Most of the time I put the video breakdowns in chronological order. But, since I could write all day about the most important play of the game - I am going to put it at the top of the look at the Vikings game so we all get a chance to soak that one in. I also have some good and bad from 5 other plays, but the EJ Henderson 4th Quarter interception will get my main focus.
Thanks, Brian at DC Fanatic.com for his help in getting the videos posted.
The Play:Play #55 - 3/1/23 - "21" Pass Intercepted by Henderson
What Happened:I swear this play will haunt the Cowboys staff for the rest of the year. I might compare it to the decision in Week 1 to not give help to Alex Barron on the final play of the game with Orakpo (Barber chip?) as a single deployment detail on 1 play that can cost you a game, a playoff berth, or even a job.
Here you go: 3rd and 1. Now, keep in mind that the Cowboys have given the ball to Barber on 3rd or 4th and short 5 times already in this game. He has converted all 5. Nothing fancy. Give him the ball and he scraps and claws for the 3 feet he needs. Troy Aikman, who has been working the game for Fox, has said that all of that success opens up a prime possibility for the play action pass. The Linebackers will be so intent on crashing in on Barber that there should be a wonderful opportunity down the field if this chance presents itself again. And it does. In a 21-21 game. The Cowboys are on a drive that can win this game with a conversion here, so you have to get it right. We can debate the wisdom behind run/pass because like we said, Barber is a perfect 5 for 5. But, what costs the Cowboys here is a simple lack of play action. I have made some phone calls to people who do this for a living on what possible rationale Jason Garrett would have for a straight drop back pass (without a play action fake) but nobody understands this logic. A straight drop back does not occupy the LBs, in fact, it is their cue to change direction and drop back into passing lanes as quick as possible. Romo cannot even see Henderson when he is looking for Witten (who has lost his man and appears wide open). Henderson is hid behind the middle of the line and when the ball is thrown he is not even visible. But, by the time the ball is headed to Witten, Henderson has dropped underneath the route and snatches it out of mid-air. Again, Romo will get blamed for this, but to me, this is all about the design of the play being flawed for this situation. On 1st and 10, it might work. But, here you cannot call a pass play without the threat of another Barber run from play action. From the endzone camera, you can see that there is no effort to suggest a run to Barber, and the Vikings had to wonder why the Cowboys wouldn't do that. One small detail on one solitary play shifts the whole game. Henderson must be credited for making an outrageous play, but the Cowboys made it easier than it had to be.
The Play:Play #8 - 2/8/M46 - S11 - Screen pass to Felix Jones +12
What Happened: The most successful of the 10 passes to Felix Jones, and this is a nice design to slow down a pass rush. The concept here is to have 3 WR, with all 3 clearing many DBs to the left side of the field, and then coming back with an opposite side screen in space. The idea is that both tackles (Colombo and Free) allow their men to rush up the field, and then the interior 3 (G-C-G) all release their men and attempt to form a convoy around Jones to get him into space. I am sure the Cowboys were hoping with all of the passes to Felix that at some point he would break a huge one, but this is about the best they were able to do. It is still good to see Leonard Davis can get down the field and take on a player at the 2nd level. But, it should be noted that of the 17 plays of this variety, only 2 were this successful. The Vikings did a nice job of sniffing out this game plan idea and putting a stop to it.
The Play:Play #14 - 3/6/15 - S01 - Pass to Williams for Touchdown
What Happened: We are seeing a lot more of this personnel grouping from the Cowboys this season. S01 is 0 RB, 1 TE, 4 WR, and it allows the Cowboys to spread you out and allow Romo to find the match-up he likes best. You may remember S01 was the grouping they used last week on the Witten Touchdown pass and the Austin 4th down conversion that preceded that play. So, I guess S01 is the grouping that is responsible for both celebration penalties. Anyway, the idea here is to stress the secondary and find a hole. Last week they hit Witten down the seam, so this week, they use a Witten seam pattern to clear out 20-M Williams the safety and send Roy Williams behind him. The play is almost doomed when 93-K Williams get his hand on the ball, but Roy makes a nice adjustment on the ball and then gets into the endzone. The Vikings send EJ Henderson on this play (5 vs 5) so the Cowboys panic and nobody blocks Kevin Williams (Leonard Davis again). Only a very quick decision from Romo makes this play happen, and if it is the difference between 7 points and 3.
