was the Jets’ Dustin Keller. This week, it’s Davis, who has freakish speed down the field. If I am Ryan, I do not allow him free access in the route.

Davis is similar to Jason Witten in that he is too athletic for a linebacker to cover and too big for a defensive back to deal with. Unlike Witten, Davis wants nothing to do with the run blocking side of the game. Harbaugh will line Davis up all over the formation and Smith looks for him in route first.

Last week against the Jets, Ryan took DeMarcus Ware and moved him to the left side to rush against right tackle Wayne Hunter. This week, look for Ryan to potentially have the same plan moving Ware over 49ers right tackle Anthony Davis.

Was not impressed at all with Davis’ work. He is heavier than Hunter and his feet are slower. Ware and the other rushers should be able to attack Davis to the outside then work some underneath moves as well. Look for Harbaugh to try to use that misdirection I mentioned earlier to slow Ware down in his rush.

Last week, the Cowboys did a nice job in their front seven of coordinating their linemen with linebackers and creating pressure on Mark Sanchez. Smith will likely face the same pressure from Ryan with multiple looks and pressure. Again, Harbaugh will try and give Smith easy throws and he will also try and move the pocket to keep the pressure off his quarterback as well.

On the defensive side of the ball, the 49ers have a nice front seven. It’s a group of players that are high effort and motor types. Ends Justin Smith and Ray McDonald are relentless rushers and active against the run.

The Seahawks had trouble blocking this front because they were unable to sustain blocks. If you don’t keep a hat on Smith, McDonald, Ahmad Brooks and Isaac Sopoaga, you are going to struggle to move the ball.

The inside linebackers on the 49ers are outstanding. Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman are always around the football.

When the Cowboys tried to run the ball last week, they had to deal with the Jets and their run-through inside linebackers. Run-through linebackers read the play quickly, see the gaps and beat the blockers to the spot. When you face run-through linebackers, it throws off your running game because they get into the backfield and it messes with the timing of the play.

These 49ers linebackers are more active than what the Cowboys faced last week, so the zone blocking scheme of the Cowboys will be tested.

When the 49ers blitz, they like to use their inside linebackers in games with the defensive line. In the nickel, Smith and McDonald will move inside and Brooks moves from outside linebacker to rush end. In this look is where you see those blitzes.

The Cowboys will also need to be aware that the 49ers can get good pressure with just a four-man rush.

In the secondary, Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers are the corners and Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner are the safeties. I really liked the play of Brown more than that of Rogers. Brown is quick footed and also did a nice job of fighting for the ball in the air. Brown is a bit of a gambler and is not afraid to jump routes.

Rogers has faced the Cowboys many times in his career as a former member of the Redskins. Rogers will play in the slot when the 49ers go to the nickel. If the Cowboys can hold up against the front seven pressure of the 49ers, then they will have a chance to make some plays against this secondary that is good but not great.

Beat Writers recap: Cowboys-Jets

September, 13, 2011
9/13/11
2:31
PM ET
The Cowboys are coming off a difficult 27-24 loss to the New York Jets on Sunday night. As always there are plenty of plays worthy of a discussion and we take a look at some of those in our weekly Beat Writers recap.

The Fumble
The problem with the Tony Romo fumble at the Jets 2 is what happened before that. On Romo's 64-yard completion to tight end Jason Witten, the veteran should have kept running and not worried about safety Jim Leonhard. If Witten keeps running, maybe he gets into the end zone. First-and-goal from the 3 and the Cowboys have an unbalanced line and while Bill Nagy pulls, Felix Jones gains just one yard. On the second play, Romo throws a back shoulder fade to Miles Austin in the end zone. Austin is running a deeper route and doesn't see the pass. But Antonio Cromartie does and almost picks it off. On the second play, Romo wants to throw to Dez Bryant but Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis jams him at the line of scrimmage forcing Romo to find another receiver. Nobody is open and he scrambles to the end zone. For a brief moment, Witten appeared open in the back of the end zone and he waves his hand, but Romo either didn't see him or couldn't get the ball to him.

