Monday, November 30, 2015

Decoding Linehan - Week 11 - Carolina

The autopsy for the 2015 Dallas Cowboys will spend quite a bit of time on that fateful Thanksgiving Day.  The day started with optimism as Carolina rolled into town, but the Cowboys believed that their season was just beginning.  If they had not lost a regular season game with Tony Romo as their starter since Thanksgiving 2014, why shouldn't there be plenty of dreaming about going on a run?
And then, in the quickest and most demonstrative way possible, the Cowboys were shown that 2015 is clearly not their year and their optimism was snuffed out before the game was one minute old. 
Looking back at the game requires multiple views - the first view is the angle of how poorly the performance was from Romo.  You would be hard pressed to find him play a more ineffective game in his 127 career starts.  There are many ways to easily suggest that there were extenuating circumstances that resulted in this performance, but nevertheless, he was really at his all-time worst.  And for that reason, it is almost impossible to evaluate any other components of the game.  Romo's 1st half performance destroyed any chance for the team to have a chance to win that game and the details of the Cowboys game-plan for Thursday were never revealed after he threw 3 interceptions in the first half - with 2 of them run all the way back for touchdowns and the other resulted in an easy field goal.
He never looked right physically and mentally, and that, of course, leads us to the other view - which was that he was hurt again on what appeared to be a rather "normal" NFL sack in terms of the impact of the hit.  When Thomas Davis sacked him on his left shoulder again, it seemed as if the clavicle was not fully healed and therefore the slightest impact was going to send him back to the start of his previous injury.  This is where we saw the real danger of rushing him back.  If you get too ambitious, he might be one hit away from the entire year ending. 
Evidently, that is what happened. 
It just isn't the Cowboys' year. 
In the last decade, the Cowboys have had teams score defensive touchdowns on them many times.  In fact, on five other occasions since 2006, the Cowboys have given up multiple defensive touchdowns in the same game (Buffalo 2007, Philadelphia 2008, Arizona 2010, Detroit 2011, and Chicago 2012).  But 2015 now holds the dubious distinction of the most defensive touchdowns conceded in a single season during the Tony Romo-era.  And, before you blame it all on back-up QB play, understand that 3 of the 5 defensive touchdowns occurred with Romo at the helm.  
Basically, one way to look at it is that the Cowboys have given away 5 touchdowns to the opponent's in 11 games this year, after only 5 touchdowns in the previous 3 years combined - form 2012-2014 over a span of 48 games.  
That is very bad.  
Then, if you add all of the devastating defensive touchdowns on "giveaways conceded" to the incredibly low number of Cowboys takeaways and you have what you have here.  A lost season which never really looked right.  
Romo spoke after the game about his mental sharpness and ability to see coverages and make decisions in the blink of an eye.  This is his job, but there is almost no way to replicate it without playing the position against top-level competition at full speed.  He is a very good player, but you would have to agree with that self-assessment that his brain was not "in shape".  Let's examine what he meant.
Inside the green circle, please find Carolina safety Kurt Coleman.   Watch him in the video below.  The Panthers are showing 2-high.  But, the Cowboys have 4 players in route and the Panthers are suggesting that they are rushing 6.  Do the math.  If the Cowboys are sending out 4, and the Panthers only have 5 not rushing, this is going to mean that everyone on the right is in man coverage, because surely, they are using the safety to deal with Dez on the left, right?
Wrong.  Watch Coleman at the snap.  He never budges.  Romo assumes he is providing help on Dez.  He is wrong.  He is assuming that Witten is in man coverage and that this route will be wide open.  Wrong, again.
I am not sure I can recall a player just freezing for the first 3 seconds of a play like Coleman did.  But, what a great way to sucker Romo on what is his first downfield throw of the game.  Maybe holding still causes Romo to never see him?  Bizarre and effective.  And a touchdown.  
The other pick 6 also has an interesting component.  Here is the presnap adjustments that Romo is going through - we have seen this a dozen times a game every week.  But, watch Luke Kuechly. Did he hear a call that he knew?  He may be completely bluffing here, but look how he knows the alert to call and goes bananas getting it out to everyone.  Then watch him slowly step back repeatedly into his drop.  He thinks he knows the play.
