Friday, September 25, 2009

Game Plan Friday: Carolina Panthers

Monday_Night_FootballAfter a long week of the sky falling, another chance arises to knock out that first home victory in the new stadium along with a chance for another broadcast crew to run the new stadium's fun facts right into the ground.

Welcome to Week 3: Cowboys and Carolina Panthers on Monday Night Football. Both teams desperately need wins, as the Panthers certainly don't want to join the Tennessee Titans as another playoff team from 2008 that starts 0-3 and is left for dead (although they have already been left for dead by most) and the Cowboys face a 2 week roadtrip to two difficult stadiums (albeit not the toughest teams in the league) before their bye week. You could only imagine the mass hysteria if this Cowboys team has to wait until October 25th for another chance at getting its first win in Arlington. They don't want that hanging over them.

We looked closely at the Panthers on Thursday, so if you would like to review that, Click Here and read until your heart is content .

So, how do we get to 2-1? If you do get to 2-1, the sun rises tomorrow with renewed optimism for the 2009 season, and the idea that if you can beat Denver and Kansas City going into the bye week that this team will be right where it needs to be the next time they play a home game. If they don't get a win tonight, the usual implosion warnings will be sounded.

Both sides of the ball have been under intense scrutiny since the season began for missing the mark when it comes to achieving excellence. And that is where we begin to discuss out game plan thoughts entering week 3:


When the Cowboys have the ball, they will need to continue to physically man-handle their opponents. I don't want to get carried away, because the Cowboys Offensive Line has a very bad combination of age and lack of depth that points to a gradual decline as the season goes on (see: 2008). But, for now, like in 2008, it is September, and the Cowboys Offensive Line looks like it can flat out wear you out.

We saw last week, against a fabulous front 7 in New York, that the Cowboys could tell their front 5, along with Witten, Bennett, and Deon Anderson to put a hat on a hat and steamroll an option run play to the RB. The option, of course, is to hit the gap of the design, or if the middle line backers over-pursue, then Barber or Jones can cut the play back to the weakside and enjoy enough daylight to drive a truck through.

Take a look here at the runs out of "22" personneland see how the Giants had no answer whatsoever. I don't know that the Cowboys will run a ton of "22" (they ran 3 plays against TB, 16 against the Giants out of that package), but some variation of 2 TE's will be the majority of 1st and 2nd downs for the Cowboys this season. It is too tasty not to utilize.

But, then the problem is this. Can Tony Romo and Jason Garrett simply take what they are given? If the runs and short passes (this "Romo-Friendly" premise) are impossible to stop, then why stop? Why throw a kill shot bomb into double coverage on 1st down when you are ahead 4 and the opponent is begging for mercy? Why? Jason Garrett has to be the brains behind this operation, as he is not getting hit in the mouth by a blitz. He has to stick to his plan. And his plan must be taking candy from the kids who can not stop the power run.

Because when the short game is rolling, then the safeties creep up. And when the safeties creep up, you hit them over the top. But, find those safeties, Tony! You cannot lose track of Kenny Phillips again, because in my mind that cost them the game.

Otherwise, until major injuries hit - and No, I don't consider playing without Marion Barber tonight anything major - then, this team's biggest issues on offense will be the brain trust of Tony Romo and Jason Garrett. Everything else is solid enough to take care of itself.


1) - Be Patient. I cannot stress this enough. The Cowboys get into trouble when they are not a patient offense. I know this sounds crazy, but more of their problems come from lack of patience than any other source. I am not suggesting that turnovers won't ever happen if they are patient, but last week we saw the QB get impatient (on the Pick 6) and the OC get impatient (on the Hurd INT). There will still be times that execution costs you (like if you throw a ball behind Witten), but make those your mistakes. If you can limit your offense to just execution mistakes, and cut out the over-aggressive mistakes from Romo and Garrett, then this offense should be next to unstoppable. Punts are ok. Repeat after me, Tony. Punts are ok. And as far as Garrett goes, make the defense stop you. Don't ever stop yourself.

2) - Get Roy Williams More Chances - I don't think this is a major issue yet, but it is important to find out what Roy Williams is capable of. No, I am not worried about his attitude or any sort of Owens-like issues that could come with it, but I am concerned about drawing coverage off of Jason Witten as the season goes on. One of the keys to a dynamic passing attack is that they can hurt you in many different ways. Well, the Cowboys have to find out their 3 or 4 ways they can get Roy Williams the ball and that you cannot stop. Once that happens, the opponent worries about him. Right now, In 12 games with the Cowboys, Roy Williams has made exactly one play that would worry you (the TD down the seam against Tampa) if you are planning on playing the Cowboys. Otherwise, he is no bigger threat than any other WR you have, aside from the size of his paycheck. If I wanted to do one thing tonight, it would be to get #11 going early. It will make everything else your offense does easier.