Mike Jenkins and the fourth quarter
It was interesting to watch Jenkins in this game. He came in recovering from a stinger and a hyperextended knee. He was hurt on a run play, then a blindside hit Yet, Jenkins missed 11 fourth quarter snaps as he recovered from a bruised shoulder, suffered when Plaxico Burress hit him near the Jets sideline. When Jenkins was out, the first-team corners were Alan Ball and Bryan McCann with Barry Church in the slot. You have to wonder with Jenkins out, why didn't McCann get deep help on Mark Sanchez's 26-yard touchdown pass to Burress in the fourth quarter. If Jenkins is playing, maybe he doesn't get safety help, but McCann, a second-year player most likely needed it. Gerald Sensabaugh trailed the play after Sanchez sent the pass toward Burress but it was too late for McCann, who needed support. When Jenkins did return, the Jets went right after him and he made a nice tackle on Burress. You can tell Jenkins wasn't 100 percent, but it was one of his toughest games from a health standpoint.

The double-teams
We're going to talk about Jay Ratliff and Kyle Kosier and double-teams. Ratliff was doubled it seemed on almost every play. On DeMarcus Ware's first sack of the game, Ratliff was doubled. When Ratliff saw single coverage, meaning a center took him on, he was able to get some penetration. The Jets wanted to keep Ratliff out of the game and challenge Ware and Anthony Spencer with their tackles. Ware bounced around left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson and right tackle Wayne Hunter. Ware beat Hunter for his first sack. Kosier meanwhile was a busy man. Not only was he helping rookie right tackle Tyron Smith on certain plays, but he also moved over to help center Phil Costa. There was one pass play where Koiser helped Smith and Costa before the pass was thrown. It was proof of how valuable Kosier is to the offensive line.

Covering Dez Bryant
The first offensive series, the Jets had Cromartie cover Bryant. It didn't go well for the Jets. Bryant gained 17 yards on a slant in which he broke two tackles, then he catches a three-yard touchdown pass with Cromartie pulling the front of his jersey down. It was a physical mismatch for the Jets. On the second offensive series, Revis is jamming Bryant along the line of scrimmage. On a third down, with no deep help, Revis couldn't prevent Bryant from catching a 26 yard pass down the sidelines. The safety help came over too late. Bryant was shutdown most of the night after that, cramps and a bruised thigh were the issues. On the Romo interception, that allowed the Jets to win it, Bryant wasn't 100 percent. He didn't push off well and despite getting behind Revis, it was only because the corner saw an underthrown pass.

Notes
Miles Austin could have had two touchdown receptions. In the first quarter, he fell down out of his break while Romo threw a pass into the end zone. In the fourth quarter, Romo fired a end zone pass in on direction and Austin went another way leading to a incompletion. ... Cowboys ran an unbalanced line with Doug Free next to Tyron Smith and Bill Nagy playing tackle on the other side, three times on Sunday. ... DeMarco Murray dropped one kickoff in the end zone and was tentative on another. That can't happen again. ... If Dez Bryant is out of the punt return game, Dwayne Harris most likely gets the job. But in windy Candlestick Park this Sunday vs. the 49ers, a healthy Terence Newman to return punts he's got the most experience at it than anybody on the roster.

Scout's Eye: Cowboys-Jets review

September, 13, 2011
9/13/11
10:12
AM ET
My thoughts from the Cowboys’ loss to the Jets:

Scout's Eye

Defense


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.
Jason Hatcher, Marcus Spears, Kenyon Coleman, Josh Brent and Jay Ratliff didn’t struggle to get off blocks.

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.

Offense


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.

Special Teams


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.

Stock Report: Sean Lee up; Tony Romo down

September, 12, 2011
9/12/11
8:00
AM ET


The Cowboys opened the 2011 season with a distasteful 27-24 loss to the New York Jets on Sunday night. The final 15 minutes was terrible for the Cowboys as they allowed 17 points. We review the game with our first Stock Report of the season, which tells you who played well and who didn't.

Streaking
STOCK UP

Sean Lee. The second-year inside linebacker got the start over Keith Brooking and played well. He finished with 11 tackles, one interception and a pass breakup. The move didn't come as a surprise and Brooking was professional with his benching, saying everybody is going to get their share of the snaps. Lee deserved them Sunday night because he was aggressive in the run game something the Cowboys need.