Then, at the snap, he carries Witten down the seam and then peels off to the Williams route at just the right moment.  He knows there is a Dig Route underneath the seam.  He has seen this on film, right?  He knows the play.  
This is masterful work here by the Panthers.  The more you dig into it, you see that there are 2 sides to every play.  Yes, below, Romo can be seen staring down Terrance Williams, but also understand that the Panthers are very good and in both of these Pick 6's, they might have won the game in the film room.  Very impressive mental plan by Carolina to figure out what a rusty QB might try against them.
It makes you wonder - are the Cowboys too predictable?  Are their audibles too easy to decode?  After this game, I would be pretty concerned about my route combinations and signals at the line.
The 3rd Interception is not a great Carolina job.  It is more a QB who is now forcing things, trying to get the game back on one play, and a rush of blood to the head decision that you would hope he would never do at this point of his career.  But, things snowballed on Thursday.  
Not much needs to be said on that one.  Brutal decision.  Maybe a perfect throw gets in there, but this is 1st and 10 and just not what they needed there.  
Let's get to the numbers:
Yards Per Play is a pretty simple statistic and you will be amazed to learn that despite all of the putrid offensive days you have witnessed from the various QBs this season for the Cowboys, Thursday was the worst of the bunch.  
That's right.  Somehow, despite all of the Weeden and Cassel, the Cowboys with 3.8 yards per play and just 210 yards overall set new lows in both categories for the entire season.  
Think about how bad that must be.  Worse than the New England game.   Worse than the Tampa Bay game.  Worse than the Seattle game!  Amazing, but true.  The reason, of course, is that they couldn't run the ball at all and then Romo couldn't connect on any pass down the field to speak of.  
Here is proof of that:
That is as pedestrian an effort as Romo has ever put out there.  Look at the blue dots.  He literally never made a throw that was even 10 yards down the field and connected.  In retrospect, it makes you wonder if he was even fit to play.  And how Miami even happened.  
Let's look at the run column in the top half of the chart to see how pathetic the running game was against Carolina.  Now, that takes two teams - the defense of the Panthers had a lot to do with this, but wow.  That is really, really awful.  
The Cowboys ran 9 plays from under center and accumulated just 15 yards.  And, then, of course, the game was so far out of hand that the rest of the game quickly degenerated into one shotgun throw after another.  Despite those 36 shotgun snaps, and 54 overall, they still were barely able to get to 200 total yards of offense.  Wow.  How many times can we use the term "brutal" in one year?
The Panthers brought their fair share of pass rushes, but as you can see, the mental cat and mouse with Ron Rivera's crew takes its toll even when they are just bluffing.  The Double A-Gap teams are such a grind.  I wish the Cowboys defense did more of this.
Here it is by down:
And then the season-to-date numbers (although with all of the QB changes this year, I am not sure what season-long data accomplishes.
When looking at the offense, there is plenty of room for frustrations.  The coaching has been mediocre this year from an offensive point of view.  And, the head coach deciding to kick field goals when you need touchdowns only adds to that frustration.  Then, one of the worst challenges in NFL history in a game at home is even more inexcusable.  
Then, you have your franchise QB losing this game single-handedly.  I will almost never say that, but this is the rare exception where the man who has won so many games for you pretty much threw you out of this one before the halftime show.  There is no way to overcome 3 1st half interceptions for 17 points when you are playing a Super Bowl contender.
Then, your offensive line betrayed you, yet again.  The running game has been inconsistent and undependable.  But, the pass protection has never been very good in 2015 - something we have mentioned that they were not great at in 2014, either.  
I wanted to leave you with one last video from Thursday that ended Romo's season and with it, any remaining hope for December.  This is a sack that does not look violent enough to knock a QB out for the year.  But, what is going on here?  How does a guy have 3 guys on him and then they all disappear and nobody has Thomas Davis???
Travis Frederick, La'el Collins, and Darren McFadden have some explaining to do here.  Communication, or lack thereof, had the Cowboys protection looking like the Keystone Kops here. 
The result?  The end of Tony Romo's year.  
This is going to be a long December.

