ON DEFENSE: There is no bigger insult for a group of proud professional athletes than to be accused of giving up. But, many of us who watched that 3rd Quarter on Monday night did just that. And I hope those 11 guys - many of whom looked like they did not quite have the stomach to tackle Brandon Jacobs anymore (incidentally, the same team that this same defense appeared to quit against at Giants Stadium in 2008 ) - are interested in sticking up for themselves with a very workman like effort on Sunday against a team that will battle you, but is undermanned on both sides of the ball.
Jacksonville has already had 4 different QBs throw at least 19 passes, so forgive them if they don't feel great sympathy for the start of the Jon Kitna era. David Garrard, Todd Bouman, Trent Edwards (yes, that Trent Edwards), and Luke McCown. Garrard is apparently ready to go after his concussion against Tennessee and will get the start on Sunday at noon.
There isn't much to look at when you examine the Jacksonville offense. The fact is that they have the 28th most prolific pass offense, and yet somehow when they connect it usually is a healthy one. Somehow, they have 22 passes of over 20 yards, which ranks 7th in the entire NFL. Who knew?
They have an offense that is based on running the ball hard. They run the ball on a 60/40 split on 1st down and run at a 49/51 split in every situation. For those of you that are familiar with the Cowboys splits, you know just how old school that really is. The Cowboys defense has many difficult aerial attacks coming; Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning, Peyton Manning, and Drew Brees all wait in the next month. But, Jacksonville tries to win with defense, special teams, and the ground and pound.
1) - Load Up To Stop The Run - OK, this is not a surprise to anyone who has seen Jacksonville play since Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell were catching passes from Mark Brunell in his prime, but the Jacksonville Jaguars do not accomplish a whole bunch through the air. They certainly can complete the occasional big pass - like the pass that set up the game winning FG against the Colts a few weeks back - but Mike Thomas, Mike Sims-Walker, and Tiquan Underwood are generally not enough to scare too many. The point to this exercise is that Jacksonville has been doing this for years, and they see that the Cowboys have been run on rather easily in 2010. Remember the streak without allowing a 100 yard rusher? Well, after Arian Foster, Chris Johnson, and Ahmad Bradshaw, the Cowboys have been sliced and diced like they are nothing that resembles the 2009 team that the opposition did not even bother running against. To make matters worse, they have already allowed 21 rushes of 10 yards or more. 21! They have only played 6 games. Shocking to say the least. This defense did not show me the proper amount of pride on Monday night, as if they were pretty sure that once Tony Romo was out, that the season was not worth fighting for. That is not a terribly respectable. Let's see that bag of hammers that once used to stuff the run.
2) - Protect The Perimeter - If there is one thing that all offensive coordinators can agree on these days, it is the best way to attack the Cowboys is on the edge. With each passing week we are seeing a myriad of attacks on the secondary on quick passes to the perimeter. Last week, Eli Manning closely resembled his big brother with his ability to diagnose the match-ups, get the indicators out to his troops, and then deliver a ball quickly and precisely. I am not here to suggest that David Garrard can in any way carry that model out to completion, but opponents want to see if Terence Newman, Mike Jenkins, and especially Orlando Scandrick can cover and tackle. And if the Cowboys are silly enough to not realize that they have no CBs on the field to cover Hakeem Nicks - so much the easier. But, the single play that should anger and alarm defenders of this defense was the quick screen to Mario Manningham. If I am the Jaguars, I go back to that well and see if the Cowboys safeties are any more interested in tackling than they were on Monday night.
3) - Turn the Ball Over - OK, finally we have a game where the Cowboys have an insane number of takeaways (5) which hasn't happened in years. But, before we call off the dogs and never mention it again, let's see them continue the trend a bit. With the 5 takeaways, the Cowboys grow their season total to 9. Guess what, that still ties them for last place in the entire NFC with New Orleans and Minnesota. Perhaps the Saints will remind us that turnover ability does not carry over from season to season since they rode 39 takeaways to the Super Bowl last year. Only 9 this year.
Anyway, back to our Cowboys; Jacksonville has been extremely generous with 17 giveaways in their 7 games, 2nd most in the AFC behind Norv Turner's Chargers. This team should be ripe to take the ball away, but can the Cowboys do it? This must remain a focus until they prove they can.
|Cowboys Turnovers||Opponents Turnovers|
|Game||Fumbles Lost||INTS||Giveaways||Fumbles Rec||INTS||Takeaways||+/-|
|L @ Wash||1||0||1||0||0||0||-1|
|L vs Chi||1||2||3||0||0||0||-3|
|W @ Hou||0||0||0||1||2||3||+3|
|L vs Ten||0||3||3||0||0||0||-3|
|L @ Min||0||2||2||1||0||1||-1|
|L vs NYG||2||0||2||2||3||5||+3|
4) - Linebackers In Space Vs MJD - A gigantic portion of the Jaguars ability to move the ball is in the form of Maurice Jones Drew. Now, much of that happens in his garden variety carries. They will pound the ball and that explains the focus on that objective back on point #1. But, one thing that should concern Wade Phillips is the Jaguars proficiency in the screen department. I really enjoy their ability to run the middle screen to Drew, or whoever his backup happens to be. It is clear that the offensive line is comfortable doing it against any opponent, and between Drew and Jennings (his normal backup - although he hasn't played in a few weeks) they have been able to roll up some reasonable yardage with the occasional middle screen. Now, if you are attacking the Cowboys, don't you test this ability against Brooking and James? I sure do. And, while I am at it - it would be the safety.
Please check out TC Fleming's piece where he examines the Garrard attack with his feet in great depth. I always enjoy these reviews, and I think you should enjoy it, too.
Summary: The bottom line is quite simply this - the Cowboys have all 11 starters on their defense in place. This is not a situation where they should be treating these games as optional. The Giants hung 500 yards on them last week. The idea of Wade Phillips being the architect of a great defense is somewhat comical at this stage.
You would think a home match-up with Jacksonville would be a situation where the Cowboys' defense would expect to seek and destroy. Will it be enough to win the game? That is not the defenses concern. They need to play for and with much pride right now as a defensive unit. Do you think you are dominant? Prove it.
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 www.twitter.com/bobanddan Bob offers his exclusive analysis after games on SportsDayDFW.com
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