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Upon Further Review: First Drive Had Good Mix, Creativity
Thoughts from the film room at Valley Ranch:
• Jerry Jones called it his turning point in the game when head coach Jason Garrett and the Dallas offense were able to answer the early lead the Eagles grabbed on their opening possession.
With the Cowboys taking the ball over on their own 20 yard line, Tony Romo led his side on a 13-play, 80-yard drive that featured an impressive mix of runs and passes, which kept coordinator Todd Bowles and the Eagles defense off balance.
Opening the game in regular personnel, Felix Jones runs behind the blocks of guard Nate Livings and tackle Tyron Smith on the left side for four yards. On second down, Garrett goes with “12” personnel to make a simple throw to tight end Jason Witten for six yards. Garrett then gets in two backs and two tight ends, with a clever design running Witten up the field outside and having receiver Miles Austin break behind him after five yards, shielding the defender from Austin for an easy pitch and catch and a first down.
Garrett now gets back into “11” personnel, tossing the ball to Jones on the sweep left. Everything is set up perfect, but right tackle Doug Free gets called for illegal motion. First-and-15, Garrett stays in his “11” package to spread the Eagles out. At the snap, right tackle Mackenzy Bernadeau pulls to his left, while Livings and Smith cave their men down inside. Bernadeau gets all the way around, trapping linebacker Mychal Kendricks, with Jones cutting off the block for a gain of 13.
On second-and-2, Garrett goes back to “22” personnel, putting Witten on a tight wing right with fullback Lawrence Vickers set in a near formation at the snap. Romo shows like he is going to toss the ball going right to Jones on the sweep, but instead hands the ball underneath to Vickers with Free pulling from his right to left. Livings again kicks his man down inside and Smith takes defensive end Trent Cole to the outside. Free is now up inside on the safety Nate Allen. Vickers makes the cut off the Free block and picks up a block downfield from Austin as well.
Two runs by Dunbar nets 8 yards, and facing a third-and-2 from the Eagles 35, Garrett goes to his empty formation for the first time of the day with Cole Beasley in the game in the left slot. The Eagles are in Cover 2 with linebacker DeMeco Ryans over the top of Beasley. On the snap, Beasley drives inside then breaks hard to the outside. Romo sees it all the way and steps forward in the pocket as Smith pushes Cole past him. Beasley now has 5 yards of separation as Romo delivers him the ball for the first down.
After several runs by Jones and a pass to Witten get the ball to the Eagles 11, Garrett sends regular personnel into the game with Austin and Kevin Ogletree set up twin right with Witten lined up on the line left. At the snap, Jones swings wide left, allowing Witten and Smith to get up field to block. Smith misses his man, but Witten has his secure. Jones runs through the tackles of cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha and defensive end Darryl Tapp, still going up the field and diving for the goal line ahead of the safety Kurt Coleman for the touchdown. It was as creative of a drive as Garrett has had all season with his personnel mix, but more importantly, the execution was outstanding.
• In my post game thoughts after the Cowboys victory over the Eagles, I awarded a game ball to Romo for the way that he was not only able to use his skill to make plays, but also in how he used his head to take advantage of some certain looks that he got during the game.
As good as Romo was, Jones was right on par with him. I have been critical of Jones in the way that he has played the last several games and how much this team really missed DeMarco Murray in the running game, but Jones was able to shine against the Eagles. In studying this defense during the week, I knew that there would be an opportunity for the Cowboys to run the ball, but the question I had was could they block the defensive front and would Garrett stick with it?
With the Eagles playing that wide “9” scheme, Garrett had to get creative running the ball and Jones took full advantage of that. The Cowboys had been using “11” and “12” personnel the last few weeks, but Garrett went back to Vickers at fullback as well as some tighter formations with Witten and fellow tight end John Phillips, which worked well. Garrett was also able to get some nice point-of-attack blocks from his guards on the pull, while Free and Smith were able to control the edges and give the ball a chance to get to the outside.
I thought that Jones really ran the ball hard in this game and with some purpose. With Jones, it’s not always pretty, but he showed the explosiveness we had seen before he banged up his knee in the Carolina game. Plus, he displayed some power in his ability to break tackles, particularly on his game-tying touchdown catch where he broke five Eagles’ tackles on his way to the end zone. The numbers overall were not going to make you think of Emmitt Smith, but the effort and desire from Jones would have.
• There were plenty of plays that you could have said were the turning point, but I will focus on the Dez Bryant touchdown with the Cowboys down 17-10 with the third quarter coming to an end. Earlier in that same drive, Bryant made a nice snag on an “In” cut for a good gain.
With the offense facing a third-and-4 from the Eagles 30, Garrett empties the backfield putting four receivers and Witten on the field. Beasley is in the slot right inside of Bryant, who is wide right. Earlier in the game, Beasley ran an option route out of this formation for a catch and a first down.
Romo reads that the Eagles are in man coverage across the board and at the snap, double Beasley and Witten. Romo knows he has Bryant one-on-one to the outside as he starts up the field. Bryant runs a perfect straight line keeping cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to the sideline.
Upfront, Bernadeau and Free do their best to handle the twist stunt as Romo slides to his right, getting rid of the ball right before defensive tackle Fletcher Cox gets close. Down the field, Rodgers-Cromartie has to grab the back of Bryant’s shirt as Bryant is tracking the pass inside. Bryant times his dive perfectly getting both hands under the ball and making the catch. Not only does Bryant draw the pass interference from Rodgers-Cromartie, but he is able to come up with the ball for the game-tying touchdown down. The next time the offense got the ball, they were up 31-17 and well on their way to victory.
• One of my matchup keys on our Game Day page on DallasCowboys.com had Free against Eagles defensive end Jason Babin. If you grade an offensive linemen down after down, you are going to get some positive plays, but you are also going to get some that are not well executed.
For Free, it has been a tough couple of seasons, but since the Baltimore game, he has done a much better job of being more consistent down after down with his technique, which is an area that he really had struggled. As much as the Eagles have been poor rushing the passer this season, Babin was still a player that this Cowboys offensive line was going to have to deal with. In my view, if Free allowed Babin to control this game rushing the passer, then the Cowboys would be on the short end of the outcome.
The bottom line was that Free was outstanding in this game and the tape showed that. There was only one time where he was late to the outside on his set against defensive end Brandon Graham, which caused Romo to get sacked on the play by Cox, and he had an illegal motion penalty as well. In studying the play, you clearly see Romo signal to Ogletree to run the slant and he takes a drop like he wants to throw the slant, but has to pull the ball down because Ogletree misses the check.
This offensive line has had its share of problems and can be blamed for a great deal of the offense’s shortcomings, but against the Eagles, Free’s ability to not allow Babin be a factor in this game went a long way in securing the victory on Sunday.