Monday, October 11, 2010

The Morning After: Tennessee 34, Dallas 27

Things you cannot do in the NFL and expect to achieve your goals:

1) - Come off a bye week at home as a near Touchdown favorite and clearly appear not ready to play.

2) - Commit 14 penalties (12 accepted) for 133 yards - including 6 in the 4th Quarter.

3) - Give the ball away 3 times, take the ball away 0 times.

Congratulations, on your 3 for 3 day, Dallas Cowboys.

Shame on us who thought the Cowboys reached their 2010 epiphany in Houston 2 weeks ago, because this frustrating team continues to be its own worst enemy - especially in its new stadium.

It is pretty tough to lose in this league when you out-gain your opponent by 190 yards. It can happen, of course, if you shoot yourself in the foot enough times, but it isn't easy. When you out-pass your opponent to the tune of 370 to 163, that opponent is going to have to pull off an amazing Harry Houdini effort to survive.

And yet, the Titans never trailed.

From the time Tennessee marched right down the field with the opening kickoff, to the moment they picked off Tony Romo for a 3rd time in the 60th minute, the Titans allowed the Cowboys to dismantle themselves yet again. Surely, the Titans must receive credit for making several big plays at key moments and pouncing on a napping Dallas secondary a time or two, but any observer of this game had to almost marvel at the Cowboys ability to sabotage their own efforts with fabulous precision.

Where was that on greater display than the 4th Quarter?

The 8th Drive of the Cowboys day is going quite smoothly as they march from their own 36 to the Titans 21 on just 2 plays. Then, 5 plays later, they face a 2nd and Goal from the 3 yard line. They call the same play that has worked a hundred times with the Right Guard pulling around the left tackle and hitting the only man who has a chance to get the ball carrier, the middle linebacker, Stephen Tulloch. Trouble is, Leonard Davis whiffs on his block - and Tulloch does not whiff on his tackle attempt. He slams Felix Jones with great ease to the turf for no gain. If Leonard gets even a bump on Tulloch, that looks like a Touchdown and the Cowboys take the lead. Instead, it is 3rd and Goal from the 3. False Start on Doug Free, and now, it becomes, 3rd and Goal from the 8. A quick dump off to Felix in the flat and again, Tulloch blows up the play by himself. Thanks to Davis and Free, 7 points become 3, and the Cowboys tie the game at 20-20.

The Titans get the ball back and on the first play Chris Johnson breaks his run of the game for 42 yards as Mike Jenkins looks like Mat McBriar when the return man is headed right at him. I have no idea what possesses a quality Cornerback to turn his back to the ball carrier and just start running the opposite direction, but it will never get him confused with Antoine Winfield or DeAngelo Hall for his willingness to close up and tackle. A few plays later, Keith Brooking drops a sure interception, except there is nothing sure about an interception with a Cowboys defender on the scene (ask Jenkins).

The dropped INT did force a punt, and the Cowboys take over at their own 12. On 2nd down from the 16, the Cowboys have another odd offensive moment. "12" personnel with both Tight Ends to the Left by themselves. Witten runs the 8 yard hook and Bennett heads to the flat. Romo locks on the left and chooses Bennett (and if this pass is completed, it is for a 1 yard gain maximum as the Corner, Verner, is sitting there waiting to make the tackle. As you know by now, Dave Ball is supposed to be cut blocked by Doug Free - he is not - and Ball easily tips the ball which allows the interception to be made. It is returned to the 1 yard line and 1 play later the Titans are back in front by 7 points, 27-20.

Amazingly, Tennessee makes an unforced error of their own by kicking off out of bounds and giving the Cowboys the ball at the 40 - easily the Cowboys' best starting field position of the day. Why? Because as we mentioned, the Cowboys defense never takes the ball away (the Cowboys are tied for dead last in the entire NFL with just 3 Takeaways). Dallas marches down the field, despite a holding penalty on Andre Gurode, and after converting a clutch 4th Down, Tony Romo hits Jason Witten down the seam for a rare Red Zone TD for the Cowboys' TE. With 4:30 to play, the Cowboys tie the score at 27-27 and appear determined to figure out a way to win.

And then it happens again. In the celebration, the Cowboys are stuck with a 15 yard unsportsmanlike penalty. On the Extra Point, Doug Free again commits a false start. And after a poor kick and coverage of the kickoff, David Buehler takes 15 more (only 6 officially because it was half the distance) on a face-mask penalty. So, 3 penalties in a span of 0 offensive snaps. Truly shocking. Tennessee has the ball again at the Cowboys 5 yard line, and Chris Johnson again cashes in with an easy run from the 1 yard line. 34-27 and the game is no in real doubt.

One final penalty (Offensive pass interference on Miles Austin) helps anchor the final drive, and after running the same play on 3rd and 10 and 4th and 10 which resulted in the same Will Witherspoon defense of Jason Witten, the Cowboys are doomed.

