Dallas Cowboys: Marques Colston
What it means for the Cowboys: By the time the Cowboys play again on Nov. 24 against the New York Giants they could be out of first place in the NFC East.
They are currently tied with the Philadelphia Eagles at 5-5 and are technically in first place because of their 17-3 win at Lincoln Financial Field on Oct. 20. The Giants and Washington Redskins are only one game back in the loss column.
This was the worst loss of the Jason Garrett era. The previous one was a 34-7 loss at Philadelphia in 2011.
Stock watch: Jerry Jones, falling. On a night in which nothing went right it's too easy to point out a player or a coach. The owner and general manager is in the crosshairs tonight. He put together this lot and believes there is a chance to compete for a championship. The defense was awful. The offense was stone cold. Other than that Jones had a fine time in New Orleans.
Defense shredded again: The Saints scored on eight of 11 possessions and one ended on a missed field goal. The Saints showed mercy on their final possession and took a knee.
They had 40 first downs, setting an NFL record. The Cowboys gave up 625 yards. They allowed Mark Ingram to rush for 145 yards. They saw Marques Colston get 107 receiving yards.
The good news: Drew Brees did not throw for 400 yards. He finished with 392 yards and threw four touchdowns.
Blame the absences of Jason Hatcher, J.J. Wilcox and Morris Claiborne at the start of the game and the in-game absences of Sean Lee (hamstring) and Justin Durant (hamstring). Know that DeMarcus Ware was in and out in his return to the lineup after a three-game absence with a quadriceps strain.
It wouldn't have mattered. Maybe it would've made the outcome a little closer, but the Saints rolled all over Monte Kiffin's defense the way the Denver Broncos and Detroit Lions did.
Missed opportunity: On a night when the Cowboys knew it would be a struggle for the defense, they needed to take advantage of every chance they got.
Darren Sproles' fumble gave the Cowboys a chance at the Saints' 22 in the first quarter, but the Cowboys had to settle for a Dan Bailey field goal. A third-and-1 play was turned into third-and-6 after a James Hanna false start. Tony Romo's third-down pass was incomplete and would have been wiped out anyway by a Ronald Leary hold.
In the past five games the Cowboys have had 11 takeaways and scored just two touchdowns after those turnovers, and both of those drives started inside the opponents' 5.
What's next: The Cowboys are off until Nov. 24, when they visit the New York Giants. Players will practice on Tuesday and Wednesday before getting their first prolonged break since their first training camp practice on July 21 in Oxnard, Calif.
The last time the Cowboys visited they were able to end the Saints’ run at an undefeated season in 2009.
Welcome back: In that 2009 win, DeMarcus Ware had his most memorable game. Six days after leaving a game with his head strapped to a board with a neck injury, Ware was able to play against the Saints. He did not start, but he certainly finished. He sacked Drew Brees twice, including the clincher with a forced fumble in the fourth quarter.
Ware will make his return to the lineup after a three-game absence because of a quadriceps strain, and the Cowboys need him to be a disruptive force. With Jason Hatcher’s status iffy and a line full of no-names, Ware has to get pressure on Brees almost by himself.
He had four sacks in the first six games, but was hampered by stringer and back injuries that limited his playing time and effectiveness. The time off was not only good for his quad, but perhaps for his entire body.
Maximize the possessions: The best way Tony Romo can help a defense that will be under pressure from Brees, Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston and Darren Sproles is to control the ball. But winning the time of possession battle only goes so far.
They also must score touchdowns when available and get field goals at the worst. In their 51-48 loss to the Denver Broncos, the Romo-led offense was able to keep up with eight scoring possessions (six touchdowns, two field goals), but were done in by a fourth-quarter interception.
Scoring early would also help. The Cowboys jumped out to a 14-0 lead in their 2009 win at the Superdome.
Run the ball? The Cowboys ran it a franchise-low nine times last week in their win against the Minnesota Vikings. Take away a Romo scramble and they called only eight runs.
Jason Garrett, Bill Callahan and Romo all say they want to run it more and run it better. They said that at the start of training camp as well.
The Saints have the NFL’s 25th-ranked run defense, giving up 121.3 yards per game on the ground. Coordinator Rob Ryan is so sub-package heavy that the Cowboys could be able to work their running game with a spread look out of a three-wide receiver package.
That would make DeMarco Murray happy.
