Dallas Cowboys: Yeremiah Bell

Scout's Eye: Cowboys-Dolphins review

November, 29, 2011
Scout's Eye
The Dallas Cowboys ended November with a 4-0 record and the 18th career win for Tony Romo in the month since he took over as the starting quarterback for the Cowboys.

As impressive as that stat is, fans care more about what you do in December, January and now February. You have heard me mention many times before how difficult it is to win in the National Football League. You fully appreciate how hard it really is and how grateful you are when it happens after being in offices around the league.

The 2011 Cowboys have done a nice job of playing their best football at the right times. There are too many times that we get caught up in what the opposing team’s record is, using that as a base for how we think the Cowboys will play on a weekly basis.

In the tradition of things to be thankful for, I am grateful that I get the opportunity to break these games down for you, trying to give you a clear idea of why and how with this Dallas Cowboys squad.

Romo overcomes mistakes to save Cowboys

For the second week in a row, Romo won this game for the Cowboys with the way that he managed the quarterback position despite some early mistakes with the interceptions.

The first interception, which was intended for Martellus Bennett, was clearly Romo’s fault with the lack of depth as he tried to fit the ball to Bennett up the sideline. Romo threw the ball too much on the line instead of putting air under it. Cornerback Vontae Davis was able to adjust his coverage on the route because he was really not threatened by Bennett’s vertical route. The safety was not a factor in the coverage coming over, and Romo was not pressured at all to have to make that throw much like others that he had to make under duress.

Laurent Robinson took the blame for the second interception. At pre-snap, Jason Witten and Robinson flip spots on the line. Witten moves to the slot and Robinson outside. At the snap, Robinson tries an outside release against Sean Smith, who doesn’t lose position in the route. Robinson really doesn’t buy himself much space.

Smith is in great position and Romo throws the ball to the curl with Smith standing in front of Robinson. Romo threw the ball in tight coverage, evidence of the confidence that Romo has in Robinson and that receiver is going to run the right route.

Romo-to-Robinson connection clicking

Speaking of Robinson’s route running, his first touchdown was perfectly executed. This play in the red zone now has a chance because the way that DeMarco Murray has been running the ball the last several weeks. Without the threat of a running game, you don’t get this type of bite on a play-action.

On the play, Robinson is the only receiver on the field and lined up wide left. At the snap of the ball, the line blocks full flow going to their right, Murray starts to stretch right, and Romo fakes to Murray while moving right to draw the Dolphins’ defense up and to that side. Robinson holds one count like he is going to block, then explodes to the inside, leaving his man.

Romo’s eyes now find Robinson in the middle of the field uncovered with the linebackers moving forward. Romo throws the ball to an area, and Robinson is able to adjust and make the catch for the touchdown.

One more example of Robinson and Romo clicking was on the second touchdown throw.

With the Cowboys down 16-10 at the start of the fourth quarter and the ball on the Dolphins’ 18-yard line, Garrett goes with three wide receivers, one tight end and one running back. Dez Bryant is lined up wide left, Witten is on the line to the right, and Kevin Ogletree is in the slot to the right with Robinson outside of him.

At the snap, Witten starts vertical, working the middle of the field between the hashes. Bryant drives hard inside to cross the path of Witten. Ogletree works outside then up like he is running a wheel route. Robinson clears Ogletree going vertical. The protection is able to hold up to a point while all of this is developing down the field. Romo then flushes to his left, with his eyes down the field. Romo is able to square his shoulders and finds Robinson running along the backside of the end zone.

Robinson has a step on Smith and safety Yeremiah Bell doesn’t react well enough to Robinson, who crosses behind him. Romo throws the ball in a manner that allows Robinson to adjust to the pass by extending his body to make his catch, then drag his toes. Smith dives to try and defend the pass, but the ball is so well thrown that he has no chance to make the play.

Big-time throw, big-time catch.

Dolphins' Marshall gets best of Newman

Coming into this game, there were going to be several players on the Dolphins that were going to present problems for the Dallas defense.