Mental and physical errors doom the Cowboys. They provided a great amount of fight and resistance on Sunday, but in the end, I believe we are saying the same thing that we said for their other 2 losses - they beat themselves again. Tennessee will write a different account of this game, but in my estimation, the Cowboys gifted Tennessee 14 points in the 4th Quarter, and then they made sure they settled for a Field Goal of their own.

And that is how you lose a home game when you are a strong favorite and out-gain your opponent by nearly 200 yards.


Other Thoughts and Observations from the Defeat:

*- It is almost comical that when we start to congratulate a group on this team, they almost immediately go in the tank. Last week, we marveled at the offensive line's pass protection of Tony Romo. Well, scratch all of that business as the Cowboys OL was horrendous for the 1st half against this Tennessee group of anonymous and relentless pass rushers. They had their 5th sack on the Cowboys 14th pass play, if you can believe that, and the Cowboys knew that they had to do something. So, they actually yanked Leonard Davis out of the game. He absolutely deserved it, as he was beaten badly on 2 sacks in which he barely touched Jason Jones, but I guess I found this remarkable because I am not sure I remember a player on the Cowboys benched during a game for performance under Wade Phillips. Perhaps I am forgetting something obvious, but I cannot recall anyone getting the hook in the middle of a game - especially a very well-compensated key player. I have to tell you that I am fascinated at the chain of command and the process for who made this call. Regardless, they were whipped up front, and that had plenty to do with why they were down 17-3 before they got it in gear with Montrae Holland playing Right Guard late in the 2nd Quarter and all of the 3rd.

*- Whenever you watch a game, you wish there was a way to know sometimes if there was a coaching error or a player error, because the film says one thing and perhaps it is not true. However, in a game where DeMarcus Ware grabbed 2 more sacks, let me show you how I think he likely did not play the scheme properly in 1 situation. 1st and 10, Titans have the ball at their own 33 yard line, with :50 to go in the 1st Quarter. The scheme most likely calls for the edge rushers to not "cross the face of the tackle" against a QB who is a threat with his feet. This is all part of the "keep contain" concept that we talked about Friday in the Defensive Game Plan. If he has the option of a "2-Way Go" which means, DeMarcus can rush to the inside or outside of the Left Tackle (whichever he wishes), then there is a major flaw in the design. But, I assume that DeMarcus might have done this on his own - regardless, once he crossed the face of the LT he was caught inside, Vince stepped to the outside and had an easy 17 yard gain because the coverage was in man-to-man and therefore everyone had their back to Young. Only Igor Olshansky was in the area, and he is not chasing down Vince. This is why sometimes, sack totals are deceiving. A pass rusher may not get to the QB, but he is keeping his contain integrity by not providing an escape path for the QB. Ware is awesome, but on that play, I believe he did not follow the plan.

*- Felix was a presence for sure, and it is pretty amazing to consider it had been 18 games since the Cowboys last had a regular season 100 yard rusher according to CBS. I assume when we do our video study and our snap counts we will see that he took quite a bit of work from Barber and all the work from Choice. Unless I am mistaken, I did not see 23 on the field at all aside from special teams. Which has me wondering why he is not a candidate to return kicks. I have nothing against Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, but he seems awful ordinary to me back there. Starting Field Position is a major issue these days and if I have a spark in the return game, I need it out there. Is it Dez Bryant, Felix Jones, or Tashard Choice? Not sure. But, I don't think it is Owusu-Ansah unless he starts doing something quick.

*- What do you call a stadium with a retractable roof that is never open? A dome. And a very expensive dome since it has installed a pricey retractable roof that never opens. One of the many things I don't understand about Jerry Jones' decision making processes.

*- The Cowboys had their safeties challenged on Sunday. Why Alan Ball has not really been challenged hard by the opposition yet is a credit to the Cowboys scheme and a curiosity for sure. Regardless, when Vince Young is throwing up jump balls continuously, you question the ability of the safeties to close down and make plays. He doesn't get away with those throws against the Steelers. But, the Cowboys safeties are just not playmakers. And, further, that long 52 yard bomb to Kenny Britt that looked like a Touchdown until the review showed that Mike Jenkins touched him? That was Alan Ball's bust, in my opinion. Sure looked like they were playing "Quarters" coverage in the back, and Ball bit on the play-action. Jenkins was looking for help inside on the post pattern, and his safety help was 15 yards behind Britt in no man's land. The audience sees Jenkins as the closest man and blames him, but I am willing to bet big dollars that Alan Ball was supposed to be on that case.

*- Romo does need blame for yesterday. Since my comments on the blog right after the game, I went back and studied all of his throws again. While Martellus does need to come down with that 1st interception at the goal-line, as it hit both of his hands, there is no reason to force that ball into coverage on 1st down. He missed Dez Bryant for a Touchdown on the 1st drive of the game. Also, Dez Bryant broke up a very dangerous near-interception near the Dallas 20 yard line in the 3rd Quarter. And we shouldn't forget another pick that was reviewed and ruled to have hit the ground. Too many dangerous throws mixed in for my tastes. For whatever reason, the Cowboys are getting better QB play from Romo on the road recently, and he needs to make better decisions at Cowboys Stadium. I said he wasn't that bad yesterday, but after further review, I might give him a "C" or a "C-" for the game.