At some point we might be right. A shootout never materialized against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Cowboys had a special-teams touchdown and a 3-yard scoring drive against the Washington Redskins in another prescribed shootout. The game against the Detroit Lions did not become a shootout until the fourth quarter.
The Cowboys and Denver Broncos followed through on a predicted shootout with Peyton Manning delivering a 51-48 win.
Facing an offense like New Orleans on Sunday with Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham, Darren Sproles and Marques Colston, the Cowboys might have to rely on the offense to pull out a victory.
Not that Tony Romo looks at it that way.
“You trust your defense. You trust your special teams. You play the game that’s played that day,” Romo said. “If we have to score a lot of points then we have to be willing to do that. If you’re in some tough spots, you got to be patient and they’re scoring, you got to stay true to the plan and go when the time has come to give your team a chance.”
The Cowboys scored on eight of 11 possessions against the Broncos. They had two turnovers and one punt. And it wasn’t enough. The Cowboys will have to maximize their possessions against the Saints.
“You want to run what you want to run,” coach Jason Garrett said. “The best way to handle any situation is simply execute ball plays as best as you can whether they’re runs or passes, who’s playing defense, who’s on their offense. That’s your objective every week: move the ball, make first downs, give yourself some scoring opportunities.”
There might not be a more compelling game on this week’s NFL schedule than the Sunday night showdown between the NFC South-leading New Orleans Saints (6-2) and the NFC East-leading Dallas Cowboys (5-4) at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Both teams are jockeying for position in the NFC playoff race. They both offer offensive fireworks, led by the Saints’ Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham and the Cowboys’ Tony Romo and Dez Bryant. They’ve both got something to prove: The Saints will be focused on rebounding from their ugliest performance of the season in a 26-20 loss at the New York Jets; the Cowboys are looking to beat a team with a winning record this season.
There’s even a revenge factor. Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was fired by Cowboys owner Jerry Jones after last season. And he's never been shy about expressing his displeasure with that decision.
ESPN.com’s Saints reporter Mike Triplett and Cowboys reporter Todd Archer break down the matchup.
Triplett: Rob Ryan has been such a huge addition for the Saints. Players love playing for him. He’s putting them in good positions to succeed, and his versatile schemes have worked great for the most part. What wasn’t working for him in Dallas?
Archer: Injuries played a big part in his demise here. He was down six starters at the end of the season and DeMarcus Ware was playing with one arm. He had them competitive. But, honestly, Ryan played a big part in it, too. He tried to junk it up with so many different looks and schemes and packages that the players couldn’t just go play. They had to think. Maybe he felt like he had to junk it up because so many guys were hurt, but he left them unsound a lot of times. He was also way too emotional. He lacked poise when the defense needed it most. I think he was too worried about becoming a head coach. Maybe it has changed down there, or maybe Sean Payton has more control of him.
Is there any reason to think that what happened against the Jets could be the start of something for the Saints?
Triplett: The Saints have had a few nagging issues that all seemed to creep up at once in that Jets loss. Their pass protection has been inconsistent. Their run game has been nonexistent at times. The run defense has been up and down. But I think it was rare for the Saints to have all of those things come up and bite them at once at New York, and they were a little out of their element in some chilly weather against a physical team. Playing at home against the Cowboys seems like a matchup that suits them better. They’re more than happy to engage in a shootout.
What’s the biggest threat the Cowboys pose? I assume Romo and Bryant are involved?
Archer: Since they just don’t want to run the ball, after just eight carries last week (the ninth was a Romo scramble), I’ll go with Romo-to-Bryant, but the Romo-to-Jason Witten combination is pretty good. The Cowboys can throw the ball well even without a running game. They might be happy to get into a shootout as well. The last time the offense was good was a month ago, in their 51-48 shootout loss to Denver. Romo knows Brees is going to score points, so he’ll have to match it. Remember, the last time the Cowboys were at the Superdome they ended New Orleans’ run at perfection by being aggressive early. I can see them trying to do that again.
The Cowboys have allowed four 400-yard passers this season, and I’m penciling in Brees as the fifth. Calvin Johnson went for 329 receiving yards against the Cowboys a couple of weeks ago. What will Graham do?
Triplett: You could have been talking about the Saints when you said they “can throw the ball well even without a running game.” The Saints might try to establish the run a little bit since Sean Payton said that one of his biggest regrets in the Jets loss was that he was too unbalanced. But the Saints are always willing to exploit a shaky pass defense.
