Once again this week after the preseason affair, we will not be providing a game recap or any sort of exhaustive breakdown of the events in Miami after the 25-20 loss - however, the 490 yards conceded to the Dolphins are a bit disconcerting.
As we pointed out last year, the Cowboys had given up 6 games of 490+ yards in 2013, which is about a decade's worth of those affairs, but in the Cowboys case all jammed in between San Diego in Week 4 and Chicago in Week 13. Remarkable if you think about it.
However, since the Dolphins had a rather pedestrian 173 yards at the half (when the starters and top roster players on both sides were playing), we won't freak out too much about what this all means for the much talked about defense. But, rest assured, the Dolphins 2s and 3s seemed to have no trouble moving the ball on the Cowboys 2s and 3s depth defensive options. Of course, on the other hand, the Cowboys offensive-1s had 32 snaps in the 1st half and found a mere 110 yards out there. We don't have to dive into advanced metrics to know that 3.43 yards per snap and 4.8 yards per passing attempt from Tony Romo are about as low and non consequential as we are going to see.
If that was supposed to put us at ease about this offense, well, it didn't really work.
In fact, if anyone has skated without too much close examination this off-season, it seems to be the offense. Somehow, they have been elevated by many in the elite category, making us wonder if those people who want to tell us how devastating the offense can be actually watched the 2013 season. Sure, they put up some nice yardage on their terms, but when the offense needed to win a NBA-style game where the team with the ball last should win, they were consistently disappointing.
Games in New Orleans and Chicago were both set up for the Cowboys offense to explode and give them a chance to win, and they were left in the dust by their opponents to a point where the games were decided by halftime.
Nobody wants to blame the offense for that, but if they want to be considered an elite offense, then you would need many more performances like the Denver game, and frankly, that was far more the exception rather than the rule.
I have heard many claim that they are a "Top 5" and "elite" offense. Well, those offenses score points by the bushels, the Dallas offense had only 3 games of 35 points (NYG, Den, GB) and 3 games of 400 yards (Den, GB, Phil). Denver had 14 games of 400 yards, by comparison. Philadelphia had 12. San Diego had 8. New England, New Orleans, and Green Bay did it 7 times each. 3 games? All at home? Tough to call that elite.
If you are wondering, by the way, 400 yards has often been the benchmark target by many coaches for a "successful" offensive day. In recent years, we have had 3 levels of offense, with 400 being a great day, 360 being good, and anything below that threshold is listed as poor. In case you are wondering, in 2013, the average yards for the average offense in a game was 348. That is up from 20 seasons ago, when in 1993, the league averaged 310 yards a game. Yards are easier to come by than ever before, so if we are going to call an offense elite, we are going to need more offensive explosions. But, for the Cowboys to only have 3 400-yard performances in 2013 - all at home - makes us wonder why the fandom is crowning them before they have actually accomplished anything.
For this offense to be truly elite, it will need a truly elite offensive line. And although we all trumpet the fact that this team has drafted 3 offensive linemen in the last 4 1st rounds (at the expense of the defense), we do not know how this will actually translate to the field for 16 straight weekends.
But, perhaps, we were reminded that even if each of the 3 1st rounders are fantastic, that leaves 2 positions where the team might still hope for the best: left guard and right tackle.
Right tackle is Doug Free, a player the team was pretty sure they were walking away from just 18 months ago, and in fairness, he might just be keeping right tackle warm for Zack Martin in 2015. Either way, he has always had issues in 1-on-1 situations with elite edge rushers so we expected Cameron Wake was going to test that edge with ferocity and we weren't disappointed. Here are the 2 sacks he had 16 pass rush attempts.
Above you can see Wake dipping his right shoulder underneath Free and getting around the edge, as 68 tries to move his feet. You can actually see how Shotgun gives Free more distance to cover and an easier angle to the QB. That is to help with inside rushes from DTs like Jared Odrick-98 who is fork lifting Bernadeau at left guard right into Tony Romo and the QB can quickly see that this 3rd Down is not going well before he gets down.