*- I am getting pounded for suggesting a coaching change is not practical at this point. Let me be clear: I am NOT saying this team doesn't need a new coach. They do. They did at 44-6 in Philadelphia. But, if you change coaches in the middle of the year, you are forced to do one of 2 things: 1) introduce the team to new schemes and concepts on the fly which is almost impossible. You know how they talk about how tough it is to get Randy Moss ready to play in Minnesota in the middle of the year with a whole new system and language? That is one player! Imagine the whole team. Or 2) promote someone who will use all of the same language and system. And who is ready for a promotion to head coach? If I had to vote anyone, I might consider the fiery voice of Special Teams Coach Joe DeCamillis, but I am reminded the last time I wanted to hire a coach based on a fiery personality, it was Mike Singletary - and we see how that is working in San Francisco.

*- Roy WIlliams is very good right now. I don't know what to make of this, but we may officially have a trend on our hands. Amazing 2010 so far, Roy. Let's keep that going.

*- It was clear that the Cowboys wanted to try different looks at LB in the nickel. Jason Williams and Danny McCray were both getting sometime. Did not see much of Sean Lee at all, except on the goal-line defense where he appeared to be more of a spectator on a Chris Johnson TD run.

This team is a mess right now. It is amazing how pressure bursts pipes, and while they should be used to the pressure that being a Cowboy brings, it doesn't appear they are very good at dealing with the spectacle. They were beaten twice at home as favorites and do not seem to be learning from their mistakes. They also appear to be out of answers. This should be a very interesting week heading into Minnesota.


Jay Beerley said...

This has to seal the deal as far as the demise of the coaching staff that is forthcoming, right? I'm still not sure how they trotted Wade back out there after Romo waved off his dumb punting in that Philadelphia game 2 seasons ago. I think any kind of rallying this team makes will come from some sort of leadership from the players. It's obvious this coaching staff does not have the ability to prepare a team. We need a GM that's not the owner or related to him, a coach that is disciplined and will prepare a team BEFORE the game starts, and players that buy into working their butts off for the sake of winning. Time will tell...

Jesse said...

Einstein was right; the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results. And this team makes me feel crazy.

Undisciplined play combined with losing the turnover battle ends in a big fat loss. Again.

I think I'll go bang my head on a wall until the wall falls down.

Unknown said...

i understand the rationale behind not firing the head coach mid-season. but we are not goin anywhere with this "good ol boy" HC/great DC !!!! what do we have to lose?????

rncantu said...

And again...

Awesome stuff. This secondary is too soft. The Mike Jenkins backup was a perfect example. They aren't aggressive and they don't go for the ball.

This defense not creating turnovers on a consistent basis is such a big problem. They have to go 50 yards on every drive just to get into fieldgoal range. Their best starting field position resulted in a TD.

If every drive begins at the 20 then you have to execute perfectly for 80 yards in order to score a TD. Not many teams can do that on a consistent basis without turning the ball over.

The Cowboys will lead the league in yards this year because of how far they have to go on every drive.

Josh said...

Who will they get to replace him at midseason? Will this team suddenly shape up and focus on the little things?

I don't think you're going to find the necessary taskmaster on the current staff. They continue to cast that personality out of Valley Ranch (Haley, Payton) so all that remains are people who concede power to Jerry.

If you happened to lure in the right staff, will the players heed? I doubt it. No punishment exists for repeated, correctable mistakes.

I share your opinion about a change being necessary, but it's not realistic. Jerry's ego will continue to hold this team back.

Shawn said...

On Romo:

When you start a game down 17-3 and have to rack up 400 yards of passing offense just to stay competitive bad things are going to happen with the ball.

Mix in an offensive line that’s letting him get hit for 6 sacks, a special teams that always gives you bad field position, and a defense that won’t create turnovers for a short field...

That's about as toxic a situation as there is for a QB. I think Romo did the best he could do with the situation he was put in.

Shawn said...

I want to add a note onto my previous post about Romo.

Drew Brees was in a similar situation this week with his #1 and #2 running backs out of the game. The Saints had to be one dimensional and throw the ball because they had no running game. Brees' situation was even better than Romo's, dropping back to pass 10 fewer times and behind a much better line that surrendered only 1 sack. Yet Brees was picked for 3 interceptions and threw multiple other "coulda-been-INTs".

Brees is a good QB in a tough situation - 3 INTs.
Romo is a good QB in an even tougher situation - 3 INTs.

It's a toxic situation for any QB, even the top-5 in the league like Romo and Brees. It does a disservice to an analytical approach to sports-writing to just heap blame on the QB after every loss.