Some teams have been defending Graham with top cornerbacks (which worked for the Patriots but not for the Jets). But the Saints have clobbered teams whenever they leave Graham in single coverage. Meanwhile, if defenses sell out to stop Graham, Brees will happily throw to any open man. Two weeks ago, he completed passes to 10 different receivers. And it looks like Darren Sproles and Marques Colston may both be back from injuries Sunday.
Why has Dallas’ pass defense been so bad?
Archer: Mostly, it’s taken time for the players to get a grasp of Monte Kiffin’s scheme and it’s taken time for the new defensive coordinator to know how to best use his players. They have man corners in Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick and Morris Claiborne, but they have played a lot of zone and been exposed. There have been just too many creases. The pass rush has not helped, either. They went into the season thinking Anthony Spencer, Jay Ratliff, Jason Hatcher and Ware would be their rocks. Spencer played in one game. Ratliff didn’t play in any before getting cut. Ware has missed the last three but is set to return this week. Hatcher is having a career year with seven sacks. When they have played average quarterbacks they have held up. When they have played elite quarterbacks they have given up 400 yards. For the fantasy-football owners out there, go with Brees Sunday.
You get this every week, but play calling is a big topic here. How have things been different with Payton calling the shots again?
Triplett: You’re right to mention play calling in that question. Most people ask about Payton’s leadership, which is obviously a huge deal; he instills a lot of confidence in this team and seems to press all the right motivational buttons. But his greatest strength is his offensive brain. He’s so good at using a ton of different formations to find and exploit mismatches, usually with Graham and Sproles. The offense hasn’t quite hit its peak like it did in 2011, but it has been excellent at times.
You mentioned Ware coming back. Will he be close to 100 percent? Folks around here won’t soon forget how well he played in 2009, when the Saints didn’t expect him to come back from injury so soon. He singlehandedly spoiled their undefeated season.
Archer: I think so, but he has had a couple of nagging things this season (a stinger and strained back). Missing three weeks might have Ware as fresh as he has ever felt entering Week 10 of a season. They’ll need him to be the Ware of that night in 2009 to succeed. He looked great in training camp, overpowering Tyron Smith in practice all the time, but he hasn’t been as explosive when he has played. What he’ll do is make the other guys around him better because he’ll command so much attention.
Ware is making the move back to defensive end from outside linebacker. How has the Saints' defense transitioned from the 4-3 to Ryan’s 3-4?
Triplett: The transition has been outstanding, in large part because Ryan has adapted his 3-4 to fit the Saints’ personnel (after a ton of injuries this summer, including one to former Cowboys linebacker Victor Butler). As a result, the Saints have actually spent most of the season in nickel and dime defenses with a four-man front. Ryan likes to use three safeties at once in versatile roles, disguising what they do and sending them on occasional blitzes.
End Cameron Jordan and outside linebacker Junior Galette are having breakout seasons as edge rushers. And veteran cornerback Keenan Lewis has been a great pick-up in free agency, too. He’s a bigger, long-armed guy. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him shadow Bryant on Sunday night.
We've hit on Romo, Bryant, Witten and Ware. Any under-the-radar Cowboys who might have a big impact on this game?
Archer: I’ll go with Cole Beasley. He might get stopped by stadium security before the game because he just doesn’t look like an NFL receiver at 5 feet 8 and 180 pounds, but Romo loves the kid. He’s a real threat in the slot. He’s super quick, has a great feel for getting open underneath and knows how not to take a hit. He had six catches last week against Minnesota. The Cowboys’ third-down offense has been pretty bad, but Beasley can take some pressure off Witten and Bryant in the slot.
|Coach Jason Garrett talks about the Cowboys' overtime loss to the Saints and Jason Witten's remarkable season.
The Cowboys were hurt by replay reviews in back-to-back weeks on similar plays that led to different conclusions.
Against Pittsburgh, referee Clete Blakeman reversed a fumble by Pittsburgh’s Emmanuel Sanders after it appeared he got two feet down before losing the ball on a hit from safety Eric Frampton. On Sunday, Morris Claiborne punched the ball free from Colston after he got two feet down and turned upfield.
In the scramble, tight end Jimmy Graham was able to recover the fumble at the Dallas 2, and the Saints kicked the field goal for the winner.