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Morning After - Panthers 33, Cowboys 14 (3-8)

Looking back, the Miami game showed us what this 2015 Dallas Cowboys team was supposed to look like.  The offense compliments the defense and the defense fits perfectly with its offense.  The blue print is clear - ball control which leads to game control.  Both sides of the ball get in their right spots to play downhill.  It all made sense for about 3 hours in 2015.
Unfortunately, 3 hours is going to be it.
Four days later, the Cowboys had to play an opponent that would not be quite so accommodating with the hopeful narratives.  This was a legitimate heavyweight through the first 3 months of the campaign, and therefore Carolina was going to be prepared and ready to force the Cowboys into deeper waters to see if this team can swim.
The results were ugly and on display for the football world to see. 
The conclusion was another Thanksgiving rout by the road team - now 3 of the last 4 years where the holiday showcase was a laugher before the halftime show could play to a lifeless Death Star.  In 2012, Washington held a 28-3 lead at the half.  In 2014, the Eagles had the Cowboys down 23-7.  And this year, the Cowboys might have been fortunate that it wasn't worse than 23-3 at the half.  When you add up those 6 quarters of football and see a score-line of 74-13, you don't even know where to begin and how to analyze it.  This goes for writers and broadcasters, but I imagine the same is true for players and coaches even more.  There is just something about this holiday that is causing the Cowboys to look horrendous in the big NFC showdowns.
One theory, of course, is the health of Tony Romo - as if the guy didn't already have enough arrows being shot at him.  In 2014, in the debacle against the Eagles that ended up being just a mere speedbump on the way to a great season, he looked out of sorts all day and much of it was explained by the fact he did not take a pain-killing shot to deal with his back injury and also with the short week just couldn't get his body into form for the quick turnaround that a 4-day break allows.
That theory might hold water when you group it with 2015.  In this game, before it seemed evident that Tony Romo tried to return too quickly and now is lost for the entirety of the season as he looks like the clavicle/collarbone injury of September has happened again (like Sam Bradford in 2009 at Oklahoma), Romo looked again like just a poor replica of what he normally offers.
This time, though, it appeared to be his mental sharpness, which he would admit to at the podium in one of the more difficult-to-view press briefings of the season as Romo made himself available to publicly admit to being the target of blame for the mess.  He talked about his mental acuity and the difficulty of just getting his mind to fire off the right conclusions in that moment that a QB must to see coverages and openings in the proper amount of time and then to take action as someone is trying to bear down on you.  To make matters more difficult, he is trying to solve those mental problems that NFL defenses create in a moment, while trying to trust his protection, all the while knowing in the back of his head that if he takes one hit in just the right way, he will re-break what took months to mend. 
What the Cowboys QB did was an admirable attempt to save a season that was already a disaster in so many ways.  He tried to hurry back and then put the weight of the world on his hopeful shoulders (and collarbone) and attempt to carry this wounded animal of a franchise to the promised land of training camp.
If anyone needed to know how that would work, they only needed to view the first 60 seconds of Thursday's game.  With the kickoff around 3:30pm local time, the Panthers were on the board by 3:34pm without ever taking an offensive snap.  On a 3rd and 6, Romo looked for Witten over the middle and missed the safety coming from the opposite direction and the more appealing option out on the right side with Terrance Williams and hit Kurt Coleman who then returned the takeaway all the way to the end zone. 
It required less than a minute of the sixty to put the Panthers ahead - which has been the story of their season and the opposite being the story of the Cowboys' year.  Playing from behind constantly, turning the ball over too much, and of course, allowing another defensive touchdown for the opponent to make matters worse.
From there, the Cowboys would spend the next 59 minutes doing exactly the opposite of what they could afford to do by playing uphill, not being able to run the ball (on four of the next six drives, the Cowboys would start each drive with a negative run or, even worse, yet another interception), and committing turnovers. 
Then, on only their 2nd chance of the 2nd half, Romo's 2015 would end.  He would get hit by linebacker Thomas Davis on a sack that did not appear overly severe.  But, severe wasn't required, as Romo's mended injury had not mended enough and he lay on the field at Cowboys Stadium looking at the roof yet again, clutching his shoulder.  He was wincing in pain, angry at the depressing idea of going back to the start of another recovery period, and knowing the season was down the drain for good.
He wasn't himself on this day.  His mind nor his body.  And, because the injury gods are neither fair nor just, Romo has been lost again for an extended period of time.  This, of course, is not only a depressing personal event, but it sinks the entire franchise into a phase that can only be described as an extended 2016 preseason. 
