IRVING, Texas – Having spent a little more time with the tape from Sunday night, I came away with several big impressions that haven't been mentioned as much after the game.
Clearly, the Cowboys did a good job of managing Jimmy Graham during the early going of the 38-17 win, but I wanted to take a deeper look at what worked so well. On top of that, I've got to give some recognition to Barry Church for a fantastic play that went under appreciated during the course of the night.
- There was never a question in my mind about the way Rob Ryan was going to try and keep Dez Bryant from beating him in this game. The price that Ryan paid in applying this dedication to Bryant hurt him in other areas. As a defense, when you commit linebacker and safety help to one player, like Ryan did with Bryant, it opened up opportunities for other players to come up with plays. The best example of this was on the Tony Romo scramble on 3rd-and-5 for 21 yards – Ryan doubled both Bryant and Jason Witten with his safeties, which left the middle of the field wide open. Romo, seeing that his receivers were working against man coverage, simply stepped forward in the pocket. Once he cleared the rush, he wasn't touched until he slid to a stop on the New Orleans 28. In the big picture that conversion was backbreaking for the Saints, because on the next play Murray took the ball around right end -- with perfect blocking from Doug Free, Jason Witten and Dez Bryant -- for a touchdown, giving the Cowboys a 31-3 lead and putting the Saints in a difficult position.
- There is always a play or two, when you go back and study the tape, where you get to fully appreciate how good of a play that really was. The play that Barry Church made with the Saints facing a 3rd-and-9 on the Dallas 30, driving for the game tying touchdown in the second quarter is as good of a tackle as you will ever see. Church was in man coverage on tight end Benjamin Watson. The Saints sent Watson across the formation, going right to left, in an attempt to pick Church off in the traffic going the opposite direction. Drew Brees was able to get the ball to Watson on the move, but Church saw the route developing and was right there to meet him in space -- driving him out of bounds two yards shy of the marker and forcing a fourth down. On the next play Shayne Graham's 41 yard field goal missed wide to the right and the Saints came away with no points.
- It doesn't take a former scout to tell you that Rod Marinelli had an outstanding game plan for the Saints offense, because we saw it with our own eyes. What was interesting from my perspective, was how in the opening series of the game the Saints ran nine offensive plays and Marinelli brought some type of linebacker or cornerback pressure four times. But as the game wore on, he played more coverage and used three and four man rushes to attack Brees. It's one of those situations going into the game where as a staff you know you have to get pressure on Brees, but at what cost? It appeared that the early pressure he called affected Brees in his decision making and the way he attempted to deliver the ball. It was the type of plan that never put his defense in a bad position scheme-wise.
- I also liked Marinelli's plan in the way that he also used several different combinations to handle Jimmy Graham instead of just locking one man up on him. Going into this game, the tape showed that the more physical you were with Graham, the harder it was for him to consistently make plays. Where Graham generally has his success is working against a zone -- more so than if he had to deal with a linebacker, corner or safety on him one-on-one. If Graham and Brees know that you are going to play one certain way the entire game, you are most likely going to see them make the necessary adjustments to combat that. I never felt like Brees and Graham ever got to that point where they both felt totally comfortable in what type of look they were getting, series-to-series and down-to-down. If there was one player that had the best success against Graham, I thought it was Sterling Moore. When you work against a player like Graham you have to be physical, but more importantly you have to be aware of the types of routes he is going to run and put yourself in position in order to contest the ball. That's exactly what Sterling Moore was able to accomplish.