“He had two feet down, had possession of the ball, and turned upfield and got hit as his third step was coming down,” Coleman said to a pool reporter after the game. “He had possession and time enough to do something with the football -- a football move.”
The Cowboys just want clarification on the difference in plays, not that it will change the outcome.
The Cowboys didn't run the ball often despite facing a Saints defense ranked 31st against the rush. They didn't run the ball particularly well, either. DeMarco Murray gained only 40 yards on 11 carries, an average of 3.6 per pop, with a long of 9. None of the Cowboys' other backs carried the ball at all. Murray's lost fumble -- his second of his career and second in two weeks -- was by far the most impactful play from the Cowboys' running game. The Saints recovered at the Dallas 5 and scored a touchdown a few plays later.
Tony Romo threw for 416 yards and four touchdowns with no picks on 26-of-43 passing. Dez Bryant caught nine passes for a career-high 224 yards with a pair of 58-yard touchdowns. It's pretty tough to pin this loss on the Cowboys' passing game, but it did sputter at two critical points of the game. The three-and-out before halftime allowed the Saints to get the ball with enough time to drive for a field goal. The three-and-out in overtime allowed the Saints to drive for the game-winning field goal. Miles Austin had an up-and-down day, dropping two balls but grabbing the touchdown that sent the game into overtime.
The Saints tried to pound away at the Dallas defense, handing it to their tailback trio a total of 37 times. The Saints rushed for only 117 yards (3.2 per carry), including a 9-yard touchdown by Mark Ingram on the game's first possession. Scatback Darren Sproles (nine carries, 48 yards) gave the Cowboys some problems on the perimeter with his quickness, but the Dallas defense held its ground up the middle despite missing its top two nose tackles, three of its top four inside linebackers and a starting defensive end.
It was easy pickings for Drew Brees, who completed 37-of-53 passes for 446 yards and three touchdowns with no turnovers. The Cowboys didn't have anything resembling a respectable pass rush, hurrying Brees only twice and sacking him once. DeMarcus Ware watched much of the second half after re-injuring his right shoulder, but it's still inexcusable for the pass rush to be that poor. The Cowboys couldn't cover receiver Marques Colston (10 catches, 153 yards), running back Darren Sproles (seven catches, 104 yards) or tight end Jimmy Graham (seven catches, 88 yards).
This definitely wasn't Dwayne Harris' best day. He muffed a kickoff -- and was fortunate that Dallas' James Hanna recovered -- and let a punt bounce at the Cowboys' 14 and roll to the 3. Other than that, it was a good day for the Cowboys' special teams units. They contained dangerous Darren Sproles, who had two punt returns for 10 yards and one kickoff return for 15 yards. Harris had a 28-yard punt return. Brian Moorman had a net average of 46.2 yards per punt, twice pinning the Saints inside the 10. And Dan Bailey drilled a 47-yard field goal, his lone attempt.
You can complain about Jason Garrett's clock management before the half, when the Cowboys went three-and-out and left 47 seconds on the clock, plenty of time for Drew Brees to drive the Saints for a field goal. You can complain about Garrett not feeding a beasting Dez Bryant in the third quarter, or defensive coordinator Rob Ryan not bringing heat on Brees. Once again, however, Garrett has to get some credit for the mental toughness this team has to make a comeback that ultimately wasn't enough to win.
Saints receiver Marques Colston was ruled to have made a 9-yard catch, which he then fumbled down to the Dallas 2. Referee Walt Coleman confirmed the call on replay.
“He had two feet down, had possession of the ball and turned up field and got hit as his third step was coming down,” Coleman said to a pool reporter. “He had possession and time enough to do something with the football -- a football move.”
The Cowboys lost a turnover against the Steelers when referee Clete Blakeman ruled wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders did not have possession or make a football move as he was being hit by Cowboys safety Eric Frampton.
Saints tight end Jimmy Graham was able to recover the fumble to set up the game-winning field goal attempt.
“I thought it was an identical play,” coach Jason Garrett said. “That was something I tried telling the officials. It didn’t go in our favor.”
Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones said he believed it was a catch and fumble.
Said Coleman, “He doesn’t have to tuck it. So long as he has possession of it and moving it from one and to the other, he doesn’t have to tuck it away. He just has to have possession of the ball to be able to do something with it, like a normal football act. But he doesn’t have to tuck it against his body.”