This proud Dallas Cowboys organization is left playing out the string in a year where they seemed to believe they would return to the Super Bowl.   This will not be that magical year.
Which leads to an even more depressing possibility, where we wonder whether we have witnessed the end of an era.  And that doesn't mean that Tony Romo will not return, but it will close the door on the "Tony Romo is the only option" era, and honestly, it is difficult to argue with that conclusion.
In the last 24 months, Romo has missed an enormous amount of action - the 2013 season finale with the division title on the line against the Eagles, a couple back procedures, a start in 2014, and now 12 starts in 2015 with 2 issues with his collarbone.  This, of course, is just the last 24 months, and not the many other injuries in his decade of service that has clearly taken a toll.  You can actually see him trying to mentally adjust to his fall to insure he doesn't fall on a bad part of his body.  The trouble is, with each passing season, there are fewer places to land on his body that are still healthy. 
He is a fabulous QB who has played some of the best football in his career in the last few years, but the timing of figuring out the game mentally while having much left of your body physically is an intersection that so many Quarterbacks reach at the latest stage of their run.  It is safe to assume the end of his best is near, regardless of the brave face and optimism of training camps past or future. 
It is also safe to assume that the Cowboys make a move in the offseason to begin to prepare for this transition to the next guy.  It doesn't have to be 2016, but it might be.  And they cannot come into another year as ill prepared to not have #9 as they have been this year.  Nor can they ask him to come in on a horse and save a smoldering mess with seven weeks to play.  Some of us didn't want to bet against him pulling off a fantastic conclusion to the year, but the odds were stacked against the Cowboys when they lost seven straight without him.
And there is so much more than him to the curtains falling on any remaining hope.
Dez Bryant hasn't looked the same since his injury.  Yes, there have been flashes of hope, but for the most part, he has not been capable of taking over games like the familiar #88 has been so often.  That broken foot certainly played its part.
The defense, despite all of its apparent roster improvements, has now secured the dubious record of the worst year in franchise history for "games with zero takeaways" as they completed their seventh yesterday.  The previous high, in 55 years of football was six, but with a month to play, they have blown that number out of the water.  You combine that number with the fact that the offense has been overly generous and you have this crazy stat: the Cowboys have 7 takeaways this season, while generating five giveaways that were returned for touchdowns. 
The offensive line with the labeling that comes with greatness was being discussed as the best line in football and hopeful of being one of the best of all time.  So much of their season was predicated on a fit QB1 to help them replicate their 2014, but the running game has been wildly inconsistent, the pass protection below standard, and the number of penalties over the course of the season has sabotaged many a drive.
The front office bet heavily on not needing a better backup-QB.  I wonder what the record might be if they had Matt Cassel all spring and summer as his play has been an improvement over Brandon Weeden.  I believe they know they messed up, given how quickly they made a trade to try to upgrade from Weeden the moment Romo was hurt in Philadelphia back in September.  If you first instinct is to upgrade from Weeden when you realize he has to play, then you should have done it in May. 
They also bet heavily on Joseph Randle and I don't believe elaboration is required on that front.  They knew he was daft and irresponsible, but they gave him even a bigger role. 
Then, they bet heavily on Greg Hardy.  The quality is there, but the consistency has waned since the photographs of his incident were released.  Either way, it is hard to say that they won that hand, either.  In fact, it is also hard to say they want to sign up for a further relationship with the man moving forward.  My current guess is that they will not.
And, then we move to the coaching staff and Jason Garrett.  Risk averse and stubborn to a fault, they were asked to create something out of very difficult circumstances.  Even yesterday, they were going to need to roll the dice a bit to try to create an advantage in a game where they may have been talent deficient.  Instead, they kick a Field Goal on 4th and Goal from the 3 yard line in the 1st Quarter, and an inexplicable field goal in the 3rd  Quarter to cut the score only slightly to 23-6.  In both cases, you need to go for those if you plan on winning a "must-win" game.   Instead, they play it safe and see hopes go down the drain. 
The targets are many.  The wins are few.  Such is the reality of a lost season and an injured star QB.  The mourning period is underway and the funeral will be five rather meaningless games - unless draft position is considered. 
Thanksgiving is dropping in the holiday rankings in Dallas, Texas.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

