In a contest of two teams going in the opposite direction, the Cowboys were able to hold onto a victory against a Redskins squad that many thought would roll over and quit after Mike Shanahan made the Friday quarterback switch to go with Rex Grossman over the popular Donovan McNabb.
Some of the Redskins’ problems on offense could be blamed on McNabb, but not all of them. In studying their last two games against the Giants and Bucs, the offensive line has had more of their share of problems protecting McNabb.
The matchup of rookie left tackle Trent Williams and DeMarcus Ware was one that drew my interest. Williams made his first career start against Ware on opening day and to this point has progressed nicely. In this matchup, Williams was athletic enough to handle Ware’s ability to rush the passer and play the run, but throughout the contest, Ware was able to put the talented tackle in some bad positions with his rushes.
Ware was able to use his power on the bull rush and drive Williams back into Grossman. He was able to explode off the snap, get the edge of Williams and get around him for a sack. On his second sack when he also caused a fumble, he worked Williams wide, got his balance off and weight going up field, then worked inside for the sack on Grossman.
On Victor Butler’s sack, he is going to work a game where Butler picks Williams and Ware comes inside. At the snap, Butler and Ware start to work together on the game, Williams fans outside and guard Kory Lichtensteiger works down inside, leaving a gap for Butler to rush through. To Butler’s credit, he sees this and takes the opportunity to rush inside and get the sack.
* Along the defensive front, Jay Ratliff started off the game slowly, not getting off Casey Rabach’s blocks in the running game, but as the game wore on Ratliff did a better job of creating pressure in the middle of the pocket. Stephen Bowen started the game missing a tackle on the screen to Moss but rebounded to play well.
Bowen has a feel for how to get pressure inside by getting push. The more you study Bowen, the more you realize truly what a valuable player he really is. Physically he is not the most impressive player, but he is relentless and his technique causes blockers problems.
Of the three Cowboys defensive ends that are playing under one-year contracts (Marcus Spears, Jason Hatcher and Bowen), Bowen is the one player that I would try to re-sign because of what he brings as a nickel rusher and spot starter.
To me, Bowen has more value than Spears, who is a two-down player, and Hatcher, who has been way too inconsistent in the opportunities given to him.
* In the secondary, nickel back Orlando Scandrick played well. Scandrick did a nice job of playing the routes of Santana Moss and Roydell Williams. Scandrick understands how to keep leverage in the route and has the quickness and awareness to play the ball in the air.
As a blitzer, Scandrick is developing his timing and technique to gain results when his number is called. This has become a go-to blitz for Paul Pasqualoni in the weekly game plan. Scandrick also is the most consistent and effective tacklers in the open field of all the defensive backs.
There were times where he missed tackles, whether he lunged and missed or he didn’t wrap up and bring his feet. He ran around going to the ball instead of taking a direct path to the ball. On the two-point play to tight end Chris Cooley, he had too much depth in the route and didn’t react quickly enough to the pass. He also struggled with Cooley on another two-point play where Cooley drives outside, then back inside causing Church to have to grab him and getting the holding call.
After the game, Church commented that the speed of the game was much different than what he had experienced in the preseason, which is okay. Despite his struggles, Church playing in these games are not a bad thing because it gives the front office and coaches the opportunity to really see what they have there at safety, which will be an area of concern during free agency and the draft.
*The Cowboys were short-handed at receiver with Dez Bryant and Kevin Ogletree on injured reserve and Roy Williams missing the game with a groin injury. With Sam Hurd starting on the outside and Manny Johnson seeing action as the third, the Cowboys still managed to have another 30-point game.
One of the main reasons that Jason Garrett can get away with playing without key players is the play of tight end Jason Witten. In this offense, Witten’s ability to break down defenses is impressive. His route running has never been better and his understanding of the game and what he needs to do on “hot” routes allows this offense to maintain drives.
We often talk about Witten as this mismatch player. He is too big for safeties to deal with and too athletic for linebackers to carry around the field. Witten’s ability to swim defenders, work up field, nod to the outside, then work back inside to create space is a nightmare for safeties like Reed Doughty. He also can line up on the far right of the formation as a receiver against DeAngelo Hall, run up the field then work outside, use his body to shield Hall from the ball, make the catch, shake a tackle, then get into the end zone.
Running back Tashard Choice continues to make the most of his opportunities -- not just in the running game, but as a pass blocker. Choice did have a nice touchdown run following the block of Kyle Kosier off the edge, but where Choice helped this team the most was his ability to know his assignment, read the defensive scheme and execute his assignment.
The Redskins really struggle to create pressure with their base rush, so defensive coordinator Jim Haslett had to try to create pressure with different looks and bringing pressure from the secondary. There were several plays where Choice had to sort out the rush and step up to make a clean pick up. To his credit, he was successful in his job, which allowed Jon Kitna to make successful throws down the field.
As a group, this was one of the better games for the offensive line. There have been too many games this season where four guys manage to do their jobs and one fails on each play. Doug Free had the toughest task of dealing with Brian Orakpo. Until Orakpo went out in the third quarter, Free played technique wise as good as you could play. His feet, sets, punch, angles were all in line. He played without much panic or stress. In the running game, his down blocks and sustain were outstanding.
Kosier had a solid game adjusting on the edge when he pulled, working to the linebackers on the second level on backside blocks.
The line was successful sorting out what the Redskins where trying to deal to them when it came to the passing game.
The one flaw in the game was the fourth-and-1 play on the goal line. Garrett puts Montrae Holland in the backfield as the blocking fullback but at the snap, the front side or the left side of the line gets no push. On the back side, Leonard Davis and Marc Colombo get beat inside and linebackers Rocky Mcintosh and London Fletcher go over the top. Choice has no opportunity to even start into the line because the Redskins front is now on the Cowboys side of the line of scrimmage, which led to the play being stuffed.