As for the ball being placed at the 2, Coleman said fourth-quarter rules are in place for overtime, so the ball does not go back to the spot of the fumble outside of the final two minutes of the extra session.
Here are a few things to look for Sunday:
The series: This is the 25th meeting between the Saints and Cowboys. Of the 24 previous meetings, 11 have been decided by two or more touchdowns. But 10 of the last 14 games were decided by 10 points or less. The last time the the Saints lost in Dallas was 1991. The Cowboys have lost their last three home games to the Saints.
No Sean Payton: Saints coach Sean Payton is under suspension for his role in Bountygate and is banned from attending the game. In his place is Joe Vitt, who served a six-game suspension for his role in the scandal. Payton was a major influence in the development in Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo. Romo has downplayed the significance of Payton not attending the game.
DeMarcus Ware dinged up: Most players are nicked up this time of year, and Ware is no different. The Cowboys' talented outside linebacker is dealing with a hyperextended elbow and a shoulder that pops out from time to time. It did last week. Ware, who hasn't missed a game this season, has had two multi-sack games and has had a sack in the same game with Anthony Spencer five times this season.
Defending the Saints: The Saints have the third-best passing offense (397.9) in the NFL, but quarterback Drew Brees -- who leads the NFL with 4,335 passing yards -- is tied with Andrew Luck for the league lead in interceptions with 18. Will the Cowboys add to that total? The return of safety Charlie Peprah should help the secondary slow down the big plays and maybe force some turnovers. But the Saints have plenty of talent on offense. Receiver Lance Moore will be difficult to cover in the slot, and of course Marques Colston is a big-play threat with 13 receptions of 20 or more yards.
Romo's hot streak: Sure, Dez Bryant has been on a tear (he's got a touchdown in the last six games), but Romo has been almost as hot. Romo has thrown 12 touchdowns the last six games with just three interceptions. Romo has also thrown for over 300 yards thee times and over 400 yards once.
IRVING, Texas – The Saints are averaging 27.8 points per game, which is good for fourth in the NFL.
|How far away from elite quarterback status is Tony Romo? Tim MacMahon, Jean-Jacques Taylor and Landry Locker discuss on the Ben & Skin Show.
That should tell you defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has a tough task ahead of him.
But it also means something to Jason Garrett, as well, as the offensive play-caller.
“The best way to help the defense is to execute ball plays and drive the ball and score points,” Garrett said. “A lot of people say, ‘Do you want to play a slow down game and keep those guys on the sidelines?’ You just want to be able to execute, make first downs, move the ball and score points. However you can do that is a good thing. Every week we try to do that. We game plan accordingly. We’ll try to attack their defense.”
More important than winning time of possession is scoring touchdowns inside the red zone because of the Saints' offense.
During the Cowboys' three-game winning streak they have scored touchdowns on five of their last nine possessions inside the opponents’ 20. In their last six games they have scored touchdowns on 10 of their last 20 red zone drives.
“You must take advantage of the opportunities you do get in a game,” Garrett said. “You don’t get that many drives in a game. We’ve got to make sure we cash in on them.”
Free agency begins Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET
Key free agents: WR Laurent Robinson, S Abram Elam, LB Keith Brooking, LB Anthony Spencer (franchise)
Where they stand: Dallas needs serious help in the secondary and will have to decide whether it wants Elam back at safety while it pursues at least one cornerback. The Cowboys are expected to release Terence Newman, and they could look to add depth at that position and a new starter. Franchising Spencer indicates that while they would like to improve their pass rush, they won't be players in the Mario Williams market. Expect their free-agent focus to be on defensive backs and possibly some upgrades on the interior of the offensive line. They would like Robinson back as their No. 3 receiver, but if he's going to get No. 2 receiver-type offers, they'll likely let him walk.
What to expect: The top two cornerback targets are likely Kansas City's Brandon Carr and Tennessee's Cortland Finnegan. You can't rule out Dallas making a play for Saints guard Carl Nicks, who'd be a huge help to their offensive line. But someone like Baltimore's Ben Grubbs is likely to be more attainable financially. What the Cowboys really need on the line is a center, but it's not a great market for those unless they can get their hands on Houston's Chris Myers. The Cowboys likely will hunt for some second-tier safeties and inside linebackers to add depth, then target defensive back again early in the draft.
