Monday, November 16, 2009

The Morning After: Packers 17, Cowboys 7

Ambush. Ambush, indeed.

Despite preparing for what they knew was going to be quite a challenge, the Dallas Cowboys found that it is sometimes difficult to finish running the sword through a team that had lofty expectations and has been kicked like a dog for 2 straight weeks. The Green Bay Packers likely will eventually be finished off soon in their quest for the NFC Playoffs, but it won't happen yet, as evidenced by their 17-7 win over the Cowboys at Lambeau Field.

This Cowboys' offense, which at times has looked as dangerous as any offense in football, failed to make even the slightest mark on the field Sunday, and allowed drive after drive to end without ever really flexing its muscle. And, of course, on those rare occasions where they actually did get out of their own way, the Packers' desperate defense would rise up and make a play and end the threat.

We talked about the importance of patience for the offense and the OC when I laid out the Friday Game Plan :

"Patience - So, now that we all know the Packers are a wounded animal with plenty of game breaking talent on both sides of the ball, we must understand that the only recipe to handle them is patience, precision, and composure. The Cowboys showed tons of that in Philadelphia, but that doesn't carry over. They must withstand the initial burst of energy from the crowd, and weather the storm. Usually, this means high percentage passes and pounding the rock between the tackles. I believe if the Cowboys turn the ball over less than 2 times, they win this game. But, it is vital on the road (and there are plenty of stiff road tests ahead) to play a clean offensive game. That starts with a patient Tony Romo and Jason Garrett.

This team did not do that at all. The Cowboys went back to their road ways that suggest they cannot handle failing on offense. This happens time and time again in road wars: @ Pittsburgh, @ Denver, @ Green Bay; When they cannot get in the end zone early, as the game goes on, they start to get more and more impatient. They start to pass in running situations. They start to go "shotgun" and sling it around - which only invites more blitzing and more chaos from the defense. They do not stick to their game-plan of what they do well: Power Football.

You must play against your opponent, not against your expectations. Some weeks, you must win a game that is truly ugly, but to do so, you have to check your expectation-level at the door, and simply play the game in front of you.

Sunday called for grinding it out and frustrating the defense and crowd with long drives of power football. We got almost none of that.

They used "13" personnel just 3 times the whole game. "22" personnel just once, aside from the 2 attempts at the "Razorback". Marion Barber had 1 carry after the 1st Quarter, which was a 1-yard loss to start the 2nd half.

The game was 3-0 into the 4th Quarter, and Jason Garrett abandoned his successful sets because he got antsy, frustrated, and desperate - again. It plays right into the hands of the opponent (when you are in shotgun, it completely changes the posture of the defense), and it is why performances like last Sunday Night in Philadelphia are the exception and not the norm. The norm is that in road-game hostile-situations, if you punch the Cowboys in the mouth a few times (sack Romo, plug up a few run plays) they change their game plan completely on the fly and roll Shotgun set after Shotgun set onto the field.

What bothers me is we see this time and time again. Garrett doesn't learn to keep his composure and his game plan. For all of his faults of being too conservative, Bill Parcells' teams would not have allowed 2 of the biggest plays of the game (the Clay Matthews sack before halftime and the Charles Woodson sack that sealed the verdict). Why? Because he wouldn't go for risky Shotgun sets in both of those situations.

The Cowboys know how to handle a track meet. But, a slug fest? Sometimes I wonder if Garrett can handle it.

BUT. Through it all, the Cowboys accomplished their mission as stated 10 days ago before Philadelphia In the Eagles Game Plan :

I think that I am treating this 2-game road trip as a package deal. The objective must be to go 1-1, and if that happens, you can get to December at 8-3 most likely and will be in position to win the division.

So, this loss is not the end of the world. They got their split. So, let's not roll all negative.

Also, the defense did a very nice job against a desperate offense, keeping the Packers to a very low level of production, and keeping the game 3-0 for almost 50 minutes, despite the offense not doing anything to help.

Other Thoughts and Observations from a Tough Day in Lambeau:

* With 6:01 to play in the 1st Quarter, the Cowboys run of good injury fortune apparently expired. Johnny Jolly rolled up the back of Marc Colombo's left leg and broke the fibula, which would likely end his 2009. This is the first season-ending injury among the starters who left training camp, making the Cowboys about the luckiest team in the league so far. However, this is a very damaging injury. Colombo's performance is always strong, and the loss of him hurts quite a bit. Now, they must ask for Doug Free to fill in, and I fear we are not going to love the results. Back in September before the opener, I wrote my thoughts on Free :

* One thing I wanted to get a handle on in camp was to evaluate the play of the two tackles who are one snap from being in the game. OT Doug Free (4th round ‘07) and OT Pat McQuistan (7th round ‘06) could both be called into duty. And because OT James Marten (3rd round ‘07) and Jacob Rogers (2nd round ‘04) are washed out of the organization completely, Free and McQ have to be able to play if Colombo or Adams ever get hurt. So here is what I have on them: Free looks like he can move better than McQ, but he also looks a bit weaker. So, you have Free who can get to the corner but can be pushed back, and McQ who can not get to the corner, but can drop anchor a bit better. Either way, I don’t think either guy is a long-term solution at tackle.