Brandon Marshall is an outstanding wide receiver. In studying him, you could see that Terence Newman and Orlando Scandrick were going to have their hands full because of his physical style and the way he likes to use his hands to push off in route. Scandrick learned this firsthand on a play-action pass down the field. Marshall shoved Scandrick off the line to get separation. It was clearly pass interference, but it was not called, which resulted in a big gain for the Dolphins.

Marshall also took advantage of Newman on a touchdown pass. Newman had been playing well in his press coverage, but in this case, he missed with his hands on the jam and allowed Marshall to get up the field. Safety Abram Elam played shallow to try to help Sean Lee with tight end Anthony Fasano. Elam is trying his best to do two jobs but is unable to really help Newman fully. Anthony Spencer is applying late pressure on quarterback Matt Moore, but it’s not enough and he is able to deliver the ball down the field to Marshall, who makes the catch with Newman around his neck. The coverage really broke down for Newman when he missed with his hands on the jam.

Cowboys' Ware vindicates himself

The position that played well for the Cowboys in this game was their outside linebackers. I had been very critical of DeMarcus Ware in the Redskins game for his lack of production on the final drive as the game was in the balance. In this Dolphins game, Ware was outstanding not only as a pressure player but in coverage as well.

One of the plays that I wanted to point out was when Ware carried Reggie Bush up the field in the red zone. We all know what an outstanding rusher Ware is, but in this play, you see what an aware football player he really is.

On the play, Ware is lined up as an inside linebacker in the middle of the defense. At the snap, Lee is trying to cover Bush by banging him at the line. Lee loses contact with Bush as he escapes through the middle of the defense. Ware sees that Bush is clear of Lee and adjusts to play him in coverage. Moore sees Bush clear Lee but has to try to float the ball over Ware, who is in outstanding shape on Bush. Moore would have to make a perfect throw to get the ball to Bush with Ware on coverage and he is unable to do that.

It was a nice, heads-up play by Ware that saved a touchdown.

Cowboys' Spencer stellar on goal-line stand

Anthony Spencer also played one of his better games of the season. Spencer was all over the field, whether it was in the running game, pressuring Moore or in coverage.

One of the key series of the game was in the fourth quarter when the Dolphins managed to get the ball to the Cowboys’ 3. Spencer played a key role in holding the Dolphins to a field goal.

On first-and-goal, the Dolphins try to run the ball on the edge, but Ryan slants his defensive line inside toward the center and Spencer is able to shoot the gap and make a tackle for a loss of two yards.

On second-and-goal, Moore tries a play-action pass. Spencer is now outside of tackle Marc Colombo and takes a sharp angle down inside off the edge. Colombo tries to work down then back to the outside but is too late to take care of Spencer, who is now in the path of Moore’s arm and is able to slap the ball out of his hand for an incomplete.

On third-and-goal, Ryan decides that he wants to bring two rushers from the same side. Ware and Spencer both are lined up together off the Dolphins’ right side. At the snap, Newman gets beat inside by Brian Hartline. Spencer rushes hard inside against Colombo again. Moore has to flush to his right to avoid the rush, and Elam turns in the middle of the field as he sees Newman struggling with Hartline in the back of the end zone. Elam is able to keep himself between Moore and Hartline. Moore, throwing the ball on the move, throws it too high and to the right of Hartline with Elam in position. Elam defends the pass, and instead of coming away with six points, the Dolphins have to settle for three.

The entire Dolphins drive was affected by Spencer, who at times shows the ability to make those types of plays.

Scout's Eye: Cowboys-Dolphins preview

November, 23, 2011

Scout's Eye
In the NFL, short weeks of game preparation are never easy. It’s even more difficult having to play a physical divisional game on the road before an opponent that you see once every four years.

There will be nothing easy about this game against the Dolphins. It’s a team that has quality players on both sides of the ball. We should not be fooled by the Dolphins’ 3-7 record, because in the games I have studied, this could have very well been a team on a five-game winning streak going into this game.