New York Giants
Key free agents: WR Mario Manningham, OT Kareem McKenzie, CB Aaron Ross, CB Terrell Thomas, LB Jonathan Goff, P Steve Weatherford (franchise).
Where they stand: The Super Bowl champs must get their own cap situation in order first, as they project to be about $7.25 million over the projected cap. That may mean tough cuts of people like Brandon Jacobs or David Diehl, or it may just mean some contract restructuring (like the big one they apparently just did with Eli Manning). Regardless, don't expect the Giants to spend big to keep Manningham or Ross. They're likely to bring back Thomas on a team-favorable deal as a result of the knee injury that cost him the entire 2011 season, and they'll probably let McKenzie walk and try to replace him internally (which favors Diehl's chances of sticking around).
What to expect: Just like last year, don't expect the Giants to be big-game hunters. They like to grow their own replacements. If Manningham leaves, they won't go after the top wide receivers but might try to find a bargain or two to supplement the young players from whom they're expecting more production next season. They could find a midlevel safety if they don't bring back Deon Grant, and if Jacobs leaves they'll probably bring in a veteran running back or two to compete in training camp with their youngsters. They liked Ronnie Brown last year as a possible Ahmad Bradshaw replacement when Bradshaw was a pending free agent, so there's a name to watch for if you want one.
Key free agents: G Evan Mathis, DT Trevor Laws, DT Antonio Dixon (restricted), WR DeSean Jackson (franchise), QB Vince Young
Where they stand: Other than Mathis, whom they're working to try and re-sign before he his the market, the Eagles don't have many internal free-agent issues to worry about. They franchised Jackson because they're not ready to give him a long-term deal just yet. He's a candidate for a trade, but it would have to be a very nice offer. If they traded him, they'd hunt for a wide receiver, but they may do so anyway -- just at a lower level (think Plaxico Burress). The interior of the defensive line is in fairly good hands with Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson as starters, but they could stand to add depth to that rotation. And while they signed Trent Edwards a couple of weeks ago, they'll keep looking for a better veteran backup quarterback option with Young sure to be gone.
What to expect: Do not -- I repeat, do not -- expect the Eagles to be the same kind of player they were in free agency a year ago. Andy Reid made it very clear several times during the 2011 offseason and season that last year was unique, and the Eagles don't like to do business that way in general. They do need linebackers, and they have the cap room to play on guys like Stephen Tulloch or Curtis Lofton or even, if they wanted to get really nutty, London Fletcher. But while you can expect them to add a veteran or two at the position, don't be surprised if they sit out the higher-priced auctions this time around.
Key free agents: S LaRon Landry, LB London Fletcher, DE Adam Carriker, TE Fred Davis (franchise), QB Rex Grossman
Where they stand: Mike Shanahan said in December that Fletcher was a priority, but he remains unsigned with less than a week to go before free agency. Presumably, they'd still like to lock him up before he hits the market. If they can't, they'll have to replace a major on-field and off-field presence. Carriker is likely to be back, but the Fletcher situation has to be settled first. Landry likely is gone unless he wants to take a low-base, high-incentive deal to stay. The Redskins are sick of not knowing whether he'll be able to take the field from week to week. Grossman could return, but only as a backup to whatever quarterback upgrade they find.
What to expect: The Redskins could have more than $40 million in cap room with which to maneuver in free agency, and they're going to need it. They need a quarterback, of course, and if they can't make the trade with the Rams to move up to No. 2 in the draft and pick Robert Griffin III, they'll look at Peyton Manning and Kyle Orton and possibly Matt Flynn, though he doesn't appear to be high on their list. What Shanahan really wants is a true playmaking No. 1 wide receiver, which is why the Redskins have their eyes on Vincent Jackson and Marques Colston, who are at the very top end of that market. They'll be able to outbid almost anyone for those guys if they want to, but they may have to get quarterback figured out first if they want to persuade one of them to take their offer over similar ones. They'll also hunt for help on the offensive line and in the secondary, as they need depth in both places.
To Jason Garrett and his squad, it’s a bottom line league. You are measured by wins and losses. The Cowboys had just as much of a chance to win that game against the Saints as they did to lose it. Some plays went in their direction as others didn’t.
The pass to Roy Williams on third-and-6 with 3:46 left in the fourth quarter was a prime example of that. Williams had given his teammates everything he had that day as a pass catcher and blocker, but this is the play that everybody remembers.