On Sunday, Free obviously didn't get a chance to show us what he can do in the running game much, but on the 1st play of the 2nd half, Jolly shed him with ease and nailed Barber behind the line. The reality of the OL losing its continuity and its domination in the power running department may be something we must deal with at this point. The drop-off is significant, and this also demonstrates how lack of depth can be a killer in this league.

* Mat McBriar was phenomenal on Sunday. 6 punts, with 4 for fair catches. On one of the other 2, he stripped Tramon Williams for a fumble, if it was not over-turned via replay. But, the fact that my punter is trying to go for the ball when he is trying to bring a guy down can only be explained as the "Buehler Effect".

* On to Roy Williams, who had what could only be termed as "mixed results" on Sunday. It was a brilliant job to get him matched up against a safety on the long 41 yard pass that could have put the Cowboys in the lead late in the 2nd Quarter. But a tremendous strip by Woodson turned that play into a negative. The other obvious issue with his performance was the 2nd and 12 play in the 3rd Quarter in which he was quick to say the ball was lost in the lights. That may be true, but since I have seen him bail out on several occasions this season when a safety is about to lay the lumber, I couldn't help but notice Atari Bigby on the scene. I think he heard footsteps. And in doing so, helped kill off another drive. In either situation, it is once again difficult to make the case that he can be counted on to go get the ball and make the play in the most vital of situations. Miles Austin could have been better, too, with a couple of untimely drops that indicate he needs to play better in those situations, too.

* I don't believe there is a definitive word on the other injuries yet, to Ken Hamlin and a more serious looking injury to Mike Jenkins. Jenkins has just emerged as a very impressive corner, and now this could hurt if he is lost for a while. Watching him grimace in pain when the trainer touched his elbow was not a great sign. Another troubling development was that moments after he exited the field, the Packers picked on Orlando Scandrick on play after play on the drive that yielded their all-important 1st Touchdown of the day. Jennings for 14 yards on 3rd and 11 (on 32), Illegal hands to the face on Driver (32), Pass Interference on Driver (32), and Jordy Nelson for 7 on 3rd and 6 (32). All on one drive, all on Orlando Scandrick. It was like he had a piece of meat around his neck, and that is how the NFL works. Find the weak link over and over again. I can't believe that 10 weeks ago, I thought Scandrick may have been a better choice than Jenkins. Silly me.

* By the way, every week on the pregame show, we discuss the inactive list, and point out how the Cowboys love to play with fire and only dress 2 back-up Offensive Linemen. When Colombo and Flozell were both disabled with injuries, we saw the staff's worst nightmare - no more linemen. Not sure what the emergency procedure is when you need an 8th, but we almost found out what it was. These are the choices you must make when you have a 2nd kicker active every week.

* Good to see DeMarcus Ware back in the swing of things. He was very good against the run and pass for most of the day. He did miss badly on that Aaron Rodgers keeper in the 3rd Quarter when he did not wrap up (a very popular tradition around here), but 2 more sacks including 1 where the Packers decided not to block him, and a load of tackles for his ledger. I also thought Bradie James was decent, and Bobby Carpenter with a 1-hand sack should not be missed as a defensive highlight.

* Back to the offensive line, I wasn't thrilled with the fact that they were just beat by the guy across from them quite a bit. Once again, this is a characteristic of these stiff road tests. When everyone is on board, playing hard, the Cowboys are tough to beat. But, when Gurode is tossed aside by AJ Hawk, and Clay Matthews beats Flozell to the corner, then it shows that it isn't the scheme, it is the performance. Further, it is worth noting that the 2 worst days in the "sacks allowed" department were both against 3-4 defenses (Denver and Green Bay). Which is odd, because they practice against a 3-4 every day.

In his weekly column, Milwaukee Journal columnist Bob McGinn previews the upcoming opponent for Green Bay by talking to a host of NFL Scouts. The preview he produces is as complete as anything I read even though it is premium content so you may just have to take my word for it. Regardless, this week, a NFL scout had this to say about our Wade Phillips before the game ever happened:

"The only thing that happens, Wade can get a little bit full of himself when things go good and he kind of passes that on to the team," one of the coaches said. "I've coached with Wade. "He's not the greatest detail guy in the world, so you have to hold on to your (expletive) with him. They may look like they got it all going, but they might go south overnight. He's a really bright guy, but his teams have always been a little up and down."

Is that spot on, or what? I asked all week whether the Cowboys can handle being on top and told that they are good. Sadly, this result may have been too predictable.

Washington is coming to town, and the 2 games in 5 days stretch that is mandatory on both sides. Must be 8-3 when it is done. Must bounce back.