DeMarcus Ware. He set the tone with two sacks and three quarterback hurries against Mark Sanchez. Now Ware was shutout in the second half, but still did his part to give the Cowboys a chance at the upset. Ware saw single coverage most of the evening but Sanchez made quicker throws to get himself out of trouble.

Mike Jenkins. He was playing with a hyperextended knee and recovering from a stinger, then he suffers a shoulder injury when Plaxico Burress hit him from the blind side. Jenkins was down for several minutes and instead of walking to the sidelines, walked to the locker room. He later returned in the fourth quarter and made a tackle on Burress. Jenkins had one pass breakup and three tackles on the night.

Slumping
STOCK DOWN

Tony Romo. The quarterback fumbled the ball at the Jets 1 and committed another turnover when he underthrew a pass to Dez Bryant, while on the move. The pick setup the go-ahead field goal. We thought Romo was done with these mistakes, and maybe he is, but Sunday night in the fourth quarter, he didn't play like an elite quarterback. He did throw for 342 yards, but his team gets a loss.

Special teams. With the game slipping away from them, Alex Albright and John Phillips allowed Joe McKnight to slip through the middle of the line to block a Mat McBriar punt that was recovered by Isaiah Trufant and returned 18 yards for a game-tying touchdown. Martin Rucker messed up a downed punt at the Jets 1, after Bryan McCann did it before falling out of bounds. Rucker should have left the ball alone but didn't and when his foot slipped into the end zone, it forcing a touchback.

Running game. Felix Jones averaged just 2.6 yards per carry, and Tashard Choice, on three carries got four yards. DeMarco Murray picked up zero yards on two carries. Yes, the offensive line had two rookies, both of whom were nicked up with knee injuries, and a center making his second career start, but the run game has to do better than 64 yards on 26 carries.

Scout's Eye: Cowboys-Jets preview

September, 9, 2011
9/09/11
3:00
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It’s never easy to open on the road in the NFL, and the league did the Cowboys no favors by sending them to New York to face a squad that has played in the AFC Championship game the last two seasons.

There is no doubt that the Jets are a talented team on both sides of the ball. Here are some things to watch this weekend:

Scout's Eye
*A big pressure point for the Cowboys offense this week against the Jets will be how guards Bill Nagy and Kyle Kosier along with center Phil Costa handle nose man Sione Pouha and tackle Mike DeVito. I know that Pouha and Devito are not household names, but when you study the games of both of these defensive linemen, you come away with a respect for what they mean to this defense.

Pouha is an active load in the middle at 325 pounds. He is a big man that plays very light on his feet. Pouha has tremendous upper body strength and can be difficult to move at the point of attack. It is surprising to watch a man of that size move down the line controlling offensive linemen, shedding blocks and making tackles.

DeVito lines up as a three technique on the outside shoulder of the guards and he can be disruptive in the way that he attacks his gap. Pouha is more about holding the point; Devito tries to create problems in the offense’s blocking scheme through penetration.

If Pouha and Devito have a weakness, it is that they don’t show outstanding technique as pass rushers. But the Cowboys have to be careful handling the push in the front of the pocket that the Jets’ interior duo can get.

Of the inside players for the Cowboys, Costa is more of a leverage player than Nagy, who will at times struggle with players that try to walk him straight back. With Kosier, there is less strength, but more smarts and technique than pure power.

In the running game, it will be the responsibility of Costa, Nagy and Kosier to secure the down guys first, then work up to the second level to handle linebackers David Harris and Bart Scott.

If there was a positive area about the Cowboys in the preseason, it was the club’s ability to run the football with Felix Jones in this scheme. The Cowboys should have a chance to run the ball in this game if they do not allow Pouha, DeVito and first-round pick Muhammad Wilkerson to control the front because linebackers Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas on the edge will get tied up on blocks and don’t always hold up strength wise like they need to.

If the Cowboys can manage to control the middle of this Jets defense, the offensive game plan has a better chance to succeed both run and pass.

*Going into to this game against the Jets, Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and his staff will need to find a game plan that will limit the Jets in their ability to run the football.

During the preseason, the Cowboys did a poor job of handling the run and the way that the Jets are set up, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer likes to run the ball to set up other opportunities for easy throws in the passing game on boots and waggles. If the Cowboys can find a way to play ahead of the chains and force the Jets into passing the ball, it will play right into Ryan’s hands, allowing him to focus on bringing pressure.