The Dolphins will give the Cowboys trouble in this game in two areas offensively, wide receiver and running back.

Be wary of Dolphins' Marshall, Bess, Bush, Clay

Wide receiver Brandon Marshall can be a physical beast when it comes to having to defend him up the field. He is not afraid of using his body to create separation with the defensive backs. Have seen Marshall get into his route, then take both of his hands and push the defensive back away. Marshall will use his body on the slant to protect the ball.

Matt Moore likes to try and get him the ball on the move whether that’s up the field or on the quick screen. Hard man to bring down when on the move with the ball in his hands. Primary target in the red zone on jump balls or back-shoulder throws. Terence Newman and Orlando Scandrick will have to be ready for an all-day physical game with Marshall on the outside.

Davone Bess will play the slot with quickness and the ability to adjust to the ball wherever it is thrown. Bess will need to be watched on third downs because he has a real feel for how to work inside routes and take advantage of coverage that might not be tight.

Running back Reggie Bush has proven that he can handle the workload as an every-down back. Bush makes this play-action game go for the Dolphins. Like the way that offensive coordinator Brian Daboll has taken advantage of his skill set with screens and plays on the edge in the passing game.

Bush can run the ball between the tackles, but he is most dangerous when he gets in space. The Cowboys defense has to be careful to not allow Bush to make to loose plays in space. Tackling on Bush will be key this week.

There is one other weapon I want to bring your attention to: fullback Charles Clay. We all understand now how important Tony Fiammetta is to the Cowboys running the ball. Clay is the same type of player, but he can really hurt you with his ability to get down the field and catch the ball. Clay is a converted tight end that is very athletic. He is a lot like Bess in that you don’t cover him, he will make a big play down the field.

Cowboys should target riight side of Dolphins O-line

On the offensive line, the Dolphins have some nice pieces in left tackle Jake Long and center Mike Pouncey. The weakness of this line is on the right side with tackle Marc Colombo and guard Vernon Carey. I fully expect Rob Ryan to try and put as much pressure on these two with anything scheme-wise that makes them have to move and adjust. Neither Colombo or Carey move that well, and the more you make them have to do that, the better the chance for successful pressure.

Don't sleep on Dolphins' defensive front, linebackers

I really came away impressed with what the Dolphins’ defense is doing scheme-wise and how physical the overall unit plays.

It really starts up front with guys like ends Randy Starks and Jared Odrick. These are powerful players and they are always working their way up the field, not only defeating single blocks. but handling double teams as well. Nose man Paul Soliai is difficult to move, much like what the Cowboys faced with the Jets and 49ers.

But the real strength of this defense is in its linebackers. Koa Misi, Carlos Dansby, Kevin Burnett and Cameron Wake are all outstanding. Misi and Wake are true pressure players. Misi is better against the run, but Wake will be a handful because of his ability to explode off the edge. Misi can get the edge too, but he will fight you more on the rush. Wake will slap, rip all while working his way up the field.

Wake will make Doug Free and Tyron Smith have to adjust on the move and reset their hands several times. They will need to find a way to anchor down on him.

On the inside, Dansby and Burnett will make plays in the running game. Last week against the Redskins, the Cowboys didn’t do a good enough job of handling the linebackers on the second level. If the line has the same kind of problems this week, running the ball will be difficult again.

The Dolphins linebackers run to the ball and they are sure tacklers. If the Cowboys struggle running the ball it will be because these linebackers are going unblocked.

In the games that I was able to study, the Dolphins’ front seven make their secondary better. Pressure has really helped this group make plays like they did last week against the Bills.

Safety Yeremiah Bell is a hitter. Cornerback Will Allen throws his body around. Cornerback Sean Smith is a much better cover man than tackler, and corner Nolan Carroll will force the run. There will be plays to be made against this secondary if -- and only if -- the Cowboys protection can hold up again Wake, Misi and the veteran Jason Taylor.

It’s a defense that has found its way since the loss to the Giants and coming off a short week will be a difficult test for the Cowboys.