If you want to score the play, you would say that the 3 1st round picks all passed easily, while LG and RT both failed. They didn't give Free any help because Murray had to deal with a blitzing LB and he did so quite well. Expect opposing defenses to attack in a similar means on 3rd Downs - with the objective being to isolate Free against a solid edge rusher.
Here is a similar look from the Dolphins with a variation. You can see in Sack #1 that Murray looks for Daniel Ellerbe-59 through the B-gap on the right (between Martin and Free). In this one, it looks similar for Lance Dunbar, but he needs to stay home and be sure rather than shoot right through that gap. Why? Because Ellerbe and Wake were running a stunt where Wake goes through that B-gap, hoping to take out the RT and the RB, leaving Ellerbe with a free run at the QB. What happened? They both got home. Disastrous and another reason why I am not too high on Dunbar to be honest. For a 3rd Down back to be effective, he has to be trustworthy to diagnose and snuff out blitzing LBs and I just don't like his size for this job.
My best 1st/2nd down back is Murray. But, he is also my best 3rd Down back. An ideal 3rd Down back can handle LBs blitzing and I am not sure there is a guy like that on the roster. Again.
So, if there isn't, I need to take my best RB and I think Ryan Williams proved he is that guy on Saturday night. Then it comes down to Randle vs Dunbar and I think Randle is more useful on special teams, but I do think Jerry is in love with the concept of Lance Dunbar going back to the Oakland game last year.
But, if you want to score sack #2, it looks like RT and RB were the clear culprits and the rest of the line is fine. But, you can see how a weak link can make everyone look rough.
I also wanted to take a look at consecutive plays from the 1st Quarter for the defense as it pertains to "gap control" or "gap integrity" or basics of this defense.
Here we have a 1st and 10 from the Cowboys 31 yard line, and as you can see the Cowboys are blitzing the weak-side with Barry Church.
Unfortunately, the Dolphins are zone-right, away from the blitz, with a seal block from their tight end Charles Clay coming back left and catching Church right at the moment of truth. If Clay doesn't get Church, this play is dead. He does, and it is the dreaded 20-yard run.
Now, it looks like the Cowboys are out-numbered here on the strong side, but the more you look at it, you can see the difference between Sean Lee and Anthony Hitchens at MLB. The Cowboys are playing gaps, so if it seems pretty clear that 66-Bishop has the A-gap on the right, and 60-Coleman has the B-gap on the left, we must ask who is filling between the center and guard to the play-side in this scenario. And it sure looks like this is where Hitchens needs Bishop have to keep the center 69-Samson Satele from taking them both out.
As you can see above, if Hitchens reads it a bit quicker, he does not get sealed off by the center. He is right in there and then Knowshon Moreno doesn't have a hole you could drive a truck through. But, when you combine Hitchens hesitating on his read (surely the crossing TE made him wonder which way the play was going) and Satele mauling Bishop (with help from the LG) before he gets to Hitchens and faces him, the play becomes a huge gash.
Tough to blame Hitchens too much because Bishop has to keep the center off the MLB, and maybe this helps you appreciate Nick Hayden and his anchor a bit more as he is pretty stout in situations like these. But, it sure looks like taking candy from babies if you are going to leave an interior gap wide open.
Now, look at the very next play. This is how it is supposed to look.
Another zone stretch to the right and this time there is a Cowboys in every gap.
Coleman wins, Crawford holds up the edge nicely, Durant flows to clean up, and the Marinelli defense looks like it needs to look.
But, both of these plays show how you need everyone in their gap and at least tying up their guy. The second someone collapses and allows one OL to take out two defenders, the scheme is useless.
So, as expected, especially with low priority players playing both tackle spots, there is some good and some bad from the Cowboys front 7.
Later in the week, let's look at how the roster is coming together, but that is enough for now.