If the Jets have to pass often, I look for Ryan to try and put a great deal of pressure on quarterback Mark Sanchez to see if he can force him into some mistakes or more importantly create some turnovers in this game. When watching Sanchez play, the first thing you notice is that he will throw the ball into coverage regardless of whether the receiver is open. Sanchez is going to make that throw because he has the faith that his receivers will come down with the ball.

Something I also noticed about Sanchez’s game is that he isn’t always accurate with his passes. I was surprised by the number of times his receivers were open but he made them work for the ball. These receivers do a great job of adjusting to the ball and bailing him out when the pass is not perfect or off target.

In studying Sanchez, I am sure that Ryan was preaching to his front seven to get their hands up when rushing because Sanchez has a tendency to get his passes knocked down at the line of scrimmage. It was shocking to see the number of passes that were knocked down or tipped at the line.

Sanchez also doesn’t throw the ball down the field much. There are quarterbacks in this league that you study that are always trying to work the ball down the field. Sanchez isn’t one of those guys. I went back to check his numbers from last season and his yards per attempt were at 6.5, which was low for a team that made the playffs.

An area that I was impressed with of Sanchez as a quarterback was his ability to move in the pocket and avoid the rush. There were times where tackles D’Brickashaw Ferguson or Wayne Hunter would get beat to the edge and he would find a way to duck or dodge the rush and get rid of the ball.

If the Cowboys are going to have success defensively against the Jets, it’s going to have to be controlling the Jets running the football. If they are able to do that, it will set up opportunities for pressure in the passing game and force Sanchez into situations where he has had his struggles.

*One of the adjustments for the way in which the Jets play their defensive scheme is to take cornerback Darrelle Revis and put him on the opponent’s best receiver. The question in Cowboys staff meetings was who will Revis take in coverage, Miles Austin or Dez Bryant?

It will take the Cowboys a series or two to figure out what direction the Jets might go with Revis. The Jets love to play press man coverage, so look for the Cowboys to try and get them out of that coverage as quickly as possible.

One way to do this is to get into a bunch formation with three wide receivers and scatter at the snap, getting into their routes as quickly as possible. If the Jets try to play man coverage out of this look, it will cause them to potentially get confused or lose their men in coverage, creating an opportunity for a successful play.

The Cowboys know they can’t line up in regular formations and feel like they can throw the ball against this secondary. The Jets have three corners that can cover in man, so look for Jason Garrett to try and dictate when and how often they play it.

Five-star answer: Jets won't hit mark in win

September, 9, 2011
9/09/11
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This week's question: Can Dallas hold the Jets under their 2010 rushing average per game?

Yes, they can but I don’t think it means they win Sunday’s game at MetLife Stadium.

Given the shakiness of the secondary, even if Mike Jenkins is able to play, I think Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez will be able to throw the ball more than the offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has shown in the past.

With Santonio Holmes, Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason, as well as tight end Dustin Keller, Sanchez has veteran, dependable wide receivers that will make him look better even with some inaccurate throws.

I say this knowing the Cowboys run defense wasn’t good in the preseason, but LaDainian Tomlinson didn’t exactly light it up either.

The Cowboys allowed 492 yards on 112 carries and four rushing touchdowns. Sometimes stats can be skewed in the preseason because of how much the backups play. Well, the first-team run defense took a hit on the first series of the first preseason game vs. Denver. In the dress rehearsal that is the third game, Adrian Peterson went nuts.

There is no shame in seeing Peterson put up yards but you can’t expect the Cowboys to just flip a switch when the games count. The Cowboys allowed five 100-yard rushers last year and a 90-yard rusher.

I don’t think the Jets will have a 100-yard rusher Sunday night, but it won’t be because of the run defense.

Columnist Jean-Jacques Taylor will kick off ESPN Dallas' weekly "Five-star question" series, where each of our writers answer one question pertaining to a key element of the Cowboys' upcoming game.

This week's question: Can Dallas hold the Jets under their 2010 rushing average per game?

The Jets ranked fourth in the NFL in rushing with 148.3 yards per game last season.

LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene are a terrific 1-2 punch for the Jets, who averaged 33.4 attempts and 4.4 yards per carry last season. The idea is to remove the pressure from quarterback Mark Sanchez, allowing him to manage the game.

