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Upon Further Review: Drives Show Promise, But Fall Short
• On the Cowboys’ first possession of the game, Dwayne Harris gave the offense outstanding field position on a punt return. With some smart, quick passes to Miles Austin and Kevin Ogletree, with a Felix Jones run mixed in there, Dallas has the ball first-and-10 on the Falcons 10.
Garrett calls for a tunnel screen to Austin that has a chance with cornerback Asante Samuel playing eight yards off. Both tackle Doug Free and center Ryan Cook get out clean and head down the line. Samuel is eight eight yards off when Austin breaks back for the ball. Right guard Mackenzy Bernadeau pulls to his left as the play-action fake to Jones is also to the left.
Defensive tackle Peria Jerry slips down inside on the fake as Tony Romo is setting up to his right, while defensive end John Abraham is rushing from the outside, but is not a factor. Romo makes the throw off balance to Austin quickly, but instead of catching it on the move, Austin has to bend down low to grab the ball. Free is in position to handle Samuel, but Cook is three yards away from the reacting safety, William Moore. Austin has no momentum to get up the field as Moore breaks down to make the tackle.
If Romo holds the ball a tick longer, it might have given Cook the opportunity to get on Moore. Or, if he would have thrown the ball a little higher, Austin might have had a better chance to get up the field and break that tackle. Either way, if Austin gets by Moore, he scores.
On the same drive, after a second down run that loses a yard, on third-and-6, Garrett goes with 11 personnel, with receiver Cole Beasley in the slot. Romo takes the shotgun snap, looking to his right as Dez Bryant heads up the field working between Samuel and safety Thomas DeCoud. There isn’t much of a window there to fit the ball into Bryant.
So, Romo now looks back to his left as tight end Jason Witten and Beasley try to drive hard inside from the left. Romo climbs the pocket going to his left as tackle Tyron Smith pushes Abraham past him. Beasley sees his quarterback on the move and adjusts with him breaking for the corner, although nickel cornerback Robert McClain is in position to defend the route. Romo throws the ball anyway to the deep corner trying to connect with Beasley there, but it’s too far for him to reach.
The Cowboys had a goal-to-go situation and had to kick a field goal instead of finishing a drive that started with so much promise.
• As much as this offense has struggled to run the football, there was a series in this game where they actually showed they could. Head coach Jason Garrett opened the second half with four straight runs that moved the ball from the Cowboys’ own 14-yard line to the Falcons 44. It was something that we had not seen since the Ravens game in the middle of October.
Garrett once again gets in shotgun with 11 personnel, and on the snap, both Free and Bernadeau double defensive tackle Corey Peters while Cook blocks back to seal his man. Left guard Nate Livings pulls to his right and takes linebacker Stephen Nicholas out of the play, with Free bouncing off to get to the second level and blocking linebacker Akeem Dent. Jones makes a cut to his left as there is no one in his path for a 15-yard gain.
Garrett then goes back to his base personnel, bringing fullback Lawrence Vickers back in the game. On the snap, a draw, Bernadeau handles Peters again, Cook gets up on linebacker Mike Peterson, Free turns his man outside with Vickers leading up on Dent. Jones finds the crease for a gain of six.
On second-and-4, Garrett goes back to 11 personnel with Lance Dunbar in the game. This time he gets creative and puts Witten as a wing to the right, and at the snap, has Bernadeau avoid Peters and get up on Nicholas. Witten blocks down inside trapping Peters, while Free once again takes his man outside with Ogletree getting a block down the field on DeCoud. Dunbar, running hard, bounces off tackles keeping his feet moving for a pick-up of 18.
On the next play, Jones gets a modest gain of two yards making it second-and-8. Romo, under pressure on a corner blitz, then can’t connect with Austin, and on third down, Livings and Bernadeau miss their blocks, the resulting sack forcing the team to punt, once again killing a drive.
• The best drive of the night for the Cowboys offense came after a penalty on a kickoff return that took the ball from their own 32-yard line back to the 22. Garrett opens the series in shotgun 11 personnel again. Witten is in the slot-right inside of Austin and starts vertical up the field, which holds the safety on the hash, while Austin breaks behind him. Romo, with time, sees the route develop and fires the ball inside to a sliding Austin, who makes the catch in front of Moore and Samuel.
The quarterback brings the team to the line again, this time putting Austin inside of Bryant on the left side. Witten is flexed right with Ogletree outside. At the snap, Romo feels pressure inside from defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux and flushes to his right, then makes a dangerous throw back inside to Jones for six yards.
Staying in no huddle, Romo puts Witten, Austin and Ogletree to his right with Bryant far left. At the snap, Witten and Austin both curl inside, and Romo, with a nice pocket, makes the easy pitch and catch to Witten for the first. Romo again goes no huddle, same formation as the previous play, except Harris replaces Bryant wide left. On the next play, there was late pressure from Abraham against Smith, but it didn’t affect Romo, allowing him to hook up with Witten over the middle for a simple grab.
Staying with no huddle, Romo moves Witten, Austin and Harris to his left, Ogletree far to the right. At the snap, no one is open downfield, which makes Romo have to check the ball down to Jones, who manages to bust two tackles for a nice gain and a first.
Romo again brings them to the line, but now Bryant is back in the lineup for Harris. At the snap, Ogletree starts up the field trying to shake Samuel but he is having trouble. On the left side, Austin is running up the numbers. Romo’s eyes start there, but after a pump fake that way, looks back right. Free gives up a pressure to Kroy Biermann inside and Romo now escapes right. Ogletree manages to get away from Samuel by running hard to his right and Romo throws a perfect pass that hits Ogletree between the 8 and 5 for the touchdown.
It was a drive that really had the Falcons on their heels, personnel-wise, and provided an idea that Garrett might try to use going forward with the way that Romo was able to execute it.