On this play, Williams lines up wide left with Jason Witten inline as the tight end to the left. Miles Austin is in the slot to the right with Dez Bryant outside of him. Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins is in the middle of the field. The Saints had done a nice job of mixing coverage in this game, playing with two safeties on the hash to take away the receivers on the outside but also playing some single safety.
|Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Roy Williams jumps on The Ben and Skin Show to discuss his Thanksgiving day fumble.
Jenkins, seeing what has happened, comes flying from the middle of the field to try to play Williams. As Williams works inside, Jenkins overshoots him by a wide margin. Williams, in clean air, takes the ball from Kitna on the Saints 49 with Jenkins outside the numbers on the Saints 42.
As Williams works his way up the field, he is between the hashes on the 38 with Austin blocking Tracy Porter to his right. Williams transfers the ball from his right hand on the Saints 35 to his left hand. Jenkins is now in full sprint and reaches Williams at the Saints 19, catching him and using his momentum to pull the ball away from Williams as they both fall to the ground on the Saints 10.
It was a heck of a play by the Saints safety. What is usual about the play was that earlier in the quarter, Williams catches a similar pass with Robinson ripping at the ball and covers it up with both hands to secure the play.
* When the Saints took the ball with 3:03 left in the game on their own 11, there had to be a thought among the Cowboys defenders that they could make a stop and close out this game.
On the previous drive, the Cowboys forced a three-and-out with tremendous pressure on Drew Brees and some of the tightest coverage that the secondary and linebackers had played all day. But just the opposite happened with the game on the line.
On first-and-10, Marques Colston runs vertically from the slot then breaks to the outside. Nickel back Orlando Scandrick is in man coverage on the play and in good position. Defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni rushes four against the Saints, who kept tight end David Thomas to help block. Brees has to move forward in the pocket, then to the right as he lobs the ball to Colston, who is able to make a high adjusting catch.
First-and-10 from the Saints 33, Devery Henderson nods inside then heads vertical. Strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh is level with cornerback Terence Newman on the route when he should have had more depth. Newman is able to rally to make knock the ball out of Henderson’s hands on the play.
Third-and-10, Robert Meachem on the outside against Newman in coverage. Meachem heads vertical then again, nods to the inside, causing Newman to pause slightly. Newman then has to turn and run with the 4.39 Meachem. The pause buys Meachem the separation that he needs to get by Newman. Alan Ball is the safety to that side, but he is held in position watching Thomas work against Brooking.
At first, I thought Newman was sitting on the sticks playing the route for the first down. Meachem’s route was outstanding and the throw from Brees was even better.
The Saints now have the ball on the Cowboys 12. Out of the huddle, receiver Lance Moore lines to the right. Cornerback Mike Jenkins goes with him. Moore then motions right to left with Jenkins as well. At the snap, Moore starts left, then breaks inside. Jenkins, not sure, gets caught trying to adjust. Sensabaugh tries to drop and help but can’t get there.
Jenkins tries to grab Moore and pull himself into position, then tries to play the ball with his off hand. But the throw from Brees was perfect with no chance to make the play at the end of the game-winning drive.
* Throughout the season, if you have followed The Scout’s Eye, you have seen me comment on the problems with the Cowboys running game and second-level blocking. On the fourth-and-1 play that Barber was stopped on, second-level blocking played a major role in the Cowboys having to turn the ball over to the Saints.
On the play, Jon Kitna tosses the ball going right to Barber with right tackle Marc Colombo in front trying to get to first support. As Colombo is working outside, safety Roman Harper comes forward and cut him down at the legs, creating a pile and causing Barber to have to jump. That causes him to lose his momentum going forward, but to Barber’s credit, he struggles forward and to the edge trying to gain the line.
From the inside, center Andre Gurode is trying to work front side or to his right and cut off linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar. Dunbar works away from the attempted block by Gurode, who ends up on the ground, and is able to work down the line of scrimmage. Barber gets to the edge but is met by Dunbar who is able to make the tackle for no gain, giving the ball to the Saints and stopping the Cowboys drive without any points to show for it.
Once again, when problems arise in the running game for the Cowboys, it’s usually when players are not secured at the point of attack or a defender was left unblocked. That has happened quite a bit in 2010.
