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Position Breakdown: Broaddus Evaluates Each Spot on Field

Posted Nov 13, 2012

Quarterback: After studying the victory over the Eagles on Sunday, thought it was Tony Romo’s best game since opening day against the Giants, as he made as many plays with his brain as he did with his skill. We are all used to Romo having to buy second and third chances to extend plays because of breakdowns in the protection, but this game was a combination of both. The Eagles gave him some different looks that he had not seen before in coverage to try and match his receivers and tight ends. When given the opportunity, Romo made some smart throws to where the ball needed to go because of the coverage, but he also took a shot or two down the field when he felt he had the right look. It really was a thinking game and a victory for him.
 
Wide Receivers: Looks like from here on out that Garrett will dress all of his receivers each week for these remaining games. He has created packages for Cole Beasley and Dwayne Harris, who showed what he can do as a returner. Andre Holmes also plays on special teams, so the only exception might be Kevin Ogletree, who sees backup duty as a returner but doesn’t do anything else. By dressing Ogletree each week, I feel like head coach Jason Garrett is protecting himself if something happens to Miles Austin or Dez Bryant, injury-wise. I expect Beasley to get more opportunities than in just these empty formations.
 
Running Backs/Fullbacks: The numbers probably don’t tell the story, but Felix Jones was outstanding in the game against the Eagles. This offense needed the toughness that he ran with in the game. It was the first time that Jones looked healthy since his effort against the Ravens. With DeMarco Murray probably one more game away, Jones is once again going to be called on to shoulder the load. As the backup, it looks like Lance Dunbar has taken the job away from Phillip Tanner, who I really believed could have successfully handled the role, but since the Carolina game has received less and less playing time. I understand what the coaches are doing at that position. If you struggle in your pass protection and some of your reads, then they can’t afford to have players that make mistakes. Dunbar is not ideal as a pass protector, but what he gives the offense on loose or explosive plays is the reason he’s on the field. At fullback, look for Lawrence Vickers to continue to get more opportunities as well as Garrett searches for ways to run the ball.
 
Tight Ends: Other than his quarterback, the position that Garrett has leaned on the most in this offense has been his tight ends. Jason Witten and John Phillips have both been as steady as they come with James Hanna working in some situations, but mainly on special teams. In the Eagles contest, Witten led the team in targets and receptions, but where he really did a nice job along with Phillips was as a point-of-attack blocker. On the touchdown catch by Jones, it was Witten that was able to release outside, keep his feet and block in space, allowing Jones to get to the corner and into the end zone. Look for Garrett to continue to mix his personnel groups to try and keep opponents off balance, scheme-wise. The Cowboys tight ends are a big part of that.
 
Offensive Line: Have written about Doug Free the last several weeks and the job that he has been able to do trying to get back into the form that we had observed two seasons ago. Free hasn’t always been perfect, but there are some positive signs in regards to his technique that he is coming around. Where Garrett took advantage of Free and Tyron Smith in this last game was using their athletic ability to not only work the edges on the outside, but also pull them inside as trap blockers. Garrett is searching for ways to execute running plays that put his offensive line in a better blocking position. When they can run counters or traps and use down blocks, this group has had some success, instead of trying to run defensive linemen off the ball with power. In a practice note, Kevin Kowalski worked with the scout team last week in hopes of getting off the PUP list soon. If he is activated, then a roster move will have to be made. There are two areas that Kowalski can help and that is as a backup center and guard, which will allow the Cowboys to avoid dressing Derrick Dockery and save a game-day roster spot.
 
Defensive Line: It was a tough blow in the Eagles game that the defensive line lost the services of Kenyon Coleman for the season with a torn triceps. To take his place, they will sign rookie Ben Bass from the practice squad, which I think is a solid move. Talk to anyone that watches this team practice on a weekly basis and they will tell you that Bass and Tyrone Crawford give these offensive tackles fits on the scout team. To me, Bass’ game is similar to what we have seen with Crawford: relentless effort and desire to get to the ball. I don’t expect Bass or Crawford to start at Coleman’s spot, which I think will go to Marcus Spears, who is more of an anchor at that base defensive end. But in passing situations, both rookies will be given an opportunity. The thing I worry the most about Spears is his knee. To be honest, he hasn’t played with much quickness because of it. If Spears can hold up on early downs and Brian Baker continues his good defensive line rotation, they can work around this injury. Even when Sean Lissemore comes back, rotating linemen will still be a key for the Cowboys like it has been all season. And, I do like what Bass can bring to this front.
 
Linebackers: As solid as the tight ends have been for this team, the linebackers have played just as well. Sean Lee said after his injury that Bruce Carter would be just fine and would be able to fill his role the remainder of the season without a problem. Carter is playing at a level now that is making Lee look very smart. In scouting, we always talk about a vision for a player and what he can and cannot do. But with Carter, there appears very little that he cannot do. He is dependable against the run and assignment-sure versus the pass. Carter never comes off the field, and with DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer, was able to hold the explosive Eagles offense in check. I was really concerned that Philly running back LeSean McCoy was going to be featured in the game and would take it over. But, he wasn’t allowed to do that mainly because of the play of these linebackers. You even have to throw in the effort of Victor Butler and the way he played the run. He was also able to get some much-needed pressure on quarterback Nick Foles. I am not trying to soften the blow of losing Lee because it was huge, but if these linebackers are able to continue to play well down after down, there is a lot that defensive coordinator Rob Ryan can continue to do with his schemes.
 
Defensive Backs: I am not surprised that Morris Claiborne struggled against the Eagles, but I didn’t expect it against Riley Cooper. I said on Monday during Talkin’ Cowboys that there are times when you can struggle as a player, but win the game and you can learn from the mistakes. Claiborne was fortunate that this was the case. He would be the first to admit that he didn’t play well in his technique because on film it was very clear that he was out of sorts. I fully expect Claiborne to get better from this because secondary coaches Jerome Henderson and Joe Baker can correct his mistakes and have it carry over to the practice field, then to games. Another defensive back that struggled was Charlie Peprah at safety. The coaches decided to give Peprah two weeks to get ready then use him in a game. When Ryan went to his nickel package, he took Danny McCray off the field and put Peprah in. The long touchdown from Foles to Jeremy Maclin was on Peprah, who jumped the underneath route instead of carrying Maclin down the middle of the field. Where this secondary has to be careful is when on third down they get stops but are penalized for a pass interference or a defensive holding, which happened several times last Sunday. The job of the defensive backs is never easy, but when you get a stop and then have to stay out on the field because of a flag, that puts a lot of pressure on your defense.
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