Here are some thoughts from the film room at Valley Ranch after the St. Louis Rams and Dallas Cowboys preseason game.
Assessing the rookie CBSaturday night was another opportunity for cornerback Morris Claiborne to get some much needed work with his defensive teammates in game action. Coming off the San Diego, I thought it was great for Claiborne to get work not only in the game against the Chargers but when he had to line up during a two hour practice on Monday and Tuesday, it was a great experience for him. Against the Rams it was another opportunity to cover NFL routes.
The highlight of Claiborne's night was the play that he was able to make on 4th and 5 from the Cowboys five yard line in the second quarter. Claiborne is lined up at right corner matched up with Steve Smith. Before the snap, Bradford motions to an empty backfield leaving Amendola slot left and Smith outside of him.
At the snap, Smith tries to work Claiborne hard outside then back inside. Amendola is doubled by Scandrick and Church inside as Smith runs behind the double team. Claiborne doesn't get rubbed off and is still hanging with Smith on his right hip as he starts along the back of the end zone going left to right. Bradford sees an opportunity to try and fit the ball into Smith but Claiborne extends his right or off hand in the path of the ball all while staying off Smith's back. The ball gets knocked in the air as McCray and Sensabaugh converge on the ball knocking the ball and each other down. It was a nice play by the rookie not to get picked off in the route but having the skill and technique to drive on the ball, play with the proper hand and get no pass interference call on fourth down.
Progress for OgletreeWith the injuries to Miles Austin and Dez Bryant, there were going to be opportunity for several receivers to get some extended playing time with the first offense that normally won't have been given that chance.
What I have noticed about this group and it's been this way all camp, is that there is not that one guy that you can say would be a go to guy if Miles or Dez missed any extensive period of games. Kevin Ogletree has shown the ability to make plays in practice and games, matter of fact in the games, he has been outstanding.
He has shown a side of toughness that we had only seen flashes before. In the Rams game, he took his routes inside to make some tough catches but did have the bad drop on 3rd and 6 on a slant that hit him dead in the hands that would have extended a drive. Where Ogletree has given me hope is his ability to take his route in the middle of the field and make the contested catch.
Harris keeps improvingAnother receiver that has helped his cause has been second year man, Dwayne Harris. When I watch Harris now, I see a different football player than the one that didn't look in good physical condition and didn't play with any sense of urgency.
To me it all started in OTA's where he looked slimmer and quicker in his routes. For his size, he doesn't have that rare speed or quickness but with what he has, he plays with a great deal of toughness. As a receiver when on the field you can't be a half-hearted blocker and usually if you are a good blocker, the coaches will find a way to get you the football on routes.
An example of this last night happened in the second offense series when Jason Garrett ran what they call "bluff" which is a flip to the running back going in the opposite direction of the flow. In the case DeMarco Murray takes the flip coming left, Dwayne Harris is the receiver on that side and is able to sustain his man to allow Murray to get around Cortland Finnegan for a nice gain.* *
More of the "Harris Show"On the next play, Harris lines up slot right with Kevin Ogletree on the outside of him. Rookie corner, Jernoris Jenkins lined up over Harris and at the snap begins to drop straight back like in zone coverage.
Middle linebacker, James Laurinaitis drops to the middle of the field in zone as well. Harris starts his route which clears Jenkins and is now onto safety Craig Dahl who steps up to play the in route being run by Ogletree. Laurinaitis and Jenkins try to react to Harris who now has a several step on both of them angling to his left to get more separation. Romo has his eyes down the field as he slides to his left and lets the ball fly. Harris is now clear of both Jenkins and Laurinaitis as the ball lands perfectly in his hands for the touchdown. In this league you have to be a complete player at receiver.
Not only do you have to show the ability to block but when your number is dialed up, make a big time play.
Blitz pickup needs workOn the radio broadcast with Brad Sham on Saturday night, there was a time in the game where he called a sack of Kyle Orton by defensive end Robert Quinn and from my eye at the time I thought that running back Phillip Tanner might have busted in the blitz pick up but when I had a chance to study it, there appeared to be a communication mix up with Tyron Smith and Tanner.
At the snap of the ball, Tanner is hanging inside to pick up the linebacker as Smith initially steps outside to pick up Quinn but then quickly adjusts back inside to pick up the linebacker leaving Tanner to have to try and quickly adjust to Quinn who is flying off the edge. Tanner looks like he is expecting Smith to pop outside to take Quinn while he handles the linebacker. In most schemes you want what they call BOB blocking, BOB is short for big on big.
You try and keep your linemen on linemen and let the backs pick up linebackers and secondary blitzers. We all know what a talent Smith is as a pass blocker and in my view, Tanner along with DeMarco Murray are outstanding in blitz pick up and even Felix Jones had several nice pickups in the game. It was a situation that the coaches will be able to correct and next time, the operation of the scheme should be corrected.
Ryan's play-callingSeeing the game live on Saturday, I came away impressed with what Rob Ryan has been able with this defense on third down with his first defense not only in the Rams game but the Raiders and Chargers games as well. Throughout camp, Ryan has been working a package on third down which he calls his dollar personnel. This is when he takes an inside linebacker off the field and puts a safety in that spot. What it has given him is a physical safety at the point of attack that can cover.
Usually Barry Church plays that spot but against the Rams, it was Danny McCray keeping Church in the secondary which is a nice plan because Church has shown the ability to cover on the back end. On the first third down play for the Rams in the first quarter, Ryan sends this package on the field with Orlando Scandrick lined up in the slot covering the dangerous Danny Amendola.
At the snap, Carr, Scandrick and Claiborne all lock up on their men with McCray carrying the tight end out of the back field. Safety Gerald Sensabaugh works to his right to give Claiborne help deep. Church hangs to his left giving Ryan four defenders on three in the route. It's a five man rush with Sean Lee joining the group on the blitz, Victor Butler and Jason Hatcher work a game off the right side with Butler breaking hard inside, Hatcher going outside. Sam Bradford tries to move forward in the pocket but Hatcher is right there for the sack which gets the defense off the field.
The coverage down field was air tight which allowed the rush to get home. It's a nice package for Ryan and his defense to get coverage on the field but bring pressure with the front.