The Play: Play #27 - 1/15/24 - "12" - TE Screen to Witten +30
What Happened: If we are going to question Garrett when things go poorly, let's be fair and nod when he gets something perfectly right. The best way to deal with a pass rush - especially one that blitzes DBs - is to send some plays to the areas of the field that they just vacated. Here is a heavy left side blitz and the Cowboys let them through only to loft the ball over their heads and into open space with Witten on a TE screen. Bennett may have escaped yet another penalty for block in the back, but this does show that there are some inventive ways to slow a defense down. Another very solid idea that should be used on a week to week basis in blitz situations on 1st Down. "12" personnel with Bennett and Witten on one side, and the 2 WRs on the other side of the field. Defenses are forcing the Cowboys to prove Witten and Bennett are lethal enough as a combo to respect, otherwise the DB on that side will blitz and leave coverage to standard LBs (which Chi and Tenn did with success).
The Play:Play #52 - 3/11/30 - "S01" - Touchdown to Dez Bryant
What Happened: This is another play off that same personnel grouping S01. On this play, the Cowboys are using their tendencies against Minnesota. The Vikings rush 4, leaving 7 in a fairly vanilla Cover 2. Witten runs his usual play to the sticks which attracts all the shallow coverage. Bryant and Austin are lined up Wide Right and will work in tandem against 3 DBs (2 CBs and the High Safety to this side). When Austin heads to the post, the safety 33-Sanford is going with him because he is Miles Austin. That leaves Lito Sheppard on Dez Bryant, and Romo sees what he wants. It only works if he gets the time, and in this one situation in the 2nd half - maybe the only time they asked the OL to prove they could protect for a 7 step drop - they did their part and once Dez Bryant makes a difficult catch, the Cowboys have tied the game. Hurd and Williams on the top were running a similar concept, but the combination of Witten to the sticks, Miles to the post, and Dez to the Corner is just too much to cover all 3 properly. There is going to be an option somewhere. And this, in a nutshell, is what is so frustrating about the Cowboys offense. If they could trust their OL, this scenario should be there all day. It is all predicated on Allen vs Free and Edwards vs Colombo with no help from an empty backfield and no TE. Scat protection is a risk, but it paid off.
The Play:Play #58 - 3/5/25 - "S01" - Incomplete to Dez Bryant
What Happened: Very similar concept to the Bryant Touchdown, except this is short yardage. Same S01 personnel, same 4 man pass rush. Flipped sides, and Romo wants the attention to Austin to free up Dez Bryant. Now yesterday, I pointed out that: "He doesn't have a reputation of fearing contact so I will cut him some slack, but I need a better effort even if you do hear footsteps coming your way from inside." I did have a reader point out that Dez's broken ribs should be considered, but Tony Romo cannot process your injury report why he is trying to hang in and pick a target on 3rd and 5. If you are on the field at that moment, then we have to assume you are able to play. If you are able to play, we have to assume that you will go "all out" on the most important play of the game. Additionally, I find it interesting that the LB did sit on that slant, and if you look, it does appear that Austin might have been the proper target over Bryant. All Romo is thinking about is his primary (Bryant) and his 2nd target might be Witten (who is double teamed at the sticks as usual). But, if he could have seen Austin, it looks like a pretty easy pitch and catch for 15 yards. Easy for me to see now.
Again, many good things from the offense given the circumstances. But, 2 costly giveaways and a special teams TD is all you need to give away to lose a 3 point game on the road.
Tomorrow: Targets and Sacks for Week 5
Bob Sturm is host of BaD Radio on The Ticket 1310 AM Mondays through Fridays at 12-3 p.m. He also hosts The Ticket's Cowboys pregame show. Follow Bob on Twitter at
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