Friday, November 05, 2010

Game Plan Friday: Defense vs Green Bay


There is a lot troubling about the Dallas Cowboys defense in 2010.

Maybe the most troubling is that in training camp, the 11 starters on the Cowboys defense were: Spears, Ratliff, Olshansky, Ware, Brooking, James, Spencer, Newman, Jenkins, Ball and Sensabaugh.

As of today, the 11 starters on the Cowboys defense are: Spears, Ratliff, Olshansky, Ware, Brooking, James, Spencer, Newman, Jenkins, Ball and Sensabaugh.

They can play as badly as they have played and there is not one starter that has missed even one game. In fact, the entire Cowboys team is amazingly healthy , especially if you compare them with the league's least healthy team, this week's opponent. This is the defense that we all thought was Super Bowl worthy, and obviously, as we have now seen for 7 games, we were very, very wrong.

Maybe the most troubling aspect of the defensive performance is this particularly amazing statistic. Of the 32 teams in the NFL, only 1 has a worse opponent's QB Rating than the Dallas Cowboys. Despite playing the likes of Jay Cutler, Vince Young, David Garrard, and some teams that normally do not often move the ball through the air very well, the Cowboys have allowed the opposing QBs to throw for a 105.4 QB Rating. Wow. 1 team is worse, the Buffalo Bills - at 110. And of course, Buffalo is also the only team in the NFL with fewer wins. See how this works? The NFL average for QB rating is 83.6.

Jay Cutler's rating against Dallas 136. Vince Young was 97. Brett Favre 107. Eli Manning 100. And David Garrard a nearly perfect 158! To suggest teams are having success passing the ball against the Dallas Cowboys would be a tremendous understatement.

They do have their work cut out for them at Lambeau, but Green Bay - once thought to be a juggernaut on offense have since lost their star Tight End, Jermichael Finley and adequate Running Back Ryan Grant for the year. Without that, they are still capable, but are far more one dimensional in their attack which is now pretty much shotgun-sling-it-around.

Their biggest concern has been their offensive line in the last few seasons, and some weeks they are perfect in their pass protection (3 games with 0 sacks) and others they are absolutely horrid (Miami sacked Rodgers 5 times, Washington sacked him 4 times). Both teams beat the Packers, so that seems to be the way to win.


1) - Tackle that Receiver! - This is becoming a very difficult proposition. Twice in the last two games the opponent has scored a Touchdown on the most basic WR screen. Tackling on the edge has been so bad that in neither case was the receiver even hardly touched. Both of these plays were shown when the discussion of whether or not the Cowboys were still interested in playing defense was happening. Teams in the NFL see things you don't do well or don't like to do and seem to go right after that. Is Terrence Newman playing hurt? Make him tackle. Is Mike Jenkins short of confidence? Make him tackle. Is Gerald Sensabaugh hitting guys like he should? Make him tackle. You can bet that Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, and the rest of that group will be running many routes that involve a catch very close to the line of scrimmage and making the Cowboys prove they have the interest and ability to make a tackle.

2) - Get to the QB (I mean you, Spencer) - 16 sacks is nice, but nice is only enough to be ranked 14th in the NFL. They need more of that to get where they have been under Wade Phillips. The Packers have a rookie playing tackle, Bryan Bulaga from Iowa, who appears promising, but is still a rookie. This is where Spencer needs to show that he is able to take a tackle back behind the woodshed and teach him a lesson. Cameron Wake did a few weeks ago, and the Packers have been bringing him along slowly. Also, it would be very nice to see Jay Ratliff to appear in the offensive backfield again very soon. I realize he is seeing a steady diet of double teams, but at some point he can not continue to be neutralized without someone else getting there on a rather routine basis.

3) - Turn the Ball Over - After the Giants takeaway fest, we wanted to see if this was a trend or an aberration. Well, they took the ball away from the Jaguars one time, so we will hold off the parade that this problem is taken care of. Takeaways are a great way to knock down the opponent's QB rating, and a greater way of winning the game. This is a constant problem, and this is why it is a constant staple of this Friday write-up.

Cowboys TurnoversOpponents Turnovers
GameFumbles LostINTSGiveawaysFumbles RecINTSTakeaways+/-
L @ Wash101000-1
L vs Chi1230 00-3
W @ Hou0001 23+3
L vs Ten033000-3
L @ Min022101-1
L vs NYG202235+3
L vs Jack044101-3

Table Tutorial

4) - Make the Packers Put Drives Together - The Packers do have an offense that can put together a big play on you. But, they are also an offense that can look out of sorts and easily frustrated if things do not come easy to them. I would suggest that a bend-but-don't-break mentality makes all sorts of sense against Aaron Rodgers and an offense that looks like they intend on scoring 35 points every game. What I find interesting is that this season - unlike 2009 - they seem to press very quickly when they have the ball and Aaron Rodgers is forcing the ball into spots without taking what the defense is giving him. I think with a real lack of a running game, you can make the case that a 12 play drive is pretty difficult for the Packers. Again, they are going to get theirs, but if you can make them go 7 yards at a time, then perhaps you can limit their points.

Please check out TC Fleming's piece where he examines the Packers basic passing offense in great depth. Wonderful work from Mr Fleming.

Summary: This is the side of the ball that must make a difference when the offense is trying to play without its QB. Tony Romo is gone, but like we said - the entire defense is present and accounted for. But, can they do better than they have in the first two games since Romo's injury?

Let's put it this way: they cannot do worse.

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 Bob offers his exclusive analysis after games on

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