I cannot imagine there has been a tougher week for the Offensive Line to hear the reviews of their work than this week. The Jacksonville Jaguars - not renowned for their dominating efforts - tossed the Cowboys offensive line around like they were a bunch of school boys on Sunday. The efforts in the run game were almost embarrassing.
I wrote plenty about this situation on Tuesday when I suggested that Jason Garrett is not to blame for the rushing woes and judging from the comments from the readers, It is obvious that I must clarify my thought process on where the blame must go.
Yes, Jason Garrett is the architect of the design of this offense. But, when your offensive line is as bad as the video breakdown would indicate then an offensive coordinator is in a real bind. At the core of any offense's design and performance is a simple premise: Can my team block and tackle? Can my team throw and catch? Can my players do simple tasks that are asked of professional football players?
If the answers are affirmative most of the time, then design and strategy matter. If the answers are that this offensive line cannot win blocks often enough to even carry out a simple running play, then it doesn't matter what scheme you run, what play you call, or what RB is in the game. Said another way, if your receivers cannot catch, then it doesn't matter what route they run.
And that is why I have a hard time putting the rushing performance at Garrett's feet. I challenge any of those who do think it is his fault to answer questions that are fair: Is he calling run plays at poor times? (Many of the runs on that video breakdown were in simple 1st and 10 running situations). Is he in charge of personnel and therefore is it his fault that Leonard Davis and Marc Colombo do not resemble what they once were? (No. No offensive coordinator in the history of football has acquired his players. If the Cowboys decided to go with these players I would blame the GM first. And if it is technique, I would ask more questions of the highest paid OL coach in the NFL, Hudson Houck). He must figure out solutions to the hand he has been dealt. His solutions appear to be game plans with almost no runs and quick passes to protect his biggest weakness. Is it his fault that the reserves on this team are all starting for Miami? (I think that is Jerry Jones). Did he decide 4 weeks ago to go to Felix Jones for the majority of the time? (Again, Jerry).
Somehow, I have been declared a Jason Garrett apologist. I hardly agree. I think we can call into question a number of his decisions along the way and I have. But, in this particular department, I just don't know how Doug Free being pancaked on 4th and 1 at the goal-line is Garrett's fault. I don't know how Davis and Colombo being beaten routinely in the last month is a play-caller's fault. Being the OC of an offense with a glaring weakness in the offensive line is a nearly impossible job for any one in any scheme. I would just ask that we think through these scenarios before we automatically default back to the cliche conclusions of blaming the OC for everything. Sometimes, he cannot call a running play when his guys cannot do their jobs and win a simple block. Sometimes, there are no plays you can call when your players are not competing as they are paid to compete.
Anyway, with all of that in mind, here is this week's opponent, the Green Bay Packers. The Packers were the team that when they met last year, gave Garrett and the Cowboys offense complete fits. My Review last year reminded me of this team not even trying to run the ball and despite trailing 3-0 in the 4th Quarter, the Cowboys ran almost exclusive shotgun the entire day.
So, without Tony Romo and without an OL that can win simple run blocks, I think we can assume we will see 40 Shotgun snaps minimum on Sunday Night.
1) - Wind Up Tashard, Let Him Spark You - This team desperately needs a spark. Well, you are in luck. Tashard Choice is a spark. I do not believe he has long term potential as anything above the ordinary performance level of an ordinary RB in the NFL. But, in the short term - as in Sunday at Lambeau Field when the team seems to lack a real reason to compete - Tashard could be just what the doctor ordered. He will inspire his teammates with his infectious personality and drive. He can do some things that are useful, and get in space and make people miss. Is he the answer to the questions of this offense? Probably not. But, with the season looking lost and with Marion Barber looking like a player without a big future here and with Felix Jones looking like he is not the back we all hoped he was, perhaps kicking the tires on Choice and allowing him to bring his spirit to the huddle makes plenty of sense in a situation where emotions should be on display on national TV in a hostile atmosphere.
2) - Understand Clay Matthews - Clay Matthews was drafted in the 2009 NFL Draft with the 26th pick. Since that day, no player in the NFL has more sacks than this 2nd year player. That's right. Right out of college with no acclimation time, he has 19.5 sacks in 23 games as a pro. DeMarcus Ware has 19, Trent Cole and Dwight Freeney have 18.5, and another 2009 Draftee, Brian Orakpo has 18 during that stretch. What makes Matthews so dynamic is his total package. He is strong, he is quick, and that motor never stops. His competition level on every snap of every game has many in the NFL marveling. And what really makes him a weapon is that the Packers already move him around like he is a 10 year veteran. One play he is on the strong side. Next play it is the weak side. And then, they line him up right over the center as he shades to the "A" gap of his choosing. His Dad and Uncle are both on the Top 10 list of "Career Games Played" in the NFL, and his Grandfather was also in the league. His brother, Casey, plays LB for Oregon. It might be in his genetics. Regardless, when playing GB, understand that they are a team that gets sacks, but only 1 is a special player that you must account for on every single snap. #52. I would imagine he will be challenging Marc Colombo plenty.
3) - Attack With YAC - One place where the Cowboys have a strength where the Packers have a weakness is the Yards After Catch game. The Packers DBs are very physical and play plenty of press coverage where they gamble on routes. This can be very dangerous for the offense, but the Packers also pay the price if they gamble and lose by sacrificing large amounts of YAC. The Cowboys have very dynamic players in space with Austin, Bryant, and Williams, so look for the Cowboys to try and work some slants and digs where their men can get in the open and turn on the jets. The Packers have allowed 931 yards after catch this season (24th) and have allowed 113 plays of 10 yards or more (30th) so they will give you some chances. It is up to the Cowboys to move the ball, and I think we did see last week that Kitna can march the team with his shotgun 11 package.
4) - Help Out Your QB - Green Bay has a very interesting defense. They run a 3-4, but Dom Capers seems to see it in a much different scheme than Wade Phillips. The Packers love to blitz Defensive Backs, but perhaps you would, too, if you had Charles Woodson. They also love to rush just 3 when you expect a blitz and force your QB to find a spot with 8 Packers in coverage. This drove Mark Sanchez nuts last week, as there were plays where he had all kinds of time and nobody open. Then, when he expected to get that look again, the Packers had a trailer blitz and big pressure when the Jets least expected it. That is what a scheme should be able to do for you in the 3-4. You never know what is coming, and you never know what sort of coverage to expect. Because of all of these reasons, it is obviously important for everyone to do their part to help Jon Kitna. His job is difficult enough against the team that is #1 in the NFL in Opponent's passer rating. The Packers allow their opponents merely a 68.8 passer rating. Therefore, the OL needs to do their part and the receivers need to demonstrate hands that are far more sure than they did last week against the Jaguars. Do not tip interceptions into the air. Do not help Woodson and Williams to terrorize like they can. Make the Packers defense earn their keep.
Summary: The Packers defense is starting to hit its stride, but they also have plenty of players in the game who are forced into duty because of their massive injuries. It would not surprise me if the Cowboys can get some things done offensively, and if they can figure out how to stay away from giveaways, should actually have a chance to get to 21 or 24 points. And, if that happens, we could see the Cowboys in a tight game in the 4th Quarter where perhaps they can pull the upset. But, it all starts with accounting for the reigning NFL Defensive MVP, Woodson, and the man who may win the award this year, Matthews. They have players who will make plays. And the Cowboys better be ready to play.
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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