3) - Do Not Sleep on Julius Peppers. I know the NFL media monster finds victims and rips them to shreds, but in watching every snap of Julius Peppers this season, I still think he is a very devastating pass rusher (don't believe the hype that he is not a factor). He is certainly being ripped plenty by those that want him to earn his $1 million + per game, but as far as a guy that you better account for, he is still a threat every play. They move him around so Adams and Colombo will both get a chance to block him, and understand that the rest of the DL is rather ordinary, but Peppers is very, very good.

4) - Plan for no Marion. There is very little chance Barber will play tonight. Good. He should not be risked in Week 3. Remember the problems of trying to rush him back last year after his injury on Thanksgiving? It didn't work well at all. You have exception depth at RB, so let's see what Felix can do with 20 touches. And Tashard Choice is becoming more and more comfortable as the 3rd Down back. Utilize Felix in different ways than Marion, as I would love to get him more on the edges, but let's see him perform and stay healthy with a big work load. Carolina LBs are solid, but Felix can cause any LB a long night with his speed.


0 sacks, 0 takeaways. Who would have thought? At least we know that in 2008, no team in football could get to the QB like the Cowboys. But, takeaways? In 2008, the Cowboys did not take the ball away. They had the 3rd fewest interceptions in the league, right? 8!

For this defense to be special, they have to take the ball away. Some teams have guys who generate these plays every week in their secondary. We could make a list of the dynamic play-making Defensive Backs in the NFL, but the issue is that the Cowboys, despite having extremely highly compensated DBs in every direction, do not appear to have guys who take the ball away from the opposition.

My theory used to be that if you get pressure, QBs would then make poor throws and you would get those interceptions, but 2008 thoroughly confused me on that front. But this defense must play to its paper, and once again we are not seeing enough of that.

Romo will long be blamed for screwing up the Giants game, and rightfully so on many counts, but he and the offense gave the defense the lead late in the 4th Quarter and if the defense could hold a lead, the Cowboys win. They allowed Eli to stroll down the field with great ease, and the game was lost.

Look how lost the corners appear on this video DC Fanatic put together for me. Scandrick is lost. Jenkins loses inside leverage on that late 3rd down blitz. Mistakes that get you beat.

This cannot happen to an elite defense. They must take the game by the scruff of the neck and not look back. But, they could not. Like the Baltimore game last year, this defense can take much of the blame. It doesn't make for great copy, as it is so much cooler to simply blame the coach and the QB, but I think it is just as vital.


1) - Roll Everyone to Steve Smith - Normally, I would never get so caught up in taking one weapon away from an offense, but Carolina is truly different. You have to understand that Jake Delhomme forces the ball to Steve Smith every week. And I do mean forces. Look at this video.

See? No matter how tightly he is covered, they are going to Smith. They also will run trick plays for him on reverses, Wildcats, and other gadgets. Smith is their vertical offense. None of the other WRs require any safety attention. Nor do they have a TE who does. It is all about the diminutive Smith.

2) - DeMarcus Ware must show - I am not worried about 94, yet. But, I am not sure I have seen him ever go 2 straight games without a "Wow" play. He is more than just sacks. We all know that he does things out there that opponents cannot stop. But, so far in 2009, he has spent a lot of time blending in. Michael Lombardi wrote this yesterday: "DeMarcus Ware was singled-blocked 22 times in the game against the Giants and was unable to record a sack. Has something happened to Ware or is the lack of a legitimate rusher on the other side affecting his game? From the people I’ve talked to in the NFL, losing Greg Ellis has hurt Ware because Anthony Spencer has not been very effective."Spencer needs to show more, but Ware is Ware. I cannot believe his awesome ability is dependent on anyone else. The Panthers have two real solid tackles, but I need him to show up tonight, or I am going to begin to wonder about his health.

3) - Keep Contain on DeAngelo. If you have watched much DeAngelo Williams you know a few things. He is tough to bring down, and he also loves to reverse a play and leave on his own. This happens quite a bit on 3rd and short or near the goal line, but he will follow a block until he believes it is breaking down, and then he bounces the play way outside. Almost Barry Sanders like in that regard. And what that means is your edge players must keep contain and keep forcing him back inside. Easier said then done, but if you are a corner or safety and you have the outside lane, do not crash inside. He will get outside you, turn the corner, and then he is gone. Resist the temptation.

4) - Get a stop. To me, this defense doesn't have to be perfect. But there will come a time in a game where they need to get their butts of the field. Get a stop when you need it. Last week, that didn't happen, but that is what good defenses must do.


The Panthers are reeling, and have major confidence issues. They do not have many options on offense, especially with their reluctance to ask to much of Delhomme. The Cowboys also must account for Peppers, but the defense of the Panthers is small and can be run on between the tackles. I think this is close at the half, but the Cowboys should pull away.

Cowboys 28, Panthers 17

(Once again, thanks to DCFanatic for the video! and visit him at

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