Phil K. said...

re: shotgun formations and passing. From everything I've read this morning, teams tend to abandon "patience" when they're can't buy a 1st down. That's exactly what we saw with the Boys. I'd like to see some statistics on teams with X number of 1st downs (presumably low number) after the 1st half, who are behind in the score. My guess is that they don't stick to the run. I saw nothing that impressive about the run game in the 1st half.

Also, I thought our defense played with a lot of fire in the 1st half and not so much in the second. I suppose I can chalk it up to being worn out by the lengthy GB offensive drives?

John said...

Did Romo play Sunday? Good or bad, his performance was surprisingly absent from your commentary.

Josh said...

The tea leaves said this would happen, and Dallas happily obliged.

When, oh when, will Dallas install a quick slant into its playbook? They seem to have no remedy for immediate, heavy pressure.

NFL Classifieds said...

The worse part about this loss, is that it comes just after the Big Win against the Eagles which, inspired me with the Audacity of Hope!

Guess I should have known better. :(

Of course, all is not Yet lost. And perhaps it's better that Hope should lose some of it's Audacity. But for my own sake of feeling Good about my team, I sure wish they would have won this one.

Joe said...

Man, that comment on Wade is so spot on its not even funny. This is why we can't go far with this guy. We can go 12-4 with him, with talent. The Boys can possibly win a playoff game or two.

However, we'll never get back to the Bowl or win a Super Bowl with Wade unless the stars align like they did for the Giants a couple of years ago.

I didn't even blink during that performance because it was expected.

Also Bob, think there's any corilation to Roy getting almost twice the number of balls thrown his way than what Miles is getting, since his public complaint? I knew the minute he opened his mouth that this offense would turn into TO part deuce. Romo has been looking to get Roy and only Roy involved way too much to the detriment of the offense. Miss me with the double team on Miles. Romo and Garrett have to be strong enough to tell Roy to STFU and get in line.

Sturminator said...

@ John - I guess I didn't write too much about Romo this week. I guess I found his game as neither great nor bad. Neither worthy of acclaim nor worthy of ripping. I found it lukewarm. Disagree?

southwick said...

I really don't think its fair to put this on Romo, and it also makes me think about Romo "not being clutch."

Our O line had a bad night. The Refs had a bad night (cowboys lost, but there were 2 really unfortunate calls). Roy had a bad night. Folk had a bad night. I wonder what this game looks like if Folk makes that field goal, and Roy doesn't Fumble. Do we go to half time up 10-3/6-3? I just don't think Romo had any help.

John said...

@Sturm - I was just wondering who you attributed the sack/fumble that basically sealed the game on. Was it Flozell for not coming off the block to pick up the blitzer or Romo for not being more aware. I didn't find Romo to be particularly bad or good, though he seemed to more off than usual, but his O-line and receivers didn't help out much either.

Sturminator said...

I thought the Woodson sack was a clear bust by Flozell. I will break it down tomorrow, but that was my first impression.

Ace said...

Sturminator--- it was worth mentioning that Romo missed a couple of wide open receivers for big gains..Martellus for what could have been a touchdown, for example, comes to mind..

ecrosstexas (Eric Wallace) said...

Why were they throwing out of the gun on the 1 when Romo threw the pick? First and goal from the 1, that's MB3 time. At worst, Choice in the Wildcat. Come on Garrett.

Brent said...

I know this is nit-picky and sour grapes, but there were a couple of iffy calls that went against the Cowboys.

I think the Mat McBriar forced fumble was wrongly overturned. The referee rightly noted that the runner went down on his own, but said that McBriar touched him before the fumble. That's true, but by the time McBriar touched him, his knee was no longer down on the ground. Ergo, no down by contact. Could've been a huge turnover at that point.

Second, the play where Felix Jones "fumbled" also looked pretty questionable. Wasn't he "down by contact" before the ball came loose?

I'm not saying the Cowboys would have or should have won, but those two plays were large, and both went against our Boys.

Doctor Jones said...

Adding to Brent's point...why on earth is that play not reviewable? Isn't the point of instant replay to get calls right, especially game deciding plays such as that one. I think it's pretty clear Jones recovered the ball and then had it stripped when his butt was on the ground. To me if you can clearly see that why wouldn't you want the possession of the ball to be given to the team that deserves it.

Replay rules aside, Cowboys beat themselves.

BRoss said...

Agreed on the fumble recovery not being reviewable. Why would something so crucial to a game not be reviewable. I would love an explanation from someone who understands.
I still don't see the Cowboys winning but as far as game watching goes I was amazed at how awful Jeff Triplett's officiating crew was. And not just as a Cowboys fan. Tons of ticky-tack calls (22 accepted penalties). Several missed obvious calls (holding on a GB O-lineman that even Joe Buck noticed). Twice where he went over to the hood for a challenge only to be told that either the play could not be challenged or the team was out of challenges. Just a very frustrating game to watch even if you were not a fan of either team.

paulwhar said...

Scandrick v. Jenkins:

1st half - Scandrick absolutely laid the wood to Rodgers, leading to a fumble recovery that would have been 7-0. Unfortunately Jenkins with hands to the face 25 yards away took it back.