DMN - Scouting the Panthers

A year ago, Panthers started slowly and surged into playoffs
If any team can relate to the 2015 Cowboys, there is a good chance it is the 2014 Carolina Panthers. That team started the season 2-0 but entered December 3-8-1. 
From there, the Panthers swept through December, won a very poor division with a 7-8-1 record, and even won a playoff game against Arizona before bowing out in Seattle. Now, as winners of 14 regular-season games in a row (four last December, 10-0 this year), the Panthers come to town as the clear favorite for the No. 1 seed this January. 
The two franchises have met 12 times since Carolina was born in 1995, with Dallas 9-1 in the regular season, but 0-2 in the playoffs. 
The Panthers are led by the charismatic QB Cam Newton who has delivered on his draft day promise out of Auburn with two playoff berths in his first four seasons and appears to be on the periphery of this season's MVP race. But Carolina has a roster full of difference-makers. Let's discuss a few of the others: 
RB Jonathan Stewart 
The 13th pick of the running back-heavy 2008 draft that included Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, Stewart has certainly experienced an odd career path that started with 21 touchdowns and 2,000 yards his first two seasons. From there, he was plagued by injuries and appeared to be in decline by 2013. But in his last two seasons, he has regained his health and become a real weapon with his fantastic skill set. He is built with strength and quickness that make him elusive in tight spaces. He and Newton present a zone read threat in which defenses must account for both RB and QB at the mesh point. He is extremely difficult to contain between the tackles. 
LB Luke Kuechly 
He is an annual member of the All-Pro team. The 2013 NFL Defensive Player of the Year was selected ninth in the 2012 draft out of Boston College. Kuechly is the prototype middle linebacker in the generation after Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher. His sideline-to-sideline skills are disruptive, and his athletic traits are as impressive as any linebacker in the game. He is durable (although he has dealt with a concussion this year) and sniffs out plays with regularity. With equally athletic linebackers around him, the Panthers control the shallow zones with great effectiveness, and it is very difficult to run against Carolina because of this group. 
DT Kawann Short 
In 2013, Short was thought to be a first-round pick, but he slid into the middle of the second round where Carolina grabbed him at pick 44. The Cowboys, who picked three spots later, were highly rumored to desire him, but they would settle on TE Gavin Escobar. Short was a gifted player out of Purdue, but there were questions about his motor and his consistency that may have cost him during the draft process. The finished product has been one of the breakout stars in 2015. He was brought on slowly, but now in his third season, he has six sacks and has been in on 36 sacks from an interior spot where stats are not always easy to accumulate. When he gets single-teamed, he is just too athletic to deal with. He can overpower linemen, then shed and close in on a QB with surprising straight-line speed. The entire defensive line is a talented group, but this one has been superb against the run and pass.

Cowboys Inactives and Transactions - Week 11 - Carolina

Cowboys Inactives:

Week 1  23          4567
Wk 1 NYG30 Michael60 Coleman67 Mills71 Collins87  Swaim 93 Bishop99 Russell
Wk 2 PHI30 Michael65 Leary84 Hanna88 Bryant93 Bishop94 Gregory99 Russell
Wk 3 ATL16 Cassel30 Michael65 Leary87 Swaim88 Bryant92 Mincey94 Gregory
Wk 4 NO16 Cassel13 Whitehead71 Collins87 Swaim88 Bryant94 Gregory99 Russell
Wk 5 NE17 Moore19 Butler71 Collins84 Hanna88 Bryant94 Gregory99 Russell
Wk 6 NYG17 Moore26 Patmon45 Smith65 Leary87 Swaim88 Bryant99 Russell
Wk 7 SEA17 Moore19 Butler21 Randle26 Patmon65 Leary87 Swaim99 Russell
Wk 8 PHI17 Moore19 Butler23 White28 Williams65 Leary87 Swaim99 Russell
Wk 9 TB19 Butler23 White28 Williams50 Lee65 Leary87 Swaim99 Russell
Wk 10 MIA19 Butler24 Claiborne28 Williams49 Nzeocha65 Leary87 Swaim99 Russell
Wk 11 CAR19 Butler24 Claiborne28 Williams49 Nzeocha65 Leary87 Swaim99 Russell

BOLD Means Players who missed with injury.