Thanksgiving Day begins a stretch for the Cowboys where they play three of the top-rated quarterbacks in the NFL in consecutive weeks as they try to dig themselves out of this hole that has become the 2010 season.
The running game, which struggled for the majority of the season, has shown signs of improvement in the last two weeks against the Giants and Lions. It has not been a dominant unit but as a whole is doing a much better job of running with a purpose. The balance is due to the offense playing with a lead or the game in a manageable position.
The secondary has been helped with defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni relying more on a zone-coverage scheme, replacing the man scheme that exposed the defensive backs to big plays when the pass rush was unable to get home. Pasqualoni is focusing more on sound principles than the high-risk and pressure style of Phillips.
Quarterback Jon Kitna has been more than adequate leading an offense that is in the process of developing one of the most exciting and explosive players in rookie receiver Dez Bryant. The Saints have been a middle-of-the-pack team when it comes to rushing the passer but are ranked second in the NFL is pass defense.
In studying the last game the Saints played against Seattle, cornerback Jabari Greer was beaten badly on two long completions, one on a “stutter-go” or double move. In the contest that these two clubs played last season, Miles Austin scored on a similar move to get the Cowboys on the scoreboard first.
Both Tracy Porter and Greer are aggressive corners but they can afford to play this way because the safety play of Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper has been outstanding. Harper likes to play close to the line and get in on the action while Jenkins is more of a true free safety.
The matchup with Harper and tight end Jason Witten will be interesting. To play Witten, you have to be physical and have strength but be able to run with him. Harper has those types of traits when you talk about safety play.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Saints have one of the most explosive attacks that you will ever see. Sean Payton does an outstanding job of using all of his players in this attack.
Quarterback Drew Brees is deadly accurate throwing the ball to a talented group of receivers led by Marques Colston. The Saints like to run a three-receiver package with Colston in the slot, Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem on the outside. On third downs, watch Lance Moore. He seems to be a favorite target of Brees when he needs a play.
Speaking of players to watch, tight end David Thomas is an interesting player. He really stands out when you are studying tape. The Saints like to line him up in the backfield, inline and outside. He really plays the role of what John Phillips did for the Cowboys last season. Thomas is not as stiff of an athlete as Phillips and requires the defense’s attention anytime he is in the game. He can get down the field, work short or in the flat.
This week could mark the return of running back Reggie Bush to the Saints lineup. Bush is one of the most dynamic players in the NFL today, but how will his game conditioning be after such a long layoff?
The numbers say that the Saints are ranked 26th in the league running the ball, but rookie Chris Ivory is a player that I would love to have on my team. He is a physical load with the ball in his hands. He runs with power and brute force. If he can line you up in his sights, he will punish you.
The guards for the Saints are the best players along the offensive line. Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans are outstanding. Center Jonathan Goodwin is able to be a marginal player because these guards are so good.
If the Cowboys are going to attack an area of the Saints, it should be Jon Stinchcomb at right tackle. Stinchcomb is not as strong in the running game and will give ground in the passing game. Jermon Bushrod at left tackle is who the Cowboys went at last season, but he appears to be playing better in both the run and pass.
After the game last season, Payton spoke of his team’s inability to protect in the game when it needed to the most. There is no doubt in my mind that the Saints will do all they can to help their tackles in this game against DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer.
When these two teams met last season, the one area that really stood out for the Cowboys was their ability to make plays in their nickel defense. There is going to be a tremendous amount of pressure on the Cowboys secondary in this game. Mike Jenkins, Terence Newman and Orlando Scandrick will need to be at their best if the Cowboys are going to be successful in this game.
Hofstra, a private school, is located in Hempstead, Long Island.
The school has produced several NFL players including Wayne Chrebet, Willie Colon, Marques Colston and the Cowboys' Stephen Bowen, who was a two-year starter.
"I didn't see it coming at all," Bowen said. "All the money our school has, a private school, it just doesn't make sense to me. I don't know what to say. It kind of hurt me a little bit. It's terrible. It makes me not even want to go back there. It's like I didn't play there."
School officials said it wasn't an easy decision. After a two-year review of how the school spent its money on athletics, it was determined a cut was needed.
"I just don't get it, it just doesnt make sense to me, it just hurts, man," Bowen said. "The athletic director [Jack Hayes] he can reach out to me if he's trying to keep the program but if hes not trying to do anything like that I have nothing to say to him."