The best way to beat the Jets is slow down their "ground and pound" attack.

In their five regular-season game losses, the Jets averaged only 119.6 yards rushing per game.

The Other Side: ESPN NY's Rich Cimini

September, 7, 2011
9/07/11
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IRVING, Texas -- As part of a weekly feature to serve as a primer on the Cowboys’ upcoming opponent we will speak with a writer from that town. This week we ask five questions to Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.

Archer - For the Cowboys the last few years it's been Super Bowl-or-bust entering the season. Is that the feeling around the Jets after making the AFC title game the last two years?

Cimini - It's definitely Super Bowl or bust. Just the other day, Darrelle Revis said, "The Super Bowl runs 24/7 in our locker room, in our organization, in our building." After coming so close two years in a row, the fan base will not accept anything less than a trip to Indy.

Archer - Where is Mark Sanchez in his development? Is he a game manager or a game changer?

Cimini - I'd say Sanchez still is more of a game manager than a game changer. The coaching staff still doesn't ask him to do a whole lot, although this year they're going to air it out a little more than in the past. That's according to Rex Ryan; we'll see if that actually happens. Sanchez gets a lot of pub because of his four playoff wins in two years, but they relied on his arm in only one of those wins. His decision making is getting better, but his accuracy (55 percent last year) remains suspect. The formula goes like this: Rely on the defense and running game, hang around for 3 quarters and let Sanchez make a play or two in the end to win it.

Archer - Help the local folks out: What does LaDainian Tomlinson have left?

Cimini - I'm very curious to see Tomlinson. Frankly, he didn't look good in the preseason, but I'm going to cut him some slack because of who he is. Maybe he's saving it for the regular season, For the Jets' sake, they'd better hope so because he didn't resemble the runner who looked as if he had discovered the Fountain of Youth last fall. He has a new role: Third-down back. He's a very good catcher and pass blocker, so I suspect he'll be fine in that role.

Archer - Cowboys fans don't get much of a chance to see Darrelle Revis. Just how good is he?

Cimini - Revis is incredible. When a receiver catches a ball on him, it's almost like an upset. He had a terrific camp, probably the best of his career. He's not like Deion because he doesn't have dynamic ball skills and the ability to take it to the house, but his coverage is flawless. He has it all -- smooth hip turn, closing speed, instincts, not afraid to come up and tackle, etc. He's a game changer.

Archer - What kind of atmosphere do you expect around the game with it being the opener and the 10th anniversary of 9/11?

Cimini - The atmosphere around the game will be incredible. You're talking about two marquee franchises, a two-year-old stadium (not as nice as your place, by the way), big-name players, the Ryan Bowl ... against the backdrop of 9/11. The stadium is only a few miles from where the WTC used to stand. On a clear day, you could see the towers from the old Giants Stadium. The anniversary always is emotional in NY, and this will be no different. It's going to be a little surreal because of all the conflicting emotions.

Victor Butler pokes fun at 'sexy' Mark Sanchez

September, 7, 2011
9/07/11
8:48
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Mark Sanchez’s pretty boy persona makes for great fodder for radio show hosts and pass rushers.

PODCAST
Off With The Helmets: Dallas Cowboys LB Victor Butler jokes that Jets QB Mark Sanchez is good looking ... and that he'd like to sack him and whisper sweet nothings in his ear.

Listen Listen
Cowboys backup outside linebacker Victor Butler happens to be both and had some fun with “Sexy Sanchez,” as he calls the Jets’ quarterback, in this season’s first edition of “Off with the Helmets” on ESPN 103.3.

For example, Butler gave Sanchez a gentle jab when asked if the quarterback was good.

“Oh, yeah, good looking,” Butler cracked. “How could you not want to sack a guy like that?”

Butler, whose Oregon State team upset Sanchez’s top-ranked USC squad in 2008, eagerly awaits the opportunity for a little post-sack interaction with the celebrity quarterback.

“If the refs give me enough time, maybe I’ll whisper a couple of sweet nothings in his ear,” Butler said. “I have his GQ if he wants to sign it for me. I’d really like that. I really want him to sign the cover of this for me. It’d be nice.”

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