In-Season Transactions:

9/15  Darrion Weems Waived - Charles Brown Free Agent Signing

9/16  Brice Butler Traded (traded).  Jordan Mills Waived.

9/22  Terrell McClain to IR, Tony Romo IR- DFR.

9/23  Kellen Moore Free Agent Signing (free agent signing).
         Matt Cassel Traded (traded).

9/29  David Irving Signed, Davon Coleman Waived.

10/5  Ken Bishop, Keith Smith waived. Lance Dunbar-IRGreg Hardy, Rolando McClain suspensions lifted.

10/14 Rod Smith signed

11/3  Joseph Randle waived

11/4  Trey Williams signed

11/10 Kellen Moore waived

11/17 Corey White, Christine Michael, Brandon Weeden Waived

11/18 Robert Turbin and Deji Olatoye signed

11/20 Mark Nzeocha and Tony Romo are activated

Xs and Os - Week 10 - Miami

Late in the week, we finally get a chance to "look at the tape" as Jason Garrett likes to say and examine some plays that we cannot fully digest on TV. I can't promise that every week we will be able to do this, but honestly, this is my favorite exercise of the week because only here can you fully appreciate how advanced and complex the NFL game can be sometimes. 
Here, we are not looking to call anyone out, and we surely want to leave open the possibility of our eyes deceiving us and more than anything, I want to admit that I don't have the benefit of the coaches telling me what coverage they were in. So, sometimes, this diagnosis will be "pretty sure" rather than "100% sure" even though I am trying to get it right. I will make calls and try to hunt down the right answer, but I will just admit right here that we will try our best to be accurate but invariably, I will see something wrong.
But, let's pick plays that are interesting but not played out by this point of the week and have some fun talking Xs and Os. Feel free to tweet me @SportsSturm when a game shows you a play that you would like broken down and I will attempt to include it in this post. 
In a short week, we are going to get a short version of the Xs and Os (largely because the Cowboys play another game in just a few hours, but there were a few things from the Miami game that I thought we could get into before we turn the page to Carolina this afternoon.
I always love to take the lead from you guys on what you want to see, so let's pick 3 things today that have been mention.
1) - Tony Romo to Dez Bryant on 1st play of the 4th Quarter for a Touchdown
Well, this is worth looking at as the Cowboys took a lead they would never get back here on this play that seems simple enough, but as you know, it hasn't always been an objective to get Dez Bryant to the slot more often.  The reason, of course, is inside, you either get the corners to "travel" with him, or you have a LB trying to cover him with safety help.
So, here you see the play before the snap.  I put the 2 Dolphins who will end attempting to "vertically bracket" Dez Bryant - LB #46 Neville Hewitt shallow, and FS #35 Walt Aikens deep.  
So, they want the LB to trail Dez and force a leading pass into the safety.  Then, the safety - who definitely appears to be showing that he might also help on Williams - makes the fatal mistake of getting his faced crossed by Dez.  What this means is he loses leverage to the weak side once Dez runs past his spot.  In fairness, Aikens has no idea where Dez is going and they might be running Dez to either corner.  He doesn't know.  Watch below.
This is really solid protection, too.  Dez is not completely open here, and I do think it should be said that Cassel or Weeden are looking at Street or Witten here and in a moment, McFadden.  Romo is looking for Touchdowns, especially to 88.
Look at all of Romo's time.  In retrospect, they all make it look easy here, but the Offensive Line, Romo, and Dez Bryant all did a really nice job here at making their jobs look simple.  
2) - Darren McFadden's 2 big runs were Pulling Guard shows from La'el Collins
I really enjoy looking at successful running plays and figuring out why they work and, of course, what doesn't work.
So, as you can see above, the Cowboys are a zone running team predominantly.  They have run 255 RB run plays this year and 204 of them - 80% - have been zone plays.  But, they also employ a lead back right now (thanks, Joseph Randle) who is not an accomplished zone runner.  In fact, during his prime, most of his success came from man-blocking (sometimes called Gap blocking schemes).
Well, as it turns out this year, as you can see above, McFadden is killing it on man plays and is quite pedestrian on zone plays.  That doesn't mean that he can't figure it out, but that means so far, he has not.  
Now, on Sunday, we saw more of the same.  No production from zone plays and huge production from man plays.  Here are the two big ones.  Both from the 3rd Quarter and both from 12 personnel.  The only difference is that on the first one, there is a WR to the right (Terrance Williams) and on the second one, there is not.  
There are a few keys on both of these plays I want you to notice.  First, look at the step to the left from McFadden at the snap and then notice what it does to the Dolphins.  They believe he is going left, just because he has that false step.  Also, notice that the line that is not pulling (everyone but the guards) are all down blocking to the left as well.  This deceives the defense into taking a step left themselves, because they think a zone is coming to the other side.  
This is important - because when I share these numbers, people always want to know why they run 80% zone if they are less productive.  Shouldn't they be running the plays that work more?  Maybe.  But, these are zone counters.  They work because the defense has been dealing with zone stretch plays all day.  And the only way to shut down zone stretch plays is to aggressively attack through the gaps.  And, of course, what gets you all messed up as a defense if you do that?  
Counters back in the other direction.  
Now, look at our pulling guards above.  #70 Martin takes out the wide contain man and #71 La'el Collins needs to turn the corner to beat the Mike LB back to the play.  Not a problem.  
Now, McFadden has nothing but green grass.  
Now, notice this one.  Look at what Witten in motion does to the defense.  They shift because they don't want to be outnumbered on the zone stretch left.  But, its going right.  This time, the outside man is the tight end to that side, #84-Hanna.  He has to wall off his man and let Martin and Collins get around his back.   Great job.
Next, Martin comes around and pancakes poor little Brent Grimes (#21).  No problem.
Next, Collins mauls #46 Hewitt.  Done.    
Not to cheapen McFadden's role here, but Dan Bailey would have run for 15 here.  This is stealing.
3.  Those 4th Quarter sacks on stunts/games with the tackles and the ends
As you may be aware, the Cowboys had zero 4th Quarter sacks for the first nine weeks.  Now, they have 3 (passing Washington and Pittsburgh!) because of some 4th Quarter pass rush that might be classified by some as "garbage time", but I think in the NFL, it is where pass rushes generally do their most damage against a team that is trying to find bigger passing plays.  
To me, this is where a deep rotation should get you some sacks because the QB is holding the ball and trying to make a play.
Look at all 3 of these sacks from Sunday's 4th Quarter.
This first one by 58-Jack Crawford does not look like it is for sure a End-Tackle game where the end takes out the guard, allowing Crawford to come around the corner and ear-hole the QB, but it worked out that way.  92-Mincey gets the initial penetration and Crawford clean up.  I just am not sure it was the design or if that was improv work.  Either way, it was a big hit on Tannehill.
This next one - shared by 76-Greg Hardy and 95-David Irving - was absolutely a stunt.  Watch 94-Randy Gregory not even consider rushing, but rather he goes and frees up Hardy by taking out his man.  Also watch Irving do the same on the other side to free up 98-Tyrone Crawford.  This puts pressure on the tackles to realize what is happening and to switch which is tough in all of that chaos.
Now, this one is just the opposite.  Here, the DTs are taking out the tackles to free up the DEs to come inside and have a free run.   Gregory is caught up in the traffic, but look at DeMarcus Lawrence flying in untouched.  Tannehill sees that in his nightmares.  
I just named a bunch of different linemen assisting each other in generating pressure - rather than just trying to beat their men individually.  This is what the Cowboys are banking on moving forward - 4th Quarter leads, attacking in waves, and collapsing pockets.  
Enjoy the game